Tuesday, November 1, 2011

One More Page Books, A Newly Opened Bookstore

One More Page Books
A rapidly changing bookselling and publishing environment and a slow economy did not deter Eileen McGervey from following her dream of owning and managing a bookstore.  In January 2011, McGervey's store, One More Page Books, opened in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC.  McGervey worked for more than two decades as a marketing consultant to high tech and telecom companies and had no experience in the bookselling business.  The Committee Room recently talked with McGervey.

Q: Why did you want to own and operate a book store?
A: I have always loved reading and to be around books.  My first job was shelving books on a bookmobile and I thought – what a great job to be surrounded by books every day.

Q: How much time passed from conception of the store to its opening?
A:  Almost 2 years (about 22 months)

Q: What was the biggest challenge in getting the store up and running?
A: Finding the right location and the permitting/inspections process.  The location the store is in now was the third place I had tried to secure.

Q: How did you choose your location and how much does location matter?
A: Location is critical.  You can have the best store, but if no one comes to the store, it’s meaningless.  One of my key criteria was that it needed to be in walking distance of neighborhoods, complexes.  If someone has to get in their car, they can go anywhere.  I wanted to be in an area where I am not the only business. Again, foot traffic is key.  And it couldn’t be crazy expensive because the margins are low in the bookstore business.  This was a challenge in the Arlington/Falls Church area.  Also, it’s very helpful to have a landlord who is willing to work with you.  We’re very happy with our location – we love the neighborhood and have a good relationship with our landlord.

Q: How big is the store and how much does size matter?
A: The store is just under 1,500 square feet.  Size matters in that while more revenue is generated in a larger store, expenses are also higher a square footage increases – more fixtures, higher rent and more inventory.  But you have to be big enough to cover your fixed expenses of rent and utilities.  It’s a challenge to find the “sweet spot.”

Interior, One More Page Books
Q: Have you received any financial backing from any government agency such as small business development assistance or cultural affairs support?
A: No financial backing other than myself and a few friends.  For a person starting a new business in field where they do not have previous experience, there is little financial support available.

Q: Who selects the titles that go on your shelves?
A: The staff and I, plus we work with publishers on upcoming titles as well as feedback from our customers. Several of our most popular books are ones were suggested by customers.

Q: What are the criteria for selection?  For example, do you stock bestsellers regardless of what you think of their quality?
A: We do not because traditional best sellers are not generally what our customers are looking for – they are often looking for different, indie books.

Q: Who are your customers?
A: Our customers are generally local to the area, many within walking distance of the store.  They are well educated, book lovers, inquisitive and interested in learning about new books.

Q: Why should someone shop at One More Page Books and not at the Barnes and Noble a short distance from your store?
A:  A couple of reasons.  Often when folks go to B&N, they are looking for a specific book. Many of our customers are not looking for a specific book, but to get a book that is new to them.  They browse the tables where we display new books, our favorites, recommendations from other customers.  I think they like that we have come to know many of them and them us and also that they frequently run into friends in the store.  They enjoy the community aspect of our events, like the wine and chocolate tastings, book discussion groups and author events.  A number of them have told us how important it is to them to support local business and independent books stores.  And from a practical aspect, since many of them walk to the store, they don’t have to battle the traffic. They can just stroll to the store, look at books and then get a snack or lunch at the cafe across the street.

Q: One More Page Books belongs to IndieBound, a subgroup of the American Booksellers Association.  What are the rules for belonging to Indie Bound and what benefits does IndieBound offer?
A: A store must be (or plan to be) a bricks and mortar store retail bookstore to be part of IndieBound. Indie Bound provides a community for indie bookstores and also uses the buying power of all the member stores to make arrangements with vendors on services/products stores need.

Q: Why should someone shop at your store and not just download a desired book to an e-reader?
A: A brief answer is that a number of our customers also download books to their e-readers - it’s not an either/or situation.  One of our biggest customer advocates is also a big Nook user.  People are looking for something new to them, which they wouldn’t know to download. Also, people tell us there are some books they like to read in print.

Q: One More Page Books sells wine and chocolate as well as books. Why is that?
A: Something fun and different.  It gives people multiple reasons to stop by and more things to buy while they are here.  We have a lot of fun talking about our wine and chocolate with our customers and really   enjoy that our tastings have become a popular event where our customers get to socialize with each and    with us. Besides, I love books, wine and chocolate, so who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by their favorite things.

Q: What do you think One More Page Books will be like ten years from now?
A:  To be honest, I haven’t thought about it.  Things change too quickly to predict the future very far out.

Q: What's your main piece of advice for those considering opening up a bookstore?
A: Do your homework.  Plan on it costing more money and taking longer than you expect.  Make sure there are compelling reasons for someone to come to you versus B&N or Amazon.  Enlist support from others.  That got me through some very difficult times.  I love the store and feel so fortunate to have so much support in making it happen.

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