I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.
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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...
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I don't recall ever wanting to be an Astronaut or a Cowboy, I may have, for a time, wanted to play in the NBA, but that might have been my only far fetched, self-proclaimed career title. In middle school I put minor effort, and research into being an Oceanographer. But the oceans too deep. And JAWS ruined the idea of even wading in the man made lake a few miles from my childhood home, if I couldn't see the bottom; let alone whatever extremes I would have to consider when you consider the ocean! So, I settled, or I had thought I settled, on the next obvious career path: a psychologist.
I majored in psychology, after graduating from Boerne High School in 2003, at The University of Texas at San Antonio. But my mind began to wander, and aside from questioning the idiosyncrasies of our education system, even at the college level, I began questioning the idea of medicating psychological disorders, and often caught myself getting stuck in the conversation of, "Well, certain disorders maybe..." And then that bleeding into the concept of dependency and withdrawals. And that's all at the psychiatric level. I began noticing the desire for the majority of the population to want to be medicated instead of putting a little time, and work in, which is where I would have come in. So, instead, I pack up my car, and begin driving hapless across the country.
But before that impulsive - yet, ultimately the best decision of my life; sometimes - drive across country I worked for several months at Borders Books, Music & Cafe. I discovered the bookstore! Sure, I had been to bookstores before, I've been an avid reader, I loved to learn, and to escape. I remember one afternoon, on shift, I was shelving in one of the departments next to a couch on which sat two men, whom, before that day, had never met. And they were talking about a particular current event, and bringing up references from various books that they had read, while each sat with a book in their hands, and it was the most comfortable, and intelligent disagreement that I had ever witnessed. I interjected on occasion, and I realized something about bookstores that day: bookstores are so much more than a place filled with objects, and names, and dates, and even ideas, bookstores are a place for people to interact, and to learn, and to feel comfortable, while also allowing themselves to be vulnerable. One of the last great places on earth were our trust for humanity outweighs our uncertainty, and our fear.
I didn't decide to open a bookstore right then and there, but I did recognize something about the bookstore that I hadn't before. And I did know that I wanted to be a part of this world.