Barnes & Noble it’s Time to return to your Why

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I love books, I love reading books, I love having books, I simply love books.

My mom was also addicted to books. She read to me as a child and passed on this love from the very beginning. When we ran errands on the weekends and one stop was always to the bookstore for a nice long visit. Then, it was Crown books which was really not designed to get you to love books it was a place to go buy books. Which we did a lot.

So it wasn’t a huge leap for me to go get a job at a book store when I moved to Florida. It was a natural fit. I loved books. I should work at a book store where I could be around books.

When Book Stop’s parent company Barnes & Noble was opening their first store in Orlando, Florida and I was chosen as one of the people to go help open the store. I was thrilled. I got Barnes & Noble’s “why.”

Barnes & Noble was opening large, comfortable, stores with cafes that were designed specifically for people to come and enjoy the books. They wanted people to come, grab a coffee, sit and read. They loved books. They wanted people to love books too. So, if a few books had coffee spilled on them… that was the cost of doing business this way.

This store in Orlando fully embraced Barnes & Noble’s “why” the team was full of people who loved books and shared their love of books with every person who walked in to that store. Everyone loved and cherished the books. They shared books they loved with the customers. They learned about books they didn’t know existed.

I remember one day, someone came in and asked me about “free masonry.” I thought he was asking about construction. I had no idea it was about the Freemasons. That day I learned about the secret society and fraternal organization. Working at a bookstore opened my mind to so many new concepts and ideas.

Standing in the receiving room we had a chance to touch nearly every new book that came into the store. There we came across lateral thinking puzzle books. These were so cool. Books full of thought experiments. Try this one on for size: (35 people are dead in a cabin in the woods, the doors are locked from the inside, the windows are sealed, and the death was particularly violent but they were not murdered, how did they die?) Nearly every book I read there gave me a new perspective or idea.

The store hosted a murder mystery night and every staff member who participated, personified their literary characters to the nines. Harry Haiku, our villain, had gone mad seeking a rhyme for orange. We embraced the “why” of the love of all things literary that night.

I was so engaged with Barnes & Noble’s “why” that I helped open 7 stores in three states and trained over 100 booksellers. I absolutely loved Barnes & Noble. I wanted to make the company my life-long career. But Barnes & Noble lost sight of its why and I could never get beyond assistant manager after all that work in so many stores. When I left I wrote a long letter to Barnes & Noble corporate about my experience and how I loved the company but could not remain in a place where I could be assistant but never more, and their reply was that since I left, that was that and the matter was closed, that if I had spoken up while I was still an employee, they might have been able to intervene.

Since leaving, I still shop at Barnes & Noble from time to time, but I don’t go and sit for hours. Mostly because all that real estate that was chairs is now merchandise. The store, and the company, has lost its “why.” They no longer encourage the families to come and just be. They no longer seem to host the events that draw people to come and enjoy the store. Now, when there are people at the store, and they do get plenty of shoppers, people are on top of one another. The experience is much more frenetic and stressful.

Apple just introduced “Today at Apple.” This is a true example of a company that understands its “why.” Although the company stands to make no real money off the specific events, the goodwill and fact that it brings people into the stores will pay off ten-fold. The company shows yet again that they want to inspire people to be creative and unique. I will save my money and delay other purchases to be a part of this because I believe in this “why.”

Barnes & Noble, you watched many bookstores fail. Your Nook product is not grabbing the market. But! people still love books. It is not too late for you to remember your “why.” To quote Simon Sinek “people don’t buy what you do, the buy why you do it.” (sorry if the quote isn’t exact Simon).


The answer to the lateral thinking question: They were in an airplane (cabin) that crashed in the woods.


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