This August, TJ Rayhill, a 19-year-old college student, will open Dog-Eared Books in Campbellsville, Kentucky. The used bookstore has also begun selling new books online and is offering an online textbook rental service for college students.
A student at Campbellsville University double majoring in middle school science education and environmental science, Rayhill is broadly supported by family, friends, and members of his private Christian college community as he prepares to open the store during the second week of August. A grand opening is slated for August 28.
Opening Dog-Eared Books was an obvious step to take given the dearth of accessible bookstores in the area, Rayhill said, adding that the nearest bookstore selling new books is 45 minutes away and the nearest bookstore selling used books is an hour and half away in Louisville, Kentucky. Another bookstore popular with students is located two hours away in Nashville, Tennessee.
“It was definitely a niche that I felt could be filled pretty easily,” Rayhill said.
Before his 3,500-square-foot storefront opens its doors, Rayhill, whose personal savings are currently covering the store’s rent, has already begun operating the other two parts of his three-pronged business: direct sales of new books to customers within the local community and beyond through his website, which uses Ingram’s services to deliver books on-demand, and a college textbook rental service, which also operates through his website and employs the online distributor Bookrenter.com to ship books anywhere in the country.
Rayhill said he decided to sell only used books in the physical store in order to keep costs down and prices low, since the business is located in a relatively low-income area. The store’s initial stock of used books has come mostly through donations from family and friends. But Rayhill has also purchased stock and fixtures on eBay from booksellers who were going out of business, as well as used books from flea markets, large estate sales, and entire collections from consignment shops.
“At one point last semester, I had close to 6,000 used books in my dorm room,” he said.
Rayhill has also had help from his university president, who donated a few hundred books on his own. But most of all, support has come from his mother, father, and brother, who constantly scout online for deals on books and fixtures.
”My family is extremely supportive of me. I definitely would not be able to do it without them,” Rayhill said.
The store will exhibit the work of a local artist throughout, and a retired art teacher has donated her services to create murals in Dog-Eared’s children’s section.
Rayhill envisions his store as a popular hangout for local college students; he plans to set up a lounge area with couches and chairs where they can do homework or just read. Initially, the lounge will feature a coffee machine and pastries from a local bakery, but Rayhill wants to expand this operation to an in-store café in the future.
Dog-Eared’s online textbook rental service was battle-tested by students taking courses over the summer. “I ran a savings analysis on five customers’ purchases, and based on what they could buy new versus what they are paying through me, the total savings was over $600,” said Rayhill, adding that he hopes to recruit some of his high school friends as college representatives at different universities around the country as the business expands.
To get Dog-Eared Books fully up and running as the new school year begins, Rayhill has enlisted the help of an intern, a marketing major at Campbellsville, who is helping him manage Dog-Eared’s social media outreach via Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. He has also created a line of mugs and T-shirts featuring The Dog-Eared logo.
“I’ve worked in food services since I was 15 years old, and I’ve been in management for the last three years, so I know how important word-of-mouth is,” said Rayhill. Working approximately 40 to 50 hours per week at an on-campus fast food restaurant, he has not only accumulated start-up money for the bookstore but also been able to generate good buzz among his classmates.
“I’m very hard pressed to go out to Wal-Mart or to the grocery store or to work without someone stopping me and saying, ‘Hey, how is your bookstore going?’ or, ‘Hey, I saw your latest Facebook post,’ or, ‘I saw your Tweet.’ It’s just really cool how much the community is on board with this,” he said.
Dog-Eared Books’ grand opening on August 28 will include numerous perks for Rayhill’s fellow Campbellsville students. Though all customers will get 15 percent off all day, Campbellsville University students and staff members who show their school ID will receive an additional 5 percent discount. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be followed by a meet-and-greet and store tour, with raffles and light refreshments offered all day. At night, the store will host a free pizza and ice cream party for Campbellsville students.