It's A Good Time To Be (Re)Selling Books!
With the economy such as it is, and unemployment escalating, its a perfect time to be in the used book business! Notice, I'm not saying its the perfect time to start a used bookstore, but if you have an existing one, it should be a profitable time if its being run well.
With the cost of leases, real estate, boards for shelving, and stock, the start up cost of a new business would be so high that instead of the typical 2 year no profit rule, you're probably looking at 5 years to just break even.
I have people asking me weekly, how my shop is surviving...I explain that when people are pinching pennies and staying home from vacations, and outings, they are more apt to be reading about exotic places and other people's adventures. My store has been busier than ever in the last couple of years. Every day we get new customers that formerly were paying full price for the bestsellers at the big box stores. We try to make it a fun, relaxing, and profitable visit for them to come by and pick up a bagful of used books at half the price they used to pay!
Getting the new customers in the door is the easiest part, especially if you have other businesses around you. Getting them to return is the test! If you have sidewalk traffic walking by they might be interested in a display you have in the window, or something cute you have toward the front of the store. You get one chance, and one chance only to make a good impression. I try to treat customers who come in the door as if they were coming into my home. I greet them, find out what they are looking for, and then help them find it. Once we get down the aisle its also helpful to find out what was a really good book they've read in the past. From that you can start recommending books you have on the shelves. Often someone coming in for one book will leave with a bagful of your suggestions. The atmosphere in the store can be a big plug also. I sell some delicious smelling candles from a local 'chandler' (I love that word!). They help the store smell very inviting. With a few comfy chairs throughout the store, and some relaxing music in the background, your customer may well forget what time it is and spend a therapeutic afternoon picking out books. It could well be the highlight of a hectic day for your shopper. Obviously we don't all have the budget of Borders or Barnes and Noble (don't we wish!!), but you do the best you can with what you have to work with. Creat an atmosphere that someone would want to come back to and you have a repeat customer.
Owning a used bookstore is exhausting yet so rewarding. I can't imagine doing anything else! In my case, its nothing I could retire on, but its a great supplemental income. The icing on the cake, is that your customers soon become your friends.
- Peggy West
Thurston Book Exchange