I own a bookstore. That’s right. I own and operate an independent bookstore and I don’t hate myself.
Things I will tell you:
1. Print books are not going extinct.
2. Amazon is not a threat to me, especially since I use it as a selling platform.
3. It is not okay to ask me how my business is doing. Do you ask that of every store you walk in? No? Then don’t here.
4. eBooks are not a threat to me. You can buy them at my store’s website.
5. Publishers set the prices of the books. I can’t alter them unless I’m marking them down. But since I also can’t mark them up based on supply and demand, they’re going to remain at retail until they are worth less money to my bottom line.
Now that the bookstore specific things are out of the way, I’d like to point out some things about owning a retail store and how small business is drastically different than corporations.
Every customer can make or break my day, even my month. Each purchase is important. I don’t have investors, savings, or lenders to fall back on. Banks aren’t exactly giving out money to start up bookstores, or start up anything, right now. That means I can’t kick anyone out of my store. Even at 7:59 PM. There is no closing the door early. There are no sick days, no paid vacation, no medical leave. So time is literally money.
Time that could be spent letting customers browse or time that the lights are ticking the electric meter outside.
When you are at Starbucks and they are mopping the floor at 9:45, remember me, who will wait until after close to do those tasks that can add over an hour to my work day because I don’t want to literally sweep customers out of my store.
Small businesses have to cultivate relationships with every customer. Which is also true of corporations.
I have to answer every question, look for every answer, because it doesn’t reflect on me as an “employee” it reflects on me as a business. There are only three people who work in my store (5 with seasonals). Chances are if there is an issue with one customer and one employee, bad word of mouth could lose the business untold amounts of customers. It will be less likely to be written off on the employee or the customer, but Books & Banter as a retailer.
Let it be known, if you berate my staff, I will ask you to leave. But if you berate me, I have to suck it up. I can’t tell you how many times disrespectful things have been said of my person and instead of say what’s on my mind I have to smile and shrug. Every customer interaction is important. Walmart won’t miss you, but I will. I cannot afford to have a customer have a bad experience, even if it’s his or her fault, because what they say or post on social media could have devastating consequences.
Recently, I said, “Owning a small business is like winning ‘King of the Mountain’ every day, only getting your eyes pecked out while you’re up there.”
When I see all these memes about retail and missing out on weekends or dealing with terrible customers or bosses, I have to laugh. I’ve bought books for my store before food for myself. I don’t wear shoes sometimes because my feet hurt from being on them more than 12 hours a day. I’ve heard terrible things about my dreadlocks, my store, my prices.
There is a wonderful lady who gave me the biggest piece of business advice I’ve ever heard. “When you own a business, the customer is your boss. You think you don’t have one, but you do. They ask where you are, why you’re not open, and tell you how to run things. You just have to know how to handle it.”
She owns a dry cleaners and alteration shop in town. She worked and stayed open through her husband having cancer and passing away, the new realtor ripping apart the plaza and tearing down everyone’s signs and people thought they were closed, and now, the plaza slowly but surely losing all their storefronts (including ours).
If someone says something negative about my store, it is hard to not take it personally. I select the stock, I invite artists to display their work, I do most of the cleaning, I hire the staff, I set the hours we’re open and closed, I pay for everything out of my pocket because it goes to the business before my bank account. If you don’t like something, chances are I do.
Opening a small business is rewarding. I don’t have to run things by “corporate” I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck about “procedures” (just breathing down my neck about money all day every day), I get to make the major decisions.
But at the end of the day, I can’t do any of it if no one wants to buy my books. It’s a market. Ultimately, if you hate working retail, you can get another job. If I’m looking for another job, it’s because my store failed. My dreams failed. My hard work didn’t pay off.
Shopping small has a bigger impact than what we see. It puts more money in the local economy. It creates jobs, locally. Any smart bookstore or other local shop invests in the community. Sure, I read a book to kids every month and secretly hope that their parents buy something while their kid is distracted for a minute. But I’m also reading to that kid. I love all my little customers. I love certain of my big customers too. There are lots of big chains that say they care. But how much can they, really? If their employees are burned out, doing the bare minimum, getting abused by customers and supervisors, how does that really translate locally?
My blood, sweat, and tears are all over this store. I just mopped them up before you came in.