Prime retail position. Retailers, especially in a shopping center, want the best spot nearest the heavily trafficked area. Universally, this is closest to a grocery store. Prime retail real estate, in multi-level arrangements, is the first or main floor. This is where the shopper has direct access from the street or parking lot. A retail store won’t necessarily fail upstairs, or downstairs, but sales will be lower than on the main floor. When we moved upstairs in our second year, sales became flat. They were very good, but not going up. When the antique store emptied the first floor, it gave the building the appearance of being abandoned. In spite of signs, turning lights on downstairs and other attempts to show we were open, sales and the number of customers plummeted through February into the first half of April. Comments from customers, after we moved, included surprise we were back in business, and it was so convenient being on the first floor.
Location, location, location. In our case, this was an amazing discovery. The old location was run down outside, adding to the perception the building was abandoned. A gravel pull-off in front of the store was convenient, but not attractive. The pull-off, driveway, and parking lot are gravel. Neither I, nor the landlord, had the finances to do much about it. The building was also set back from the line of buildings along that side of the road, making it difficult to spot as you drove along the main street. On top of all that, trucks and semis would park in front of the store while the drivers got food at the deli a couple of doors down.
Our new location is across the street, opposite the deli. I can see my old location from the front window as I sit at the register. We moved in May, and we’ve had a definite increase in foot traffic. Most say they’re seeing the bookstore for the first time. Others say they noticed us when they went to the deli. Customers are coming back because the store looks so much better than the old place, inside and out. A lot are commenting on our paved parking lot, even though we have fewer spaces available. The building is newer, 1911 compared to the 1730’s, and it’s well maintained and landscaped. We moved barely 100 feet, and the visibility is much better along with proximity to the heavier trafficked businesses.
Establish a presence. When a retail store opens, it’s important to be in a location for a number of years. You want customers to find you, and eventually become a regular part of their shopping. When any store moves, it’s a challenge to get customers to follow. I’ve heard stories from other booksellers about moving down the block, or around the corner, from their former locations. Sales dropped before they began to recover over time. It may not be fatal, but it can be damaging. In our first year, we were on the first floor and growing. The second year, we moved upstairs, and we know we lost a number of customers, even though we were in the same building. We’re starting our third year, and our sales are immediately going up in the new store. I think it is working for us because we are still too new for anyone to get familiar with our location. We also didn’t travel very far in each move. There was disruption and confusion, but the current improvements help a lot.
If you’re still reading through this, here’s the bottom line. January sales were good, February was bad, March was dismal, and the first half of April was even worse. I was considering what I had to do to close the store, and could I arrange a means to continue running Magic: The Gathering events. Two factors kept me from shutting down.
First, it was obvious why we were failing (you did read this blog, didn’t you?), and we needed new space to continue. If I didn’t find a new place by the end of April deadline, I would close the store, rather than try to reopen at a later time. However, I was determined to find a new place, because I felt sales couldn’t be worse than they were. The store had to do better, and if it didn’t, I wanted a one year lease as a precaution. That narrowed the choices quite a bit, but there were still options. If the sale of the building fell through, and I was stuck upstairs into the summer, we would definitely have closed. Fortunately, we signed a deal with our current landlord, which beat the deadline.
Second, April was looking dim, until Magic: The Gathering announced a limited run of Modern Masters card set. Because the potential order was large, I decided to take prepaid orders. Sales soared, some records were broken, and made the transition to the new location easier. I was going to be able to operate through the summer, but this release was a bonus. On top of that, May’s mystery convention Malice Domestic, is always a big sales weekend for us.
I’m not upset about the old store. I was given a break there to start my business. The building has historic charm, and circumstances were what they were. The new owner is a nice guy, and will try to open an international grocery store. I wish him all the best. There are still challenges to increase sales, but I’m optimistic about the new store. So far, we've recovered to projection levels for the year, and foot traffic is better than ever.
I want to close this blog by giving a big thank you to the residents, friends, and customers, who helped pack books, move fixtures, and sort books in two days! I was at Malice when the books were packed on Sunday. We moved all the fixtures on Monday, when the store is normally closed. The store was open Tuesday, and we had sales even though most of the books weren’t moved until Thursday. Technically, we never closed, and I owe it to the dedication and loyalty of you. Thank You.