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Borders – this doesn’t make me smile

March 24, 2008

I was particularly bummed to see the articles about Borders mulling a possible sale.  It’s never a good thing to lose any bookstore, whether it’s the small corner store rapidly going the way of the do-do bird, or #2 chain in the US.  It’s a losing proposition for authors, publishers, and readers. 

There’s a school of thought that says that it’s ok, more customers will buy books online.  But if you think about it, that doesn’t always work that way.  Think about it.  Any time the retail locations diminish, so does the customers ability to buy the product.  OK, I can’t find a book at my local bookstore, or my local bookstore has gone under, so I have to buy online.  I have a choice – find another bookstore, buy it online, or just go without.  Unfortunately, reducing the amount of retail locations that sell books has been leading to people to make the last decision. 

It’s especially unfortunate because Borders seems to be making a move into social media.  Facebook has a Borders fan page online for big Borders and Books ETC.  Borders NY also has an event page that’s really handy.  I had no idea Alton Brown would be signing books this week until I saw that – thought you should know in case anyone wonders why I am taking Thursday off :-). 

I was depressed enough when the Borders near my house closed.  To think about the chain going away in any way, shape or form is something too horrible to even conceptualize. 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2008 2:28 pm

    I really think this going to pan out as a merger or forced buy-out by Barnes & Noble since their (B&N’s ) head guy has bought up as many millions of their outstanding stock as possible (& still be legal) in the last 3 months; while the same Investment house holds around 25 % of both corporations. I think B&N WANTS Borders Social media arm. Buying one already beginning to flourish is easier & cheaper than creating your own. I expect we will see many more of this type of behavior since many of the publishing houses are currently merging or buying each other out. I keep up with it all on the “Shelf Awareness” blog (a terrific industry insider site). Talula

  2. monster7of9 permalink
    March 25, 2008 9:49 pm

    Well coming from a former Borders employee for over 7 years, it is no surprise the problems they are facing. When Amazon came out, Borders took 6 months to launch their own website and that failed. Luckily they partnered with Amazon but that was a long process.

    The philosphy of customer service where an employee not only takes the customer to the section but places the book in their hands. As the years progressed with them, the staff size was dictated to the amount of sales. This had an adverse effect were the store can be incredibly busy but if the sales did not reflect it, that store would have less employees. Now customer service deals with no employee at the customer service desk and the computers are turned around so that you, the customer, had to find your own item. And yet, there was always someone at the registers willing to take your money and asking you, “Did you find everything okay?” Oh, the irony.

    The latest move to save money and improve their bottom line to have a handful of employees that will have full time pay, hours, and benefits. The remaining staff will be comprised of part timers which there is no need to offer any health benefits. This is very similiar to the practice the Container Store runs. I understand the needs of Borders but how much more fat can they cut? It’s great they are using web 2.0 tools to make them more social but I miss those face to face and personal contacts I had with my customers. I lucked out that I now work as a librarian where I can focus on my customer service skill without worry about sales.

  3. JayMan permalink
    April 3, 2008 7:12 pm

    I listened to the analyst call that Borders had on the same day as the announcement that they might sell off a couple of parts of their business. Based on that call, and the questions they received, it really sounds like they are just being caught in the credit crunch. The only thing I remember from the accounting class I took as an undergraduate English major is OPM (Other People’s Money). You always want to use OPM. In this case, Borders has a bunch of initiatives that they were expecting to fund with OPM, but due to the credit crisis, they found it very difficult to get any money, so they had to put up two pieces of their business as collateral for the $42.5 million loan. Assuming that the funding comes through, I don’t think that we will see a “For Sale” sign on Borders in the next year. With that being said, and to Monster7to9’s point, one analyst pointed out that Borders’ same store revenues were actually up year over year, but not their profits, and asked what they will be doing to cut costs. No specifics were given by the Borders muckety-mucks, but I would imagine that if they can successfully launch their online presence, they will be able to shutter some stores, maintain revenue levels, and increase their overall profit margin. I certainly hope that they don’t go under because there is a borders near my local grocery store and I certainly would miss my bi-monthly trips to buy books.

  4. bookGirl permalink
    April 14, 2008 10:54 pm

    I know exactly what monster7of9 is saying. As a current employee, I have discussed with my superiors the disadvantages we are constantly forced to deal with. Oh, wait…they’re called “challenges.” All I know is that people can’t be paid the way they pay us (which is as little as possible as seldom as possible) for the hours we work, and expect us to bust our butts (can I say “butts” on the internet?) to help Grandma Jane spend her $5 gift card. My favorite is trying to be in two places at once – be on the sales floor and behing the ancient register at the same time!! Fantastic! Then try doing that with only two people on staff, 20 customers, and having your DM standing off to the side (not helping, but watching and criticizing). It frigging sucks, is what it does.

    I haven’t heard that Borders is selling anything off for sure, but I hear stories of stores closing, and newer fancy ones opening up in odd places – places that seem to be saturated already. I don’t get it, but I guess that’s why I don’t make the big bucks. All I know is that no matter how much I love books, that affection is not strong enough to tie me to a situation that seems to be at odds with the concept of customer care.

  5. monster7of9 permalink
    April 15, 2008 11:56 am

    bookGirl, where and which Borders do you work at? I used to work in Miami – Pinecrest, Coconut Grove and Winter Park, Orlando.

  6. April 15, 2008 12:34 pm

    Bookgirl, monster7of9 – I can easily say that the most valuable assets Borders has are it’s people. And if you’re people aren’t treated right and aren’t willing to go the distance, it’s a bigger problem than management realizes. I have an aquaintance who is married to a store manager of a chain bookstore (witness protection time here). He does a lot of things that “corporate” might frown upon, because he knows that it’s better for his store and his customers. That’s what makes the shopping experience at a store like his all the more pleasant, and makes you as a customer want to go back. Losing sight of treating your customers and employees right is where a lot of businesses go off track. I certainly hope that tide turns around.

    Jay-man – interesting insights. I saw the thing in PW Daily today about the shifts in the management team. It will be interesting to see if these changes affect things at the store level, either in terms of buys or store merchandising.

  7. February 10, 2009 12:19 am

    There are many ways to operate a books store but the product can be so all-consuming it is easy to get distracted.

    You are lost when you lose sight of the fact that people are your most valuable resource. The people who apply for a job in a book store are almost always book lovers. The people who enter the stores as customers are also book lovers. Seems like a perfect match to me.

    How can you screw up a business like that?

    Not knowing what your customers are looking for.
    Not stocking your shelves to accomodate your present customer base.
    Management that thinks books are more important than people.
    Even though the work in a books store will never be done – keeping an employee who acts like this is just another job.

    The book store business provides an unrivalled opportunity to learn and improve yourself while sharing the joyful company of other book lovers.

    I don’t know how many dozens of people have told me, “This is the best job I have ever had!” but it is many. In a few cases though I felt compelled to tell them, “And it would have been an even better job for you if you had actually done it!”.

    Basking in the joy is not enough – brains and education are not enough. When you have a chance to serve people as fabulous as book lovers – roll up your sleeves and work your a** off – you’ll never regret it.

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