The Death of Your Local Bookshop – Crucial Lessons For Your Business

We’ve been hit by a barrage from the media of late about how tough retail is doing it. About how consumers are switching to online in droves, about high profile retailers closing their doors, and the demise of bricks-and-mortar bookstores – most notably Borders in Australia.

Like many of my generation, and older generations, I share a sentimental attachment to the printed word, and enjoy the opportunity of browsing in a bookshop.

But bookstores are becoming increasingly unsustainable, both as an economic model, and environmentally.

Increasingly the market is choosing the alternatives of buying books online, e-books, audio books. Or not reading at all.

The harsh reality is that there will be more closures of book stores.

And the question has to be asked: Could the demise of bookstores be the canary in the coalmine signaling a wake up call for other businesses?

With the rise of outsourcing, almost every business in so called ‘first world countries’ could be under threat if they don’t evolve their business.

Outsourcing is still in its early stages. But when the general public learn that it’s almost as easy and cheap to get a website, brochure, logo etc outsourced as it is to buy a pair of shoes online, creative professions like web designers and graphic designers will feel the heat.

This may be a little scary, but it demands a response to evolve your business.

Provide exceptional customer service

Make the fact that you’re local to your customer count for more. Be more responsive. Make your understanding of local conditions more important. Make your relationship with your customer more important.

Go more upmarket

If you’re competing on price you won’t stand a chance as more price competition through outsourcing becomes the norm. By choosing to service more high end clientele you place more emphasis on the intangible aspects that set your business apart from lower-end ones.

Go more niche

Evolve your business from more of a generalist service to something that gains recognised expertise in a specialised area. Again, this moves you out of the domain of competing on price. Customers will pay a premium to be serviced by a market expert.

Go more ‘lifestyle’

This approach will only suit some businesses. But if you are providing what was previously considered to be a mass market essesntial like bread, books, or flat-pack furniture, then you will not be able to compete unless you redefine your product as a lifestyle item, gift-ware, hobby etc. e.g. A bakery selling organic, spelt, sourdough rye baked in a 100 year old oven powered by a windmill cannot compete with the bread aisle in ALDI. And doesn’t need to. Because it becomes a purveyor of health, of lifestlye, of nostalgia, of gourmet etc rather than cheap carbohydrates.

So, to return to the idea of demise of the bookshop – they will not die out. What we will be left with is a handful of specialised, expert stores offering exceptional customer service, building deep, long-term relationships with customers, providing great advice, and a wonderful buying experience that cannot be replicated online.

This affects all of us. What are your thoughts? Do you think my predictions are accurate? What else can businesses do to evolve? Please write your comments below.

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One Response to “The Death of Your Local Bookshop – Crucial Lessons For Your Business”

  1. On 03/10/2011 at 12:14 AM Tom Allen responded with... #

    I think you’ve hit on something here that directly bears on the industry with which I’m involved: Garden Centers and plant nurseries. Over the past three years I’ve been watching a fascinating dichotomy take place; the closure of a few small independent retail garden centers here in Northern California and at the same time the strengthening of many others. Your post helped focus the forces and actions that have brought this about. There is a definite market for high-end niche retailers in the garden industry, against whom the big chains and online retailers really don’t stand a chance.

    I will use your insights in my conversations with my customers, who are the owners and managers of these small retailers…Thanks for the post.

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