Q: I'd like to start a brick-and-mortar
educational bookstore for kids and then take it online, but I can't find any good sources of information on the industry. How do I
get a list of book distributors and publishers and arrange for them to ship their products to me?
-- W.B., Long Beach, Calif.
A: Even before Amazon.com and its ilk came along, independent bookstores faced intense competition from discount
chains that could readily undersell them. The squeeze on profit margins has only gotten more intense since online booksellers came
into the picture.
Before you start contacting wholesalers and ordering inventory, you need to become familiar with the realities of owning an
independent bookstore and the economics of the book-selling industry in general. Then decide whether this business is really right
for you. Your options include taking some courses, reading up on the industry, or being mentored by an independent bookstore owner.
You can do all three through the American Booksellers Assn., a trade group located in Tarrytown, N.Y. The ABA's Web site offers good information on its Professional Development page,
including how-to articles, beginner's courses, marketing tools and tips, statistics on book sales, e-commerce solutions for
bookstores going online, industry outlook columns, and surveys of book-buying habits.
Some of the general information on the site is available to the public, but most of the specific advice is limited to members
and provisional members. As a prospective bookstore owner, you can become a provisional member via the Web site.
Annual dues are $175, plus there's a one-time $25 processing fee. Provisional membership entitles you to the group's weekly
publication, Bookselling This Week, and a copy of The
ABA Book Buyer's Handbook.
The group will also hold a two-day Prospective Booksellers School in conjunction with its trade show, BookExpo America 2000,
which is being held in Chicago on June 1-2. The course covers "every aspect of opening and operating a bookstore...from selecting
the ideal site to store layout and design to financial management," according to the Web site. The $175 course fee includes
admission to BookExpo America. You must register in advance. Call (800) 637-0037 x1249 or e-mail email@example.com.
If you decide to get into this business, the process of developing relationships with book wholesalers and distributors is the
same as it would be for any retailer in the early stages of contracting with vendors, says Richard Scott, managing editor of
Bookselling This Week. "You'll have to identify the major and minor suppliers that you want to purchase from, contact them
about becoming a customer, go through their credit-approval process, and then begin ordering your inventory from their catalogs,"
he says. Two of the largest book wholesalers are Ingram Book Group and Baker & Taylor. Since you're interested in specializing in children's books, you might
also be interested in contacting the Children's Book Council .
Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online,
Avenue of the
Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only
city will be printed.
Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.