About a month back, I walked into my local Borders in Columbia, Md., which I’ve done dozens of times in years past. After being there, walking the aisles, feeling the vibe and, yes, using the restroom (as businesses say so much about themselves and how they view their customers by their restrooms), I basically said to myself, “Whoa … they’re going down. I bet they’ll be declaring Chapter Something in the next 12-18 months.”
OK, so I’m not in commercial real estate. Nor am I in retail. But I can pick up lots of micro clues and feel the trajectory of the accumulated data: I can see the direction something is going in, and I can usually tell how they can switch directions.
So my suggestion here is going to require some future-think type of understanding to comprehend it.
The super-short version:
- Border’s lost their specialness, coolness and newness.
- They are trying to sell too many things.
- They haven’t done much of anything new except bring in more things.
- There store is junky with too much signage and stuff trying to get people to buy.
- They’re struggling with the challenge of being so successful years back and spawning a lot of competition in their niche.
- Online booksellers and the secondary markets eBay and Amazon.com have provided many more options for avid book purchasers.
OK, so maybe that wasn’t so short.
Here’s some more info to digest:
- Read the societal need.
- People today desperately need space to work outside their homes, gather for book clubs, study together in groups, check their email, post some information on Facebook and so forth.
- Homes often don’t work for this type of gathering.
- Parents need productive space to do some after-work work, while sitting with kids doing their homework.
- Bookstores and cafes are taking the brunt of this need, but not maximizing the value. (I once saw a young couple who had literally packed their lunch and a thermos, then parked themselves – and took up additional space to either side of them with their books – and did this all in the café area of Barnes & Noble! Their gall is a whole ‘nother subject … )
So, what’s the solution? Here’s what I recommend for Border’s. (This is going to take some guts to implement, but it’s certainly better than “Chapter Something.”):
Remodel. Remove. Reposition.
- First, get rid of about 60 percent of the books and 80 percent of the tchotchkes. Gone.
- Create two or more café areas with numerous, plentiful electric outlets and stellar, free wi-fi.
- Make one café the quiet zone in a quiet, back corner of the store. No cel phones. No group conversations above “library voices” allowed. Shhh.
- Make the other café social, a cel-phone-friendly zone, with lots of tables that are meant for collaborative work, book clubs, homeowner association meetings and study groups.
- Create a number of relatively sound-proofed rooms (with lots of windows to keep people civil) which groups can use for a specified and scheduled period of time.
- And before anyone uses such rooms, require a Borders’ Customer Agreement (with some fancy name). Much more to say on this but this blog post is getting long! Basically it would cover rules of engagement, civility issues, respect for Borders property (i.e. not eating while handling a magazine or new book!) and a direct and specific request that in exchange for this new community space, Borders’ customers use, when price-competitive, the borders.com website for purchasing new books.
The bottom line: I believe that if Borders continues as it is, or only makes micro changes (such as a new store design), they’re going down. And hard. They have, at this moment in time, an opportunity to step into an entirely new relationship with their customers and the communities in which their stores are located.
My belief is that with a genuine and direct explanation of why they are reducing in-store inventory to provide space for the community, they’ll increase customer loyalty and sales.
I have more to say on all of this, but the main points are included in this post.