Alsace Walentine, the former author events coordinator at Asheville, North Carolina’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, provides an update on her plans to open a bookstore in St. Petersburg, Florida. In her first report in November 2015, Walentine described her efforts to lay a foundation for the bookstore by building relationships with local business leaders and the media. Here, she talks about gathering advice from a business coach and fellow booksellers, performing a market analysis, and exploring new social media platforms to promote her store.
Alsace Walentine writes:
Structure & Accountability: Using a Business Coach
On December 1, my business plan was a long list of inspired ideas and urgent questions, so I gave my business coach the store opening timeline that I got from Paz & Associates’ Owning a Bookstore workshop and a few days later he gave me a detailed 20-week schedule of the things I needed to answer. The assignments run through May, with more to come for the summer months.
One of the first things he had me do was clarify what I expected to get out of this venture, my salary requirement, my time allotment. He also asked me to describe my support team and the traits of my future key employees. The next task was to choose a legal entity. I read Mark J. Kohler’s The Tax & Legal Playbook: Game Changing Solutions for Your Small-Business Questions (Entrepreneur Press) and found some podcasts from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) explaining different legal structures and their tax implications, which was a great way to absorb otherwise dry information.
Winter Institute: A Circle of Mentors
Winter Institute 11 was my sixth Winter Institute and my most productive one yet. I had scheduled every free minute with meetings with store owners and managers. Several store owners strongly encouraged me to consider stocking some used books among my new inventory to help increase margin. A few store owners gave me excellent advice about working with commercial realtors: be cautious about triple net leases, watch out for contracts asking for personal guarantees. The budget for lighting is always too low. To partner or not to partner? Use ABACUS. Pay yourself! If you can buy a building, do it! As usual, I came home from the Winter Institute with several notebooks full of new ideas from the most experienced and successful people in the business.
Wanting to go above and beyond the demographic data provided by the Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau, I used Mosaic, Experian’s marketing and psychographics tool (available for free through our public library system) to validate my perceptions about the St. Pete market. There is a core population here, very similar to Asheville’s population, in line with the ideal indie bookstore shopper. Mosaic segments the population into cleverly named groups such as “Bohemian Groove,” “Progressive Potpourri,” and “Birkenstocks and Beemers.” It tells you the percentage of your city’s population that falls into each psychographic segment and then within that segment the percentage that buys books, buys books from brick-and-mortar stores, and buys books online. It also provides other useful marketing information like what percentage listens to drive-time radio, reads the New York Times, reads particular sections of the newspaper, and enjoys different hobbies and sports. This kind of statistical analysis helped me to think about which marketing platforms may be effective for different segments of readers.
I’m looking at ways to use different social media platforms more effectively and am exploring newer platforms. For instance, Snapchat’s Stories feature can be used in innovative ways to reach millennials (77 percent of college students use Snapchat daily, 70 percent of all Snapchat users are women). The New Yorker, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Design Sponge, Fierce Reads, and Book Riot are now all using Snapchat.
I’m using all of my free time to reread newsletter archives from ABA, Shelf Awareness Pro, and Publishers Weekly, and I now subscribe to more bookstore newsletters than I could have kept up with in the past. Whenever I see a great idea, I get in touch with the bookseller behind it and ask questions.
I’m on track and excited to dive into the next phase of this process.
In my next update: Naming and branding the store.