Used bookstores are doing so well that there are even a couple chains, Half-Priced Books and 2nd & Charles. The last is owned by Books-a-Million, and is more of a used media store than used books (one moved into the space vacated by my local Borders store).
And now there’s a franchise chain of used bookstores. The Washington Post reports:
Sierra, 38, is a former Navy officer with an MBA and experience in government contracting. His new store, in a small strip mall on Georgia Avenue NW in Park View, is called Walls of Books, a chain started by Gottwals Books in Georgia. The company has opened eight locations since 2012, including one in New Orleans, and offers a training program for owners. The investment is significant: Start-up costs can approach $85,000.
Shane Gottwals, the chain’s co-founder, said some franchisees are fulfilling lifelong dreams to sell books. Others are in it solely for the money. All of them see unmet demand. “One of the first comments we hear is that the bookstore down the road closed, and there’s no place to buy books anymore,” Gottwals said. “It’s like having a museum or a theater. It’s a cultural center. It’s a place people want to go. And that’s why it’s a good investment.”
You can find more details on the franchise here.
The WaPo sees this as an unlikely comeback, but I don’t see how that could be. Used bookstores are thriving in part because they’re going where the customers are (online) and also because they have better margins than new bookstores.
The more established accounts that sell books on Amazon’s marketplace are all commercial operations (sometimes with no actual storefront). And while used books often sell for a lot less than new, the stores buy their stock at an even steeper discount. That, when combined with the lack of expectation to waste space on the latest buzzworthy release, changes the ballgame.
Speaking of the latest buzzworthy releases, one often overlooked source of used books are remaindered titles that did not sell when first released. Half or more of the print run for blockbuster titles by Patterson, Crichton, and other big-name authors are often shipped back from bookstores when sales slow down, and are either remaindered or pulped.
Most of those returned/remaindered books are fully refunded to the stores, so they don’t have a materiel cost. This is an SOP across much of consumer book sales, but there are times that I wonder just how much manpower the booksellers waste on this process. It’s an operating expense that the used bookstores don’t have, giving them another advantage.
Thanks to the internet, there’s a larger supply of used books than ever before, so really the surprise here is not the resurgence of physical used bookstores but that someone turned the idea into a franchise.
Franchises are common in many industries, including retail (especially restaurants), and even bookstores. I think Waldenbooks/Borders passed through that phase, and I know of a couple franchise bookstore chains in Australia.
But a used bookstore franchise?
That’s new to me. Does anyone know of other similar franchises?
images by dweekly, Ben+Sam