I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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I have learned a lot throughout the course of building this website. I have done a lot of work online for many years, but nothing has been quite as informative or as stressful as developing communiteabooks.com. I am currently, and have been for the last few months updating the SEO to all of my products—I have over a thousand, and have many more to upload. One of the most important things that I have come to learn is that if you are planning to build a website you should have a basic knowledge of SEO before you do.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and if you have been researching the merits of starting a blog or any other kind of website you have undoubtedly come across these three letters at some point throughout your process. SEO is how search engines, such as Google, find your website. It is the use of unique key phrases that Google can track and direct people to where they want to be. There was a time during the internet post-pubescence when simple keywords would do the trick, that time has come and gone—the internet is over-saturated with keywords. Stop using keywords. With that said it is also important to consciously develop SEO key phrases. Be consistent with what you can, for example my product SEO uses the common phrase Hardcover; Used. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace at Communitea Books; Collectible, First Edition/First Printing; Fiction/Literature; $---.-- of course some things change maybe the book is a paperback and is a remainder (Trade Paperback; Remainder) and the title and author and price and genre might be different but I have created a consistent SEO template that is easily translatable, and is unique to my website and standards. It is incredibly important to find key phrases that you can maintain throughout the development of your website (or blog).
I am an example of someone who learned the hard way. I uploaded over a thousand products without having the understanding of SEO that I do now, and I ignored SEO. I have come to realize that it is so important that I have stopped working on almost all other aspects of the website in order to work my product SEO. I am noticing a decrease in sales these past couple of months, however my website is seeing an increase in traffic, and that's solely because of the SEO work I am doing. I cannot focus on marketing or sales right now, and that's fine because I am catching up on a process that I should have paid attention to at the beginning of this startup. You don't have to make the same mistake that I made. Create an SEO strategy, even if your blog is only a series of weekly rants that allow you to vent, or a creative outlet, it doesn't matter, because you never know what you may want it to be in the future, or what it might organically become—work the SEO!
I read a lot about SEO before, and during the first few months that I put this site together, and my brain did what it has a tendency to do in similar situations, my brain automatically over-complicated SEO. I watched videos, I read articles, I talked to people and it was so simple that I unconsciously decided it was too complicated to focus on with everything else going on. It's not, SEO is as simple as writing an about me on a dating site, it's probably easier actually because it can sometimes be a little challenging to explain yourself to somebody else, unless you're over-exaggerating some truths, which is almost exactly what we all do on dating sites. So, think of SEO as your websites about me and think of all the dates that your website is missing out on if your about me isn't as complete and accurate and amazing as it could be.
If I had taken the time to understand SEO, and I had included it with each product as I was uploading them in the first place I would have saved myself a very considerable amount of work, and the only thing that I may, or may not have sacrificed as far as a silver lining is regarded is this blog entry.
I should reiterate, in your initial learning curve when trying to understand SEO you will come to realize that there is a lot that can be included with SEO, it can be incredibly complicated, there are people who have spent entire lives and careers devoting their time to SEO. However, that does not mean it has to be complicated, I am not oversimplifying the intricacies of the process, I am however pointing out that it's like learning a language, depending on how you need to use it, whether you're moving to a foreign country or visiting for a week, there are degrees necessity. You don't need to be fluent in French to visit Paris for the week, and as far as SEO is concerned if your blog is about cooking then your language is not SEO it's a variety of herbs, spices, meats, temperatures, etc., SEO is important but only in the spectrum of your week in Paris. It's easy to over-complicate that but, and especially if you're an American, you already have the worldview that all you really need to know is to point and say “How do you say?” in whatever language in order to move your vacation along.
Don't over-complicate your SEO, be consistent, be thoughtful, be inventive and create a strategy. You want your site to include SEO, because why put all your time and effort into something if people cannot find it. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest are great tools for creating traffic but only if happenstance puts your site right in front of their face. That's where SEO comes in. Let them come to you, because people are looking for your site. They want to know what you have to say. You've decided that your have a voice, and something worth saying, now let SEO amplify your voice. All you have to do is decide how best to describe that voice.
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When starting an online ecommerce store, such as my bookstore, or a blog eventually, once you’ve put a good amount of time, and effort into the site, the finished product, it is inevitable to want to monetize that, to generate passive income through your site by selling Ads.
I have been dreaming about the day that Google Adsense approves my status so that communiteabooks.com will begin generating that passive income. You see, Communitea Books is my job. I have put everything else aside in order to pursue this dream. The dream began when I started selling books on abebooks.com and Amazon.com many years ago, and developed when I moved back to Boerne, Texas. I found space available in a multi-vendor shop on Main Street and opened the beta version of Communitea Books, I called it Wardrobe Books. I wanted that manifestation to eventually take form as it’s on brick-and-mortar but the building that I was in sold before I was able to make that happen. So, instead, I put all my books in storage and, defeated, lost myself for a few months. Eventually I decided to create my own website and blog.
The process has been a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun as well. I built a good site, for selling books, and wrote several blog entries, and then excitedly submitted my application for Google Adsense! Only, I was rejected. I didn’t expect that. I then fixed a few things, wrote another blog entry or two, and reapplied. Again, I was rejected. This time I didn’t know what to do. I was concerned about the volume of content, how many blogs were available, and I didn’t even consider anything else. I didn’t think about the quality of my content, because, geezus, it’s me, I mean, I can write! You know, like, pssh, that couldn’t be it. I didn’t think about Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policies, contact info—even though, yes, I did have a contact page, it would be stupid not to. There was just more that I could have done—Again, defeated, I was hoping for my book sales to generate all the income I needed, only I don’t know how to market an independently built online bookstore! How do I create traffic? I build a Facebook page, of course, a Twitter, an Instagram, then a Google+ page, followed by Pinterest. I had all these great pages, however, with the exception of Facebook, and maybe Twitter, I don’t understand the content, I mean How, Why, and What do people post on these different sites? It has got to be slightly different for each site, yes? And how do I get to the point where I both Know, and Understand my Market? That alone is a considerable amount of work, and I wanted to do, so I began actively learning these pages, and the people that frequent them. I developed an idea of my bookstore analytics using both Google and Facebook Analytics, and went from there. For those of you that do not know, it’s a beneficial process, but it is exceptionally slow going. And I really needed to start generating income!
So, I took a look at what I was doing wrong when it came to Google Adsense. First I reassessed the quality of my blogs content. I went back and read a few, and they sucked. I mean my punctuation, grammar, the idea I was attempting to portray, I was noticing now that I had rushed through it. I was more focused on pounding out enough individual blog entries that I didn’t stop to revise, or rewrite, or even reread my blogs! And, I’m a writer! My profession. My time became my commodity and I had decided that I didn’t have enough of it to spend the right amount of time making sure I was writing something that my readers, could read. Strike One. So, I went back, did some revising, a little bit of rewriting, and some editing for my blogs. I felt accomplished, but I knew I wasn’t done, there was something I was missing, and I could feel it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I reread the policy guidelines for Google Adsense. If you don’t take anything else from this entry, heed this, because the purpose entirely of this entry is to illustrate the importance of building a solid website and/or blog, is not about writing an entry a day. Adsense wants only for you to build a complete site that people will visit, that they enjoy visiting, that they can navigate, and that they will be enriched by the content. That does not mean you have to have a vast, gorgeous, over complicated website, with dozens, and dozens, or hundreds of blog entries. In short, what Google Adsense asks only, is that you read their guidelines. And, let me tell you, visiting the Google Adsense guidelines page opens you up to the potential of creating a better website, and a simple website.
My next focus would be consistency. Maintaining an online store and blog requires constant attention. It is imperative that you remain up to date, that you provide new products, that you offer new concepts, and that you update your blog regularly. Update your blog regularly. This is kind of a big one. A more important concept than some might consider, and obvious to others. The internet world can be a confusing one, and it changes faster than anyone can possibly be ready for, however realizing that you have to change and develop with it creates the opportunity for you to at least know how to be aware of those changes.
I’m learning every day, in life and how to create the best, and most trafficked online bookstore I can. It’s time consuming, and it requires patience, and maintaining a level of discipline, but Google Adsense doesn’t have to be a headache. They are strict, but fair. Read their guidelines and they’ll help you build a better site.
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What is Sustainable Business? And can a sustainable business find business sustainability? This is an important question, and one that every business owner should ask themselves now, and not necessarily because of our global climate whether societally or atmospherically, but because that focus is where business is headed.
A Sustainable Business is one that has as low as possible an impact on an environment, a society, a community, and the economy. Essentially it’s a business that meets the Triple Bottom Line, a framework to evaluate the outcome of your business in three parts: Social, Economic, and Environmental. Sustainable Businesses are conscious businesses that recognize the importance of meeting the needs of the present world without compromising the needs for future generations. Most people, when thinking about a Sustainable Business, automatically think of a Green Business, or a business which focuses primarily on the benefits of the planet. That is an aspect of the Triple Bottom Line, but it’s not the main focus. The Triple Bottom Line recognizes the importance of our social, economic, and environmental impact equally, which is to say that the environmental impact is only a third of the demands of a Sustainable Business.
I do believe in the importance of limiting our impact on the planet, as much as possible, and I appreciate that there are a number of very large, profitable companies that are maintaining Sustainable Businesses. Game Changers 500 is an organization, similar to Fortune 500, which releases a list of Sustainable, Triple Bottom Line practicing companies that are growing, and are massively profitable.
A good example of a great start is that most large, skyscraper-esque buildings being built in the world practice low impact building, while developing buildings that are themselves low impact. A LEED seal or plaque on display within or on the building is an indication of the more modern advanced environmentally friendly buildings. A number of these buildings are consuming CO2 from the atmosphere while actually producing O2, it’s amazing. That means these buildings are behaving like trees!
One of the impacts Sustainable Business focuses on is our social impact, and by that I mean many businesses are helping to provide better lifestyles for people living in underdeveloped countries, they are helping to bring these people up out of poverty, while helping to establish higher income families, that will, over the generations, be able to become consumers themselves. The idea is that helping to bring communities out of poverty will develop consumer friendly, and consciously spending people who may otherwise not have had the money to put back into the economy. When a business is conscious of its market, its environment, its employees, and its impact both now and in the future, it can only benefit the global economy. Our current economic system, and business development, though it is shifting dramatically to that of Sustainability, is one that either keeps people in-, or forces people further into poverty. How does that benefit a business?
There are business of all kinds making these changes: publishing companies, wineries, groceries, coffee and teahouses, banks, construction, and more.
It’s important as a business owner, and a consumer to understand the benefits of Sustainable Business.
As a consuming we must recognize that, especially in The United States, where we spend our money is the loudest, and most demanding vote that we make, and we are making it daily. Where we spend our money will help to provide the foundation of business in the future, and the types of business that will thrive. Be conscious about it.
As a business owner, even a small business, look into the benefits of using local materials, recyclable materials, and look for ways to help your community, to invest in your community, and to invest in the people of your community. Small things really do make a difference. People will go to one coffeeshop over another because of where they get their milk, or whether it’s organic or not. And this is true of every business we shop at, and develop.
There are creative ways of being a Sustainable Business. CommuniTea Books, my bookstore in Boerne, Texas, buys Fair Trade teas, and is constantly looking for ways to better the community where the tea leaves come from—all over the world. Guayakí brand Yerba Maté is giving a large percentage of their profits back to the region in South America where Maté is grown. The tea plant isn’t healthy in the area, and a lot of the forests are dying. Guayakí is helping to restore the regions forests so that the plant can once again grow naturally, and healthy so that not only the region can mature, and develop again naturally and economically, but also so that Guayakí can continue to provide a better product to the companies customers.
When you get the opportunity watch the documentary PROSPERITY. It is an amazing account of exactly what I’m talking about, and provides further insight into the benefits of Sustainable Business. Our current systems are not conscious business, and as a result they do not maintain sustainability. To have business sustainability today you have to be a sustainable business.
Get behind companies such as Collective Evolution, Rodale Inc., Thrive Market, The Container Store, Change.org, Aspiration, Reserveage, and more, and look in New Resource Bank, and demand that your community offers a banking system as conscious, and community friendly as New Resource.
There are 5 ways that you can start making a difference, you as an individual (Via Prosperity Documentary):
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Communiteabooks.com has been an ongoing process for a long-time coming. Several years ago, as I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, I started selling books online at abebooks.com, and I focused, primarily, on collectible (signed, first editions, etc.) fiction. It was an excellent step towards learning how to sell product online, and to understand my market. As I learned what people where interested in, and how to list books in a way that people expected my business increased steadily, and, at the time, I was in a relationship with a woman that had two kids living with us and a third in college: I was maintaining a full-time job, as well as being a full-time stepparent, and trying to manage finding books, uploading them, processing the orders, and packaging and shipping them. My, of course, became exceptionally difficult. I tried to start my own website and take on the challenges of developing an online bookstore back then, but I just couldn’t do it.
When I moved back to Boerne, Texas I discovered that I not only the time, but an opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore, Wardrobe Books in The Boerne Emporium on Main Street, a three story multi-vendor shop in the center of town. Business there was better than I could have imagined. I did some minor marketing, and attended a handful of Chamber Ribbon Cuttings and Mixers. After a few short months business had become almost more than one person could maintain. Working also as a freelance short story writer, writing articles, and maintaining a music column for The Hill Country Weekly, as well as helping Steve Artale with catering, at the Hungry Horse.
Until that point Wardrobe Books was a project, only. In the sense that I was able to offer a small used bookstore to the community of Boerne, but it wasn’t something that could maintain, and support my livelihood. Wardrobe Books was also, always, only a means to an end. CommuniTea Books is the dream, my seven year the goal. Wardrobe Books, though time consuming, and personally rewarding would never support me, or a family.
When The Boerne Emporium sold unexpectedly, and everyone in it was removed, I felt uncertain--lost. Yes, it was a project, but it was a project that was supposed to lead me to the steps of CommuniTea Books. I worked for a bookstore in Santa Fe, and, at one point, one location would no longer be available, and the store would have to move. The patrons gathered together and all but established an assembly line passing books from one person to another until they found their home on the shelves of a new store. I could imagine that happening between Wardrobe Books and Communitea Books.
I considered starting a website as I boxed my books up and carried bricks down the two flights of stairs to my car, but no host allowed me to import the 1000+ books I had as an export file from abebooks.com when I closed that account. The idea of uploading every book again, and the hundreds more that I had collected since was overwhelming.
I looked for other avenues to pursue CommuniTea Books. And for one reason or another each faced hurdles, so, in the meantime, I thought "whatthehell", it could be fun. Sorting through all my books again: looking at them, touching them, smelling them, old memories returning. I sat down, and a built a website, and the process is ongoing, nevertheless I’m proud of what it has become so far.
I sit on my couch, my back and neck braced, my legs up, multiple stacks of books on the table next to me, an electric drink warmer with a mug of homemade ‘Golden Milk:’ turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, milk (and a few other spices), and I type the information of each book into a database on the backend of my website host. I decide the price based, first, on the type of book: New, Used, Remainder, Rare, or Collectible. New books are, obviously, listed at list price. Used books I start at 50% list price. Remainder books start at below 50% list price. And I look at the condition of each book, the books market value, and more and the price is affected as such. Rare and Collectible Books are decided my market value and condition—and I stay below the average market value for that particular title depending on the condition of the book. For every book, I do this. I now have 1100 books listed at communiteabooks.com, and I’m still going strong listing.
Building the website and marketing as I go, I sit at my couch, sipping my Golden Milk, putting each book in a box and labeling it, so I know where to look once a book has been ordered I list books. In the background, more often than not, I have Pandora playing, lately it’s been African Drum music—Djembe music. Sometime I’ll listen to James McMurtry radio, Brown Bird, or Andrew Bird radio. I finished the entirety of Parks & Rec, it’s a good show but not nearly as good as The Office, if you ask me. They give each other a lot of shit in The Office but there is a genuine comradery there; Parks & Rec everyone is pretty nasty to one another, and every now and again, when it seems to be getting to be too much someone will say, “Well, everything aside, you know I love you.” And it’s supposed to be a forgiving and understanding moment. Tom, played by Anziz Ansari, always does the wrong thing, every time. Without fail, especially in public, pushing himself, being selfish, and later alone with whomever he wronged, he says something along the lines of, “I’m sorry. I know I messed up. I’m just insecure, or I have nothing, or I always seem to fail…” and everything is supposed to be cool again. AAAHHH! Dude, you suck, because of how you act in public, change that, and you won’t fail… come on. It’s irritating, sorry, right BOOKS…
This website has been my baby. You can always feel free to contact me. If you are looking for a book, I will find it for you, whether I have it in stock or not, and if I have to order it I’ll add only $1 to the cost of the book, which is to say, that when all is said and done, the profit margin for me is only $1. I do this as a service and you, the customer, shouldn’t have to pay more for that service. I will research and find anything you’re looking for: an old, leather copy of Pride & Prejudice under $20? I’ll figure it out. Book Appraisals? I offer it. Book Club Reading Ideas? Absolutely.
And soon I will begin taking used books from you, if you want a place to send them, I’ll take them. I’ll offer store credit for anything available online, or that I might have to order. If you are looking for cash for your books, I’ll evaluate them, and make an offer. I’ll accept donations. I’ll send books to schools, shelters, and various programs.
Today I’ll have added a handful of Audio Books, and have created a new section link directly off the home page to view them. And if you have any suggestions, let me know.
The communiteabooks.com website will lead us to the stairs of CommuniTea Books, and I’ll follow it all the way.
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There are millions of books in existence, both in and out of print, books that we grew up with, books that have inspired us, books that have taught us, and books that have allowed us to escape. As I write this now I am sitting in a house surrounded by books, boxes full, shelves, they are stacked on window sills, and in corners, when people come to my home for the first time they inevitably ask if I have read all these books. No, I’ll respond, I have read a number of them, others I’m working towards, and others are collectible, they’re purpose is to sit on the shelves and fulfill me in ways that only old, or rare, or fascinating books can.
I have books that I brag about with people, when the topic comes up. I am proud to say that I have them sitting on my shelves, that I can stand there, slip the book off the shelf, and open it, and to not only be invited into a story, an idea exclusive to that particular book, but to know that someone else touched them, the signed books I have, for example; knowing that Chuck Yeager touched a copy of The Right Stuff that is resting on my shelf, that Michael Chabon asked my name as I stood above him, a first printing of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay outstretched towards him, and many more.
When opening a bookstore one of the decisions that you have to make, one of the decisions that I made—though it was easy for me—is what type of bookstore do you want to open. Specialty used bookstores, bookstores that have a general focus on genre, are what the general public is looking for today. That doesn’t mean that you cannot carry other genres, but it does mean that the limited space you undoubtedly have needs to be filled with books that your store specializes in. When owning, and operating a used bookstore you become more than just a bookseller, you become an expert, and the community develops expectations of your expertise, and your focus, your ‘specialty,’ becomes their guide.
Mystery, Sci-Fi, and Horror are some of the most popular specialty bookstores, and a lot of the time, when you focus on one of the three, you’re walking not only into a bookstore but into the mind, and the unique passion of the owner, the employees, and the patrons.
I specialize in Fiction/Literature, which sounds like a fairly broad specialty, and ultimately it is, but when I saw fiction/lit, and though I do carry Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi, Photography, Art, Science, Cooking, Psychology, History, Religion/Spirituality, Children’s, and more I make the space for the Chabon’s, the Capote’s, the DeLillo’s, the Woodrell’s, the McCarthy’s, the Mitchell’s, the Nabokov’s, the Nichols’, the Stegner’s, the Wolfe’s, the Miller’s, the Hemingway’s, the Olmstead’s, the Percy’s, the Salter’s, and more, and more, and more, and all the Mystery’s the Art’s, the Children’s, the Psychology’s they all will have a certain literary foundation. CommuniTea Books focuses on books that are well written by authors that bleed feeling, and piercing desire onto the page.
There are authors that we refuse. Authors, too, that could be considered literary. I know this may sound high-brow, or snobbish, that the act would pigeonhole me, and CommuniTea Books with bookstores that the average person would otherwise despise. We’re not high-brow, or snobbish, and that’s again solely because I cannot stand pseudo intellectual depreciation, I believe it’s ridiculous to judge another human being by their vocabulary, their intellect, their interests, and how they express themselves. It’s utterly ridiculous. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I believe that fiction brings people together, and the environment that inspires that meeting, that community, with literature at its foundation will open minds.
I prefer fiction/literature because of the way that it makes me feel: reading it, being surrounded by it, creating it, and there is, of course, a degree of alienation to my prerogative, but, again, it’s my prerogative, and I have an image of a bookstore that does maintain a standard, but the standard includes the inclusion of everyone, as long as they are willing, and people involved that help to make others feel welcome.
I think it is dangerous when open a used bookstores to not have a focus. If you are thinking about opening a bookstore, and are considering the attempt to not focus on a particular concept, or genre, I urge you to reconsider. I’ve had this conversation with many people. Those, like me who have been in the process of opening a used bookstore, those whom have already opened a bookstore, and those whom just have an opinion, most people understand, or come to understand if they had not before, that selecting a specialty is incredibly important; the argument that is often made, or that I often hear, at least, is one regarding Borders or Barnes&Noble or Hastings or Half Price Books, the argument is that none of these chain bookstores have a focus. And that’s not accurate, each of them has (or had) a focus. When you walk through the aisles at CommuniTea Books you’ll often, you will most definitely discover books that you would never see at Barnes&Noble, why is that – do you think? The majority of the books I have are literary, authors like Daniel Woodrell or Richard Bradford or Bob Shacochis, they’re works are incredibly brilliant and important, so why would you find them at CommuniTea Books and not Barnes&Noble? Barnes&Noble has a similar focus to CommuniTea Books, we both provide more space for Fiction than anything else, but Barnes&Noble focuses on Commercial Fiction while I focus on, CommuniTea Books focuses on Literary Fiction. Borders, Barnes&Noble, Hastings, and Half Price Books all have (or had) a focus, each of them focuses on Commercial Fiction—Half Price Books tends to be more relaxed with their used book decision making, and will often include works of Literary Fiction, but if the choice came between an author or a title that is Commercial vs. Literary they would choose Commercial 100% of the time, and that’s because that is their focus.
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The Boerne Emporium was a there story multi-vendor shop in the heart of The Hill Country Mile in Boerne, Texas. The location was phenomenal, but downtown Boerne has been known, until recently, for the antique shops, and the boutiques. This has been the story for The Hill Country Mile since before I can remember, and I moved to Boerne, for the first time, in 1993. Of course being a kid or a teenager in Boerne in the mid too late 90's wasn't exceptional. In fact, it was downright boring, at the time the only thing that I could appreciate along Main Street, and especially along The Hill Country Mile, was The Bear Moon Bakery, and that was, you know, a bakery, and a coffeehouse, and I likely enjoyed going there only because I wasn't the typical small town teenage boy, and neither were my friends.
Boerne, Texas has too many boutique, and antique shops, simply because Boerne lacks an identity, as a town, and for decades made-do by following the path of slightly larger, and more well-known, German town, about an hour away, Fredricksburg. Which not only had the identity of being an antique town, but it served them too, even still.
Boerne, not so much. And now it's changing, and growing too quickly to keep up, our identity remains with our public schools, which isn't going to work anymore.
As a result, The Boerne Emporium was closed, and the building was sold. And Wardrobe Books, my beta bookstore was no more, at least physically. We (I) still maintained an online presence, but that too started changing because Abebooks was no longer working for me as a eCommerce platform.
It seemed as if everything I had built was disappearing.
And it might have, entirely, if I didn't realize that it was only because, until now, I wasn't willing to change, or rather, that I didn't realize, practically, that I needed to. I had not tweaked anything, I just opened the doors, and said "Come." And this was the same mistake that Read All About It made, and apparently, some other independently owned bookstore that I've heard rumors about, which had both opened, and closed their doors while I was living on the distant shores of elsewhere.
Unforeseen changes, and failure, if approached a certain way, lead to the best lessons, and improvements in your business, and they have for me, both in my personal life, and for CommuniTea Books.
The closing of Wardrobe Books, and the changes that I would have to make with the website, led to a conversation that I had with a handful of people, and this conversation led me into a new chapter, and through the front doors of a bank that, through their rejection, inspired avenues that I would have never imagined existed, let alone considered...
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I sold books online. And the process was time consuming. Abebooks.com has a reputation, among collectors, as a site for rare and collectible books, people do sell the average book, but only because it's so commonly referred to in the book world.
A few years ago Amazon bought Abebooks.com, and, of course, my initial reaction was frustration, irritation, a little shock - for whatever reason - ultimately, it didn't make a difference, the site isn't run all that differently, and the same people are "In Charge." ...but this blog isn't, particularly, about Amazon, or Abebooks.com, I uploaded hundreds of books, one-by-one online: I went into detail abou the condition of the books, and listed author, ISBN, title, edition, format, price, the process was unbelievable. I reached a point though where I realized that selling books online wasn't the avenue that I wanted to pursue, and I started considering different avenues while I went through the process of developing the actual storefront.
I looked into selling books from my trunk, and did, on several occasions, use my car as a mobile bookstore. I thought about buying a truck that I could convert into a bookstore. I even toyed with the idea of setting up a shop in the foyer of my house, an idea that I referred to as Blue Door Books, on account of my blue front door.
There is always another way to get your business off the ground, and being creative about it, can develop into something more than what you had originally imagined.
I moved back to Boerne, Texas, making the drive in a 10" U-Haul filled with a few personal items: clothes, a flat-screen TV, a guitar, a banjo, my djembe, but the space was occupied by dozens, and dozens, and dozens of boxes of books -- I had over a hundred boxes full of books.
The idea of selling books mobile never left my mind, and I looked into that - and still do - within the first few days of resting my head on the pillow in my new place in good ol' Boerne, Texas. In the meantime I also looked into renting space in multi-vendor shops in town. There were at least three multi-vendor shops right on, or just off of Main Street in Boerne, and I thought it would be a good way to gauge my customer base, to experiment with new marketing techniques, and to establish myself in town.
I initially agreed on a small space on the 2nd floor of the most traveled of the three, The Boerne Emporium. When I say small, I do mean, it was quite small. It was the size of a closet. After I had built, and stocked the shelves, the was room enough inside for two people, cramped. It was a closet, so it was only fitting to name the place, Wardrobe Books.
The benefit, I decided, to utilizing a space that was so small to start a business, was that the majority of my time could be devoted to understanding my market. I explored different marketing techniques, and demographics, I tried different ways to bring people into the building, and upstairs, specifically to my bookstore, to Wardrobe Books.
It was an enjoyable challenge coming up with new ways to convince people to walk into this three story multi-vendor building Main Street, to disregard everything they see on the first, and second floors, and to walk to the end of the hall, and explore a closet, and of books no less. A product that the media, and the conversation, has told us is "a thing of the past." "On it's way out."
In this closet I could only display a third of my inventory, so I eventually moved into a room, around the corner from my closet, that - for all intents, and purposes - was perfect for Wardrobe Books (for what I was trying to do, at the time). I was able to display the majority of the inventory I had, then. I built the shelves, just as I had in the closet, with ply board and bricks, and I challenged myself to recognize the differences, all the differences, from marketing to clientele, that the move, and the room size would make.
This was all in beta.
I was selling only used, and remainder books, and through the limited space and inventory, the intent would be to see who shopped there, how often, and what they bought. What are the differences between the authors, and titles, and genres, that sold in Boerne vs. Salt Lake City, Utah; New York City, New York; and Santa Fe, New Mexico? How could I predict that, and was it possible to manipulate what sold, if II could introduce new interests and tastes into the market.
If I could through this beta version of my bookstore, I would try to learn to gauge whether introducing teas, and tea smoothies, and coffees, into the equation would make a difference, or enough of a difference, assuming books wouldn't pay the rent on their own.
...then again, I thought, the whole point of this is to create a place that is a town center, a hub, and something Boerne has never seen before.
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I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I wrote the business plan, when I finally decided to take the first steps of leg work to pursue what had become a longtime developing dream.
While researching market strategy, and demographics it became clear to me that Santa Fe may not be the market that I should open this bookstore in. I loved the city different, and I wasn't eager to leave it, but I knew that because the needs of Santa Fe's 75,000 people were more than met by Op. Cit. Books, Collected Works, Garcia Street Books, The Ark, Gunstock, Big Star, Books of Interest, Travel Bug, Nicholas Potter, Bee Hive, Book Mountain, Bennett Books, and more.
If I wanted to open my bookstore I realized that I would have to leave this city that I'd come to love in order to do it.
I spent as much time, and resources as I was able to understand the demographics of the United States: buying habits, income, interests, growth, education, population, and what any particular market needed, whether that market knew it, or not.
You can stroll into a town and there might be a restaurant on every corner, many of them with a similar menu, identical even, there might be coffeehouses like there are gas stations, and each and every individual business could the thriving. So, what makes those business work, while others fail?
Where do business owners go wrong?
I'd suggest that it all starts with the business plan. Every business owner develops a plan for their business, though some plans - such as mine - are 30 pages, while others draft out at less than 1, neither represents a clear indication of whether a business will fail or succeed. In many cases even, the less detailed business plan might be more likely to develop into a sustainable business than the more detailed 30 page plan. Why?
You, and your plan need to allow room, not only for growth, but to change. You have to be willing to look at your plan and see it as an outline, this is a guide. My business plan lays out daily routines, such as mopping the floor, washing dishes, shelving books, but even the seemingly necessary day-to-day chores need to be allowed to be flexible.
Why is it that Barnes&Noble is still open, when Borders Books went bankrupt? They both sold new books at list price, they both sold the same authors and the same titles, they both used an eReader (Barnes&Noble invested in creating their own, NOOK; while Borders partnered with SONY, which may have had a slight impact but not considerable).
eReaders did not play as much of a role in the print/book market as many people believe that they did. Print is fine, it dropped a little, it changed even, and then came back. Newspapers are struggling but that suggest more a change in the information industry not necessarily print. Amazon introduced a different way to buy, and a different way to publish, but ultimately what allowed print and Barnes&Noble to favor was their adaptability.
When you write your business plan, when you build, and develop your business, regardless of what type of business it is, you are going to have to learn how to let it change, and if your business plan can reflect that, you are already a step, or two, ahead of the game.
I could have stayed in Santa Fe, and opened CommuniTea Books there, and learned how to change, and compete with other businesses - other bookstores. I had a vision for my store, and part of that vision, part of my plan was to provide something to a community that didn't have it. And I did not know that right away. While I was writing my plan I originally did so with the intention of opening in Santa Fe, and then I redid the number in order to open a store in the Bay Area, California; which is, essentially, the bookstore capitol of the world, but then I realized that I wanted CommuniTea Books to be a town center, and not just for books, I wanted to provide something in a small, rural, artsy, city that needed an identity. I looked at Missoula, Montana; Amherst, Massachusetts; Astoria, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.
I discovered a niche that hadn't really existed before, and I developed the need. My business plan became a map for me to do that, because I saw it, not as a step-by-step system, but as a means to visualize my goal, and to be creative, wherever I could.
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I had wanted to open a bookstore for some time now, but it remained only a dream that I would pursue sometime many years from now, perhaps after publishing my first, second, or third novel, or perhaps I'd consider settling down after I had spent a year, or three, living on a sailboat while sailing around the Mediterranean. Either way, until that point, the bookstore would be my endgame.
I was sitting at home, in Santa Fe, I had just put my girlfriends kids to bed - you see, she works nights, she's a waitress, and she was working, at the time, at Joseph's Table, one of the best, new restaurants in Santa Fe, so homework, dinner, and bedtime, were my responsibility, only after getting off work at the bookstore, of course. Anyway, I was sitting in the living room, questioning my existence one evening, suffering writers block, struggling with a story that I had been working on for days to no avail, and I decided that I would start writing a business plan.
So I opened WORD and I realized that I had absolutely no idea whatsoever where to begin. I had written short, one page business plans to guide a marketing micro-business, or to promote my writing career occasionally, but nothing to the scale of the bookstore that I had created in my head, in my dreams. So I Googled a business plan template, read through a few of them, considered what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it, and I decided on one that, though extensive, would illustrate every aspect of the bookstore. Down to the day-to-day operations.
And, I just started writing.
I skipped parts that focused on marketing analysis, and demographics, because it would require more in-depth research, and, at the time, that evening, it wasn't something I wanted to explore. If I had ideas I would make notes, and then move on.
Three hours later I had an outline for my bookstore. Parts of the plan, so far, were pretty detailed, ideas about the bookstore that I had been considering since working at Borders nearly ten years earlier. I knew what I wanted to do, and what I didn't want to do, but instead of spewing all of it out right then, I would give myself a starting point that I could develop.
I thought about the plan pretty much constantly. The bookstore that I had imagined for years was becoming a reality, on paper, and in my head, from the foundation up. I sit and stare out the window and see only people browsing shelves that had not yet been built, I would stand at the register at Op. Cit. Books and imagine that I was ringing customers up at MY bookstore.
And, every night after work, after homework, after dinner, after the exceptional hassle that is bedtime, I would sit down, and I would continue working on The Business Plan. I would write, and research, and calculate, and invent, from the moment the kids were in bed until my girlfriend got home between midnight and one o'clock, every night. I did this for months, writing, and re-writing, imagining, and re-imagining.
This bookstore would be a reflection of me, and of my community, and everything that bookstore once were.
City Lights, Sam Wellers', Moe's, Tattered Cover, Books Inc., Changing Hands, The Strand, Booked Up, Shakespeare & Co., Powell's, Op. Cit. Books, Moby Dickens, Books of Wonder...and CommuniTea Books.
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I wanted to develop as much insight as I possibly could into that world, I was determined to know more about books, authors, collecting, and writing than anybody; and especially how to take my experiences, what people have already done, to take what does and does not work, and create something that has never been done before, something that has never been seen before, and to make it marketable, to monetize it.
I knew the corporate world would be the easiest place to start, and I already had that experience working, not only as a bookseller and cashier at Borders, but working as a barista, also at Borders, but at Starbucks as well.
Shortly after leaving the job at Borders I decided to up and travel across the country. I lived in Idaho for a short time, and after working the graveyard shift at a potato processing plant for several months, I was presented with an opportunity to write, professionally. I developed an interesting perspective into the world of journalism, magazine writing, and freelance writing. While, simultaneously, managing a Hastings Entertainment, and working primarily the front end and books department. Hastings was an interesting experience because, like Half Price Books, (and now Amazon, I guess) it'(s) [was] the only corporate bookstore that sells [sold] Used books.
If you're planning on opening a bookstore in today's market you have to incorporate used books, it is completely unrealistic to attempt otherwise. The fact that Hastings, Half Price Books, and Amazon all sell used books is an important model, however, each relies almost entirely on numbers and inventory when sorting through used books - books that patrons bring to each place with the intention of selling, or trading. The employees at Half Price Books at least open the book, and look through it, checking the copyright, and title pages for printing information, and whether the book is signed, but, even then, they rely on what the computer tells them. This is a mistake: 1.) because, there's no better recourse than your brain when understanding something as complex as the market, and rare and collectible books cannot be predicted, entirely, by an algorithm. 2.) And, it is so easy to miss something, and Half Price Books is notorious for it. I found a 2nd printing "The Right Stuff," signed by Chuck Yeager for $10; and that isn't even the worst! I found a 1st printing "Angle of Repose," SIGNED BY Wallace bloody Stegner for $12! That's a huge miss!
Hastings granted me the opportunity to recognize the pros and cons of how to, both, run and operate a used bookstore.
My wife, at the time, and I moved from Idaho Falls, Idaho to Salt Lake City for her to attend a massage therapy school that she was interested in, and I started working at Barnes&Noble. There's a lot about this company that I like, but, again, most of what I learned working there was what not to do. 1.) It's always way to clean, and organized for a bookstore. 2.) They schedule hourly duties for their employees, most of which are needless stupid, chores; very little benefit comes from busy work in attempt, only, to keep an employee busy for $8.00 an hour. 3.) Barnes&Noble carry's one of the largest selection of new books in the retail industry (especially now considering they have almost no competition), the second Barnes&Noble I worked at was the flagship store at 86th and Lex on the upper east in New York City, and that store has more than 200,000 titles available, but they still manage not to carry some of the best authors, or the best titles. While working at Op. Cit. Books, an independently owned bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico I discovered very quickly that most of our sales where titles that are not available at Barnes&Noble, and for a while it blew my mind.
Also, while living in Santa Fe, I took a job as a marketing director for an art gallery on Canyon Road. I thought the opportunity would be a good one so I could learn the ins of the marketing industry, and granted every region, and changing demographic demands different marketing techniques, but, because of my job at the art gallery I now, at least, understand that, and have been able to learn what works, and what does not work here, in the Texas Hill Country.
Each of these experiences: Starbucks, Borders, Hastings, Barnes&Noble, Adobe Gallery, and Op. Cit. Books has offered me invaluable skills, and experiences towards the development of CommuniTea Books. And, as I've lived in, or traveled throughout the states I make it a point to visit amazing bookstores such as: Books inc., Moe's, City Lights, Tattered Cover, Changing Hands, The Strand, Powell's, Sam Weller's, Booked Up...