Tale of two failures

Two local stores are closing soon, neither of which comes as a surprise. What’s surprising is that each could have survived if they’d only adapted.

It’s hard for small stores today, as David and I have both discussed. I’ll say right up front that there’s not a lot of woodworking in this one, but I think it still applies to our recent discussions of small businesses.

The first of the two stores is a local bookstore. Nothing fancy, just a nice, typical bookstore that every town once had. These stores are a thing of the past – heck, even the big chain bookstores aren’t doing well. It’s a shame, as we always say, but the market and the way books are sold have changed. Amazon rules, and has earned its position of dominance.

However, we have another small bookstore here that’s doing well. The reason is that they’re not just a local bookstore, but rather a dealer in used books as well as new. They realize they can’t compete with Amazon, and so offer things Amazon doesn’t – old books (not just flea-market used-book junk, either), book-location services, book repair, a full stock of local and regional authors, fine art prints, special events, etc.  As a result, they recently moved to a larger location; still small and cozy, but bigger than where they were. They adapted, and they’ve survived.

The other store sells just one thing: turquoise. That’s it, just turquoise jewelry with a contrived Native American theme. Their TV commercials, always done in rhyme with Indian drums in the background, were, to be kind, odd. Don’t get me wrong: The jewelry is very nice, and the people running the store even nicer, but turquoise jewelry is a very specialized taste. That the store is closing isn’t surprising; that it lasted so long is.

It seems to me that such a specialized offering could still be quite successful, but not in a small storefront in a tiny Ohio River town. In an art-colony type town maybe, or in higher-end juried craft shows. Or even – especially even – on the Internet. Turquoise never did it for me, but some people really like it. A well designed and managed website would probably be quite successful.

But adapting to the new and changing market is the key. You can’t just cry and moan about Big Box stores and oh-woe-is-me about disappearing Mom & Pop stores. That specialized bookstore that’s doing well is a perfect example of how a Mom & Pop can work. And even thought the Internet is certainly not a traditional venue, there’s no reason a Mom & Pop store can’t work well there, too.

The two stores I just described above, however, failed to adapt and, sadly, will be gone for good.



  • Gregg Miller says:

    AJ, one of the best books I’ve read regarding adapting to change is a quick read entitled “Who Moved My Cheese?”. It’s very appropriate based on your post, especially when smaller stores don’t reinvent themselves to deal with being able to compete with the larger “big box” stores. If you haven’t read it, then it’s a must read!

  • DiAnne Patrick says:

    My partner and I just finished a third job for a small local one year old
    bookstore–we’ve made their cash-and-wrap, front window display, benches, stools, bookshelves, bookshelves and more bookshelves, soffits to hide lighting, slatwall units. The last job was because they were EXPANDING! They have local and non local authors there for book signings, wonderful kids’ events, co-sponsor famous authors with the public library.
    They don’t sell coffee mugs or any of the other extraneous junk most bookstores offer, just books and knowledgeable people manning the store.

    It is possible to compete with Amazon.

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