Owning a bookstore might be your lifelong dream, but you don’t need a degree in English literature or business to become a success. In fact, no higher education is required, although you benefit from a working knowledge of basic business functions and theory, accounting, and a thorough knowledge of books, past and present. You should also know your target audience, the readers who walk through your doors or visit your website.
One of your top educational priorities should be keeping up on current bestsellers and new and classic books in all manner of specialties and subject areas. What typically sets apart independent bookstores from their online and brick-and-mortar chain competitors is the intimate knowledge of books that bookstore owners and staff can convey. Customers walking into your store or viewing your website expect you to provide them with your personal book list, with recommendations on which books you think they should be reading.
Business knowledge and savvy is another area to focus your education on. You do not need a master's in business administration to run a bookstore, but you should have sound working knowledge of how to run a business. Read articles and books on business processes, or get involved in small-business development programs run by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Small Business Administration offers education on how to set up a business plan, how to plan for start-up costs and how to develop cash flow models.
Learning the basics and, eventually, the nuances of inventory control, is education you can't afford to miss. In the bookstore business, inventory control is paramount because the inventory on your shelves drives business. You need to understand how to recognize which inventory to push on the front racks, which inventory to bury on the back shelves, and which inventory to return or sell at a deep discount. You’ll constantly strive to bring in top sellers, cycling through your inventory at a rapid pace, but also maintain a solid back list of books from reliable authors or publishers that can sell to the casual buyer.Your clients and their buying habits dictate how many copies you will purchase of each title, but having a good grasp going into the business will help you from making rookie mistakes such as carrying more inventory than you can possibly sell or buying light on a book that has gotten tremendous buzz. You also need to find out where you can purchase your inventory and for what discount, important for getting the best profit margin possible.
The entrepreneurial spirit is something you cannot learn from a book. Consider how other independent bookstores in other markets have survived and thrived. Look at ways to get customers into your doors with such promotions as author readings, book clubs and sales. Look at how other businesses do their websites and use ones you like to guide your own site. Get on social media sites. Develop a customer list and grow your business through personal mailings and emails, constantly driving your customers to your store or site. Diversify your inventory to include items such as games, CDs and toys. Do whatever you can to promote your business, tapping into the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that gave you the idea to open a bookstore in the first place.
John Zaphyr is a marketing and sales manager with the Oncology Nursing Society. He has written professionally since1999 and also has editing credits with Friedlander Publishing Group. His articles have appeared in the "Pittsburgh Tribune Review." John earned a master's degree in English education from the University of Pittsburgh.