retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Boston Globe has a story about how “only a few decades ago, mom-and-pop independent bookstores were supposed to disappear, crushed by Barnes & Noble. (The plot of the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail pivots on this very tension.) But today, it’s Barnes & Noble that’s trying to survive the Amazon.com-driven retail apocalypse currently blighting American malls and shopping districts, while independent bookstores are doing pretty fine. According to a recent report from the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the country is up 31 percent since 2009. And book sales at independent bookstores grew nearly 7.5 percent on a compounded basis over the past five years.”

An example of how independents are surviving comes from Trident Booksellers and Café in Boston, which has emphasized “getting people in the door for live experiences, even hiring a second events coordinator. Besides speed dating, Trident offers book swaps, a calligraphy workshop called Sip & Script, and a monthly Self-Care Night, complete with adult coloring books and feel-good movies.”

Another example: “An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café in Plainville started offering people the chance to learn to play ukulele after a local instructor pitched the idea. What started as five students has grown to 100, meeting in the store’s second floor events space (the store takes a cut of the tuition).”

There are plenty of other examples cited in the story, and Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, explains the approach this way: “It’s not a passive business anymore — unpacking the books and expecting customers isn’t enough. You’ve got to create a place that’s interesting and compelling.”

Which is a good and Eye-Opening lesson for every retailer. You’ve got to exploit not just your advantages, but create points of difference that are enough to get people out of their chairs and off their couches.
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