Crowd gathering on Wall Street, 1929.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
With all of the craziness going on this week, I was thinking about doing a review of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929, but instead I decided to share what we've been doing and thinking about doing to insure that we don't go down the tubes along with everyone else headed in that direction.
Keeping It Simple and Small
First of all, we decided to keep our business simple and to keep it small. By simple, I mean that basically two people can do everything. We resist exponential growth - growth that may force us to rent additonal warehouse space, or hire additional people. Instead we have automated everything that can reasonably be automated, we review our stock on a regular basis so that we are not carrying junk that is taking up space, and when and if we do need people, we work with them as consultants or as skilled professionals who have businesses of their own.
Good Stuff Sells
Good stuff sells and continues to sell. Really rare material that is of interest has held up very well, even in what might be viewed as a "soft" market. Instead of buying huge lots of books and looking for those needles in the proverbial haystack, we buy only selectively and with purpose. We buy to increase our holdings in certain targeted areas, or we buy because we know we have a customer ready at the other end. By narrowing our focus to say, Americana, or British politics in the early nineteenth century, we can buy with knowledge. We have virtually given up going to library book sales, or buying huge lots of books randomly.
Keeping an Eye on Profitability
You have to either increase your sales or decrease your costs to become more profitable, or to hold your own in a soft market. We've done a lot of research on shipping domestically and internationally in order to trim the costs (and provide better service) in this area. We currently use FedEx international, Pitney Bowes, UPS and the USPS, as well as variants of the above. We use less expensive recycled materials for packing when possible (something, by the way, appreciated by our environmentally-conscious customers).
On the sales side we've worked for several years now to expand our sales safely to foreign marketplaces so that when the dollar is weak we get stronger foreign sales.
Reducing the Cost of Overhead
We used to have two bricks-and-mortar computer stores and they cost a fortune. We are now set up with an interwined bookstore/home, keeping the rarest items off-site securely. This allows us to partially expense many items as the cost of doing business, while avoiding the overhead of rent and maintenance of a separate space.
Even during the Great Depression, people were still reading.
Consider the Utility of Having a Subchapter S Corp
As a bookseller and a publisher, we are set up using a Subchapter S Corporation. You will have to consult with your accountant to see if this will benefit you. I can tell you that from our perspective the tax advantages are very significant (in our favor).
Treat Your Existing Clients Well! Go for Repeat Sales
Anybody in sales will tell you that the cost of a new sale far outweighs that of a follow-up sale, which can be made by telephone or on a private secure site avoiding the commissions on the megasites. We treat our clients well; we always give them contact information, no matter the size of the sale, and we check in with our clients, from time to time, when other books are available in their area of interest.
Take Control of the Hidden Costs Like Currency Conversion
We have active currency conversion accounts which enable us to send and receive money in virtually any foreign currency. Unlike going to a bank, where you have to take whatever rate you get, we can decide when to launch the transaction for the best rates and we do not pay pesky foreign currency deposit or wire transfer costs, as we are always working within the country.
Although we have strengths and specialize, we do not keep all of our holdings in one particular area. We are publishers as well as booksellers, and we're always looking for new projects.
Working Off the Grid
For the last thirty years we have been developing our property to make it increasingly "off the grid". We currently heat our buildings with passive solar, a modified glass-blowing furnace, as well as conventional gas/hot water. We're planning active solar, and as soon as zoning permits, a windmill. We long ago super-insulated the buildings and put triple-glazed insulated windows in them. We've changed all our light bulbs and our appliances are pretty much all Energy Star.
I think we're all going to go for an economic ride, but as far as I can tell nobody has given up on reading yet!
Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, planning her garden for next year.