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Scouting vs. In Store Buying

Today's post is a little "inside baseball" by nature, but we often get asked why we stopped buying books in the store so I thought I would offer a general explanation.

Here goes.

Mark and I are both book scouts. In the BTB (before the bookstore) days, Mark and I would find books and sell them to used book stores as a source of extra income. At the time, book stores would pay about 20% cover price for good titles in saleable condition. It was a fun way to make a few extra dollars and recycle books.

When we decided to open the bookstore Mark, Brandy and I discussed at great length how we would acquire books for the store. After much debate we decided on a hybrid model. We started buying books in the store and continued to scout. We soon discovered it was hard to support both book acquisition methods.

We noticed right away that scouting books was cheaper. Yes, there was the extra effort of having to find the books. But for book scouts like Mark and I, that's where the fun lies. It's like a treasure hunt. Most of the time what you find are regular common reads that are the bread and butter of the store's revenue.

Every now and then though, you find a rarity. A signed title, or an exceptional first edition. More often than not, that rare find can end up paying for the whole buy. It's exciting if a bit addicting.

Buying in the store has its own rewards. People bring their books to you. You can take your time checking for value and condition. It's less physical work but you pay a premium for the privilege. We were following the strict 20% of cover price model. As you can imagine, a $30.00 hardcover would cost $6 to buy and we'd sell it for $8-$10 depending on demand for the title and the condition of the book.

When you factor in the costs of keeping the doors open, coupled with payroll, staying in business with a 60%-80% cost of goods is a precarious affair. Therein lies the rub. It's why so many used bookstores have gone out of business, or have had to change their business model. It's just not possible to keep a used bookstore open with a high cost of goods and a low sales price. The margins are just too thin.

There are few areas were we can reduce expenses. We either cut staff or reduce the cost of buying books. We could raise the price of the books, but then that defeats the purpose of a used bookstore.

Scouting a hardcover book from a local thrift store costs us $2. This reduces the cost of goods and improves revenue. In the end, changing how we obtain books was the least painful way to improve our fortunes. Hence our decision to change our business model to scouting only.

There are additional benefits to scouting books ourselves. First, we get to support causes we believe in. We buy used books from a lot of places but our primary sources are thrift stores. Many of these thrift stores raise money for hospice care, cancer treatment and pet welfare. Buying books from these sources is a way for Mark and I to contribute to these valuable resources.

Second, scouting allows us to fill voids in our inventory faster. We can go out and look for books that we need for sections that have become thin. If we're buying in the store, we have to wait for someone to bring these types of books in. That's not a very efficient way of obtaining books and can lead to lost sales.

Lastly, we gain a great deal of enjoyment from scouting books. It's the primary reason we wanted to open the store. Unless you've pulled a first edition To Kill A Mockingbird or a signed Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone off a thrift store shelf, out of a box of donations or from a yard sale table, there's no describing the feeling. It's a rush, just as owning a couple of bookstores is.

So that, in a nutshell, is our reasoning for the change. We continue to live in the hope that people will understand that we wish to continue to be a resource for good, clean secondhand reads. We believe our decision will allow us to continue as a going concern and to be that resource here in West County.

Thanks for listening.

Mark and Geronimo

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