First of all, you need to decide what type of bookstore you want to run. The most specialised kind of bookstore is the antiquarian type. Selling rare and valuable books, manuscripts and other publications, it is certainly advisable that you have some sort of background knowledge or passion for books, as you will often have to go to auctions or visit others in the trade to acquire your books.
As you would be dealing with expensive collectors items, you will have to command a budget that allows you to bid for items and auctions or fairs. As you may just be dealing with a few select titles, it is not essential that you have a store – many antiquarian booksellers work from home.
“About 50 per cent of our members have shops, but I suspect that a majority of the remainder of the 3,000 or so traders operate from home,” explains John Critchley of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA). “The turnover of ABA members is about £110 million a year, of which about 60 per cent is exported, and I certainly hope that they are making enough to live on.”
If you decide to steer clear of the specialised end of the market, you will need to concentrate on getting yourself a store, some books, possibly some staff and, most importantly of all, some customers.
Like any other retail business, it’s important that you find suitable, affordable premises, that is easily accessible to customers. If you are going to be a general bookstore, it could be more useful to locate near the high street or main shopping areas, to benefit from passing custom. If you want to be a specialist seller, you may want to use more out-of-the-way premises to cut down on rent and draw your targeted customers to you.
“When we took over and relocated the business there was a very small walk-in retail business at the previous London premises which was not a shop but a semi-basement storage area,” says Ian Knight of MilitaryHistoryBooks.com.
“We believed that walk-in retail could be substantially increased so we took a lease on a much larger retail store in Hythe. This costs us £18,000 per year and brings in a maximum of £8,000. We estimate that we can retain at least 50 per cent of this even if we don’t have a shop - most retail customers know us and travel specifically to see us.
“We are therefore looking to assign the lease and move the business to our home where we have a storage facility plus sufficient office and packing space (as well as Broadband internet).”
Find out more about getting the right premises for your store by clicking here.
Once you have got a store big enough to house your books and your customers, you need to get properly equipped. You will need a till, shelves and carrier bags, while a computer will be useful to help record your stock and keep tabs on your suppliers.
“The equipment that a bookseller uses is really up to them,” says Meryl Hall, of the Booksellers Association. “Good shelving is essential, contemporary design, a lot of bookshops incorporate cafes now and a good brightly lit, eye-catching children’s section is always good.
“We recommend that booksellers adopt good IT systems and equipment, to maximise ordering, stock control and sales information.”
If you are going to set up a specialist antiquarian booksellers, you will need to visit trade fairs, go to auctions and haggle with others in the trade to get the valuable publications that will make you money. To do this, you need good contacts with those in the know. The best place to start would be the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA).
If you intend to set up a general bookstore with second-hand or out-of-print books, you will need to do much of the work of an antiquarian store, but at a lower cost. Visit trade fairs, car boot sales or even raid the attic – you could have some old classics that a fan has been searching high and low for. Try to get books from a wide range of sources so that you can offer customers something different and interesting when they enter the store.
If you want to have ‘new’ books, your best option is to contact publishing companies or wholesalers for books in bulk.
“There are three main wholesalers in the book trade – Bertrams, Gardners and THE, who all offer independents a huge amount of support and help, with Buyer’s Guides and other marketing collateral,” explains Meryl. “Discounts vary according to the amount of business placed, but would generally be less than discounts received from publishers direct.
“However, most indies are very close to at least one wholesaler, as they supply from a very wide range of publishers, their service levels are very high, and they allow indies to be fleet of foot, ordering and supplying customer orders often within 24 hours.
“Discounts would start at around 35 to 40 per cent and rise according to volume,” she says.
Taking on staff
Much like any other small business, you will probably want to save costs in your early stages by not employing anyone else. A small bookshop with a modest collection of books shouldn’t force you to start taking on extra workers until you have expanded. Make sure you get a good practices in place, then, as your firm grows, you will be able to take on staff to work behind the till or keep your shelves fully stocked.