business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Last week we featured an Eye-Opener about how 20 participating independent bookstores in Connecticut decided to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday, April 28, by offering the following incentive: Shoppers could obtain a Connecticut Independent Bookstore Day Passport at any participating store and, if they visited 15 out of the 20 stores on April 28 and 29 - and got it stamped - they could will receive a $25.00 gift card from each participating location. More than 100 customers won the promotion…

To me, this was great example of a segment of the retail community taking control of its own destiny.

Which made it interesting to me over the weekend when the Boston Globe ran a piece about Dana Brigham, who is retiring after 39 years working at Booksmith, a bookstore in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Some excerpts from the interview with Brigham:

• “As far as the independent bookstore business, there is to my mind nothing like it. It’s very arduous and challenging, but it’s so much fun and there are so many great people. And what you’re selling is learning and ideas and escape and comfort — and a whole long list of adjectives. It’s just a very magical profession, and the people who work in it are all so terrific.”

• “I’ve had the opportunity over the years to hire and mentor lots of people who went on to become either authors, journalists, work in publishing. People sort of got their feet wet here first. So that’s really my favorite thing, I would say, of all the aspects of the job. All the wonderful people with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work.”

• “Some years back there started to be conversations about the so called ‘third place.’ There’s work, there’s home, and then there’s a third place that is sustaining for people. So we, independent bookstores, definitely think of ourselves as that third place where it’s comfortable, safe, lively, interesting. As people spend more and more time on screens and [in] the world we know so much more about what’s going on every day everywhere and so much of it is troubling, I think that we feel even more like we’re an oasis of education, safety.”

To me, this is the way that independents need to think if they are to compete in a cutthroat competitive environment - especially the notion that such a store isn’t selling books as much as it is selling “learning and ideas and escape and comfort.”

To be effective, retailers often have to think of themselves as not just selling the thing they are selling. They actually are selling something far greater and more meaningful.

That’s the Eye-Opener.
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