This post was copied from a website I used to maintain called How I Built My Business. It’s now here for posterity.
Company: Dragons & Fairy Tales Books & Games
Years Active: 2009–2010
Location: Eagle Mountain, Utah
Business Builder: Jaclyn Weist
HIBMB: What was your history with books before opening the store? Were you an avid reader, author, both?
Jaclyn: I’ve loved reading since I was tiny. I could finish a book or two every day after my homework was done, and went through a lot of books in the school library. Several of them more than once. I also wrote stories when I was young, but it was my senior year when I really started enjoying it.
HIBMB: When did you decide you wanted to start a bookstore and what were your aspirations for the business?
Jaclyn: I told my parents I wanted to start a bookstore in high school and then again in college. It’s something I always wanted to do, and I’d love to open another one when I get the chance. I wanted to have a place where people could come to find new books, meet authors, and enjoy themselves while I was there.
HIBMB: How did you go about finding a location?
Jaclyn: I started looking on my own at first, and then I went to a realtor who had helped us buy our first home. He does a lot commercially, so he helped us look through a few places before offering a spot in his center in Eagle Mountain. It was a worry that because there were no grocery stores or anything keeping people in the town, that we wouldn’t be able to do well, but we decided to give it a try so we could provide for the community.
HIBMB: What kind of costs did you have to get started and how did you get the funding?
Jaclyn: We needed to do the buildout on the store itself (carpet, electrical, bookshelves, desk, etc.), then, of course, we had to buy the books and other supplies.
We went to Chase first for funding because they were nearby, and we were told that we could get a $25,000 loan, use it to buy our inventory, and then come back, using it as collateral to get a bigger loan. When we went back, they said that now we had another $25,000 borrowed against us, so they wouldn’t give us any more. I was less than impressed. Anyway, we then went to another bank and got a line of credit for $20,000, which meant we had $45,000 for the buildout and all the supplies.
From my estimations before we ever looked for funding, we were at least $20,000 below what I wanted to have going into the business. I highly recommend going closer to between $65,000 and $100,000 if you’re going to have a bookstore business in order cover the cost and to have some left over until your business gets going so that you can replenish inventory.
HIBMB: How did you go about picking a supplier and what was your interaction with them?
Jaclyn: At first we went to each separate publisher through Pubeasy, and it allowed us to get a broader range of books to start up. They were also easier to work with when we had author signings because they had cheaper shipping and could get the books to me much faster than through a supplier.
I had to use Ingram Books in order to get some of the books I wanted, but they were harder to work with, and their discounts were much lower (most publishers offered between a 40–50% discount, while Ingram provided a 35–40% discount). It was also difficult to return books after a signing.
I discovered Baker and Taylor shortly after, and they’re fantastic. They worked with me on billing, and I was able to get a wider range of books with them. If a book arrived damaged, they were quick to replace them. There were times when they didn’t have something on hand that I needed quickly for a signing, but otherwise I was happy with them. When that happened, I’d go back to the publisher to get the books I needed.
For our toys, we went with Melissa & Doug because they have high quality toys that I knew people would love. They were great last minute gift ideas, or just for fun. And then for games, we went through a couple of different companies to get the games that were popular at the time.
HIBMB: What was your strategy for picking your inventory?
Jaclyn: I started with books I knew well from reading them, and then went to the top 100 lists on Amazon. I continued to branch out from there until we had a good range of books for all ages. And then it was like Christmas as all of the inventory began arriving in my house. It was the same for when we picked out games. We checked reviews, cost, and popularity before picking them out.
HIBMB: What kind of profit margin were you targeting?
Jaclyn: I knew that the first year would be difficult, so honestly, I was just hoping to break even. I studied all the areas around us to find out what they normally made, and then figured I’d make half or even a quarter because it was a hard economic year, and because we were in a newer town where everyone had to leave to go grocery shopping.
HIBMB: Did you buy and sell used books and, if so, how did that compare with new books?
Jaclyn: We had some used books, but they didn’t sell well, and people didn’t bring in many of theirs to trade out, so they mostly sat there. I had a few customers who insisted that I become a used bookstore like others they’d seen, but there just wasn’t a market for it in the area.
HIBMB: Did you sell games, comics, or any other product?
Jaclyn: We sold games, Melissa & Doug toys, books, and then we had a few things on consignment like jewelry, tutus, flower clips, and greeting cards. The toys and games sold well, but I learned that I needed to keep toys under $20 for people in the area to buy them. The Melissa & Doug account guy I dealt with was amazed that I didn’t want the $50 barns or $100 houses. That just didn’t work in our area.
Games were different, though. I’d put games on the shelves, and they’d be sold out within a day or two.
HIBMB: How did you go about marketing the business and acquiring customers?
Jaclyn: We had author signings at least once a month, and I actually credit that experience with getting my writing off the ground. I learned so much about the Utah writing community from them.
We also did a reading time for kids where we’d read a story and then do an activity to go along with it. We had a summer reading program, which was a lot of fun. An English teacher in the area helped host a poetry night for the local high school students and that was a lot of fun. We’d also hold game nights, D&D nights (yes, they were separate), writing groups, reading groups, and a few other activities. The city hosted a few events in the store as well. We even hosted a Kirby Heyborne concert one night to help with an Eagle Scout Project, which was was a lot of fun.
For other advertising, we put ads in a few local papers and sent out flyers as often as possible. Since we had a small budget, we weren’t able to put out a full flyer of book sales‚ something I wish we’d been able to do. We also took part in the city days with the parade, and a vendor booth at the park.
HIBMB: What was your customer demographic?
Jaclyn: We had a lot of families who came in together. Our city is very young (we’ve been in the top twenty in the nation for years), so they loved the reading time. We also had gamers and fantasy fans who would come in because they loved the games we offered, AND because we sold hardcover versions of the fantasy books that no one else carried. We actually had people from California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New Jersey call in asking for hardcover books, first edition books, and signed books by local authors.
HIBMB: Were most of your customers repeat or new customers?
Jaclyn: We had a lot of repeat customers, and even six years later, many still remember me. Near the end of the business, we had more new people coming in, so excited that the bookstore existed, but unfortunately, we were already scraping by and knew we’d have to close soon.
HIBMB: What kind of effect did technology like the Kindle and Amazon have on the business?
Jaclyn: Amazon didn’t have much of a negative effect on us at the time, because Kindle wasn’t as big for those in our area. We actually sold our Melissa & Doug products and a few books on Amazon, which was huge for us during Christmas.
HIBMB: Why did you decide to close up shop?
Jaclyn: We decided to close when we saw that our costs were adding up and profits weren’t coming in as quickly as we needed them. Being so far behind in the beginning made it difficult to catch up and pass what we needed in order to keep going. So, for our one year anniversary, we went all out with a huge author signing. Every night of the week, we had a different group of authors come to sign according to genre (kids, YA fantasy, YA fiction, Adult fiction, and Adult Fantasy). Then we went in with friends to rent out a theater for Harry Potter 7 part 1. They were able to buy tickets through us, and we had a lot of giveaways. Then just before we closed the store, we had Brandon Sanderson come back for the third time and we had a huge signing (which always happened when he came), and it was a great way to say goodbye to the store.
One thing that surprised me was that I had several people tell me how smart or how brave we were for closing when we did instead of dragging it on. It’s possible we could have come up for air at some point, but we were so far behind, it would have been years. Plus, my husband was offered a job in Australia (surprise!) shortly after we decided to close, so that solidified our decision.
HIBMB: What did you do with the remaining inventory? I bet your kids have quite the home library.
Jaclyn: When we decided to close, I contacted the supplier and all the publishers we’d worked with to negotiate returns. Then I separated the books into boxes, wrote out inventory lists, and sent them back. The money we got back went to paying rent, and a few of the other bills we had that were outstanding (some of which we’re still paying).
My kids do have a huge library, and the majority of the books we have are signed from the local authors that came to our store.
HIBMB: What advice would you give to someone else thinking about starting a bookstore?
Jaclyn: Make sure your location will get lots of traffic around it, and make sure you have enough funding. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s what hurt us from the beginning.
Have fun with it. We had a cute little corner in the back with a fireplace (which I still have), couches, and books for people to read. People still tell me how much they loved that area.
Use a supplier, but also maintain good contact with the publishers. Find a program for your merchant services that is easy for you to work with. I loved our program, and it was easy to use, but there were a couple of things like applying discounts and coupons that I wish had been easier.
For my bookstore, the Young Adult section sold far more than any other section in the store. Fantasy was next, and like I said, people loved the hardcovers in that genre. Watch the trends in your store. If one isn’t selling, send it back and use that money to get books in the genres that are selling. I had my adult section on sale for 40% off for months, and I only had one customer who bought them. That money would have been used so much better somewhere else.
There were a couple of things that warmed my heart as I was closing down, but the biggest compliment was when one guy told me that he’d never find another bookstore where the employees knew so much about the books. He said I could always find exactly what he was looking for. Know your product. Read the books. Know where they are on the shelf. It will help you find books for those who don’t know what they’re looking for.
Oh, and have a set return policy and stick to it. No matter what. Just trust me on that one.
Make sure you have an online presence. Social media, website, ALL of it. Make sure your website is easy to use but shows what events are coming up and what books you have. It’s up to you if you want to sell online, but at least have those things available.
HIBMB: I know you’ve been writing some books lately, can you tell us about that?
Jaclyn: I was part of a writing group at the bookstore, and for one meeting, we had to write a prompt for “The Worst Day Ever.” I couldn’t think of anything, so I figured I’d go with someone who had never had a worst day. And then a leprechaun showed up at her door, offering her luck. When she didn’t take it, he took every ounce of luck she had, and her world basically blew up. The group liked it and wanted it to be more than a short story, so I decided to give it a try. Five books and a novella (short story) later, that series is complete.
I also have Endless: A Modern Cinderella Story, The Princess and the Prom Queen, Magicians of the Deep, A Christmas Worth Billions, and Ring of Truth, and more are coming all the time. It’s fun being able to hang out with the same authors who had signed at my store, and reminiscing about my little bookstore where all this started.