This marks our 13th year of business, and without you and readers just like you, our store would not be here today. Our store needs your help. I've included the details below of our 2015 Capital Campaign...similar to the one we successfully completed six years ago. I hope you have an opportunity to read through the information, and give it your due consideration. I truly believe that bookstores, and our bookstore in particular, offer their communities a most valuable commodity: instant access to books. We don't judge our readers, offering reading selections for all interests, genres, political affiliations, and ages. Please take a moment to consider the importance books are to our community and the integral part The Blue Heron/The Book Shelf plays in creating a meeting place for minds to come together.
We launched this campaign, in limited fashion, a few weeks ago, and are on our way to reaching our goal, with only 14 contributors getting us 17% of the way there! We really need your help to get back on solid footing.
Please read through the information below, and consider helping The Book Shelf remain your local independent bookseller.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
For the past thirteen years, my staff, my family and I have been blessed with the honor of being your local independent booksellers. The Book Shelf has undergone many changes during our tenure, from expansion into textbooks, to contraction then relocation, and contraction again. Through the ups and downs, you have continued your unending support and patronage without which our doors would not be open today. The store struggled mightily through the recession, and has come out the other end a bit battered.
I am still in love with bookselling, but for the store to continue in its mission, our finances need to be overhauled.
Where we are, and how we got here.
As you might imagine, building any business from the ground up is an act of faith. Market analysis and industry benchmarks will get you only so far when beginning to put together your first business plan. Like many start-up businesses, ours did not perform financially as well as we had expected in those first five years.
Although our sales have increased steadily each year, we took on a lot of structured higher interest debt to keep our doors open. In 2009, at the beginning of the recession, we conducted a capital campaign to pay down this debt, and keep the store open. Although we didn't get close to our goal, we did receive enough support to remain in business, and we were blown
away by the support our community provided.
In the 5 years since that campaign concluded, economic forces continue to weigh on the store, and we have fallen behind in our financial commitments as well as allowing the store's inventory to suffer.
Where we are going.
If you read the publishing journals five years ago, you would have been told that retail book selling would be dead by now, replaced solely by online retailers and e-books.
Well, the growth of e-book sales have leveled off, and booksellers have continued to sell more print books each and every year. I see our bookstore as being a place where readers can browse what is, undoubtedly, the best and most diverse collection of books in the Winona area. We have survived the one corporate bookstore in Winona, Book World, which opened the same month we did, followed our relocation downtown, then closed.
In all of this, there is one major bright spot. Foot traffic in the store has increased tremendously. We are seeing more new faces every day, and unit sales in the store continue to be strong. Were we able to put the proper inventory into the store, we would be able to capture not only higher gross sales numbers, but higher profits as well.
Now Selling Online
During the recession, many of our new books have slowly been replaced with used. We have begun selling these books on online selling platforms, and have been very pleased with the results. This is a new income stream for the store, and we are excited at the possibilities it will have for our bottom line. Our new Point of Sale system automatically uploads our used books as they are received into our system, for sale online, dramatically reducing the maintenance time to manage multiple online platforms. If a book sells in the store, it is automatically removed from availability online, and if a book sells on one platform, our system will automatically remove it from the others.
I have also begun to expand our efforts in publishing books, which will add additional revenue streams for the store in the years to come. We will be launching two imprints, one under our current name "Book Shelf Editions" will feature titles selected and edited by us, and distributed into mainstream
publishing channels. The focus of this premium imprint will be literary fiction, poetry, and fine art books. In addition, we will operate a contract publishing service for local folks who are looking to produce small print runs of books of all types. Examples might include memoirs, poetry collections, family histories, etc. These new endeavors will keep us busy, but will help to secure the store's future.
Regularly Scheduled Author Events
We have seen a marked improvement in attendance at our events when they are scheduled regularly. We will continue to host the "Laureate's Writers Series" on the first Tuesday of every month, which features a visiting poet or prose writer, with an open mic session immediately following. We also will begin to schedule one author dinner and one additional author reading event each month, on a regular schedule so our customers will be able to anticipate and watch for event postings.
Reinvestment in our Children's Section
We began carrying Melissa and Doug toys shortly after our move to our current location, and two years ago expanded heavily into toys and games in our children's section. It proved to be a short lived financial advantage, and our overall children's department sales have declined due to declining inventories in book inventory. If this campaign is successful, we plan to reduce the toy and game footprint in our children's department, and bring back the book as our focus. More board books, more picture books, and a complete refreshing of our middle grade fiction and nonfiction sections. Additional inventory is needed in our young adult department as well.
The Challenges Ahead
In a competitive retail environment, the path forward must take into account the reality of overcoming the challenges posed by the marketplace. Amazon.com continues its dominance of the book marketplace, and bookstores, publishers, and authors have been fighting its near monopoly for the past few years. Ease of ordering, and what may become next day delivery to all Minnesotans when they build a distribution center in Minneapolis, continue to pose a challenge to our business.
We do not take this challenge lightly. If we are able to complete our capital campaign, we will be able to reinstate two to three day delivery with our closest wholesale supplier, which will make us much more competitive with Amazon.
The Financial Picture
With no indication of how long the recession would persist, we had had to look long and hard at our operating budget. We downsized the store slightly, giving more square footage back to The Blue Heron, and reducing our rent. We are, however, still behind in rent payments and need to catch up. I have been able to reduce staff hours, taking more hours myself, and reducing my pay. But in order to balance the budget, The Book Shelf needs to raise funds to reduce our lines of credit and debt payments, as well as coming current with our suppliers. We would also like to take this opportunity to bring the store's inventory back in line to where it should be. Doing these things will ensure the store's survival, and set us up for success.
In conclusion, with our reduced overhead, the planned reduction in our debt service, and the improvement in store inventory, The Book Shelf will continue to be Winona's independent bookstore.
How You Can Help
With the goal of shedding our structured higher interest debt, coming current with rent and suppliers, and improving store inventory mix, we have set a goal to raise $50,000.00 by having customers open House Accounts, which are essentially prepaid accounts. When using the funds in these accounts, customers will receive 15% off their purchases.
You can think of it as buying yourself a large gift card that you can redeem over time. In order to spread out the redemption of these funds, we would ask that we spread out the allotment over two years. Half of the funds would be available immediately, the other half becoming available on January 1st, 2016. We would ask that you consider setting up an account that would reflect your book buying budget over a 2 year span, but any amount helps us toward completing our goal.
This program would also make a great gift idea for a friend or family member!
It is your support that will ensure our store's survival, so I hope to hear from you.
Your independent bookseller,