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Operating a used book store is a lot like owning a recycling

center-not too glamourous until you take a look at the owner's

bank account.

This is an ideal "absentee-owner" type of business, or a small

investment type business for someone to start while holding down

a regular, full time job. The type of person "best-suited" to

running a successful used book store, is a man or woman who loves

to read, has collected books over the years and enjoys

associating with people of similar interests.

Start-up risks average high, with the average time period needed

to become firmly established, about 3 years. After that "becoming

established" stage however, you should be able to enjoy ownership

of a business without extreme market fluctuations, plus an income

close to $50,000 per year or more.

Ideally, a used book store will need a market population of at

least 50,000 persons to support it. Try to locate your store in a

"high traffic" area, as near as possible to a college or

university campus. Something to bear in mind is the shopping

habits of the average used book buyer: First, he is a browser. He

notices your shop, drops in and begins looking around to see what

kind of books you have available. If he spots something that

really interests him, he'll probably buy then and there. If not,

and provided you've made him feel comfortable this first time in

your store, he'll be back-dropping in to browse whenever he's in

the area.

Shopping Malls are an excellent locations for book stores.

Locations near other, or "new" books stores are also very good-

if the buyer doesn't find what he wants in the "other" book

stores, he'll check your store. Grocery store shopping centers

are generally poor locations for book stores of any kind.

It's important that there be a lot of casual strollers in your

location area, and that you encourage these people to drop in,

and browse around.

If you want the entire front of your store to be a show

window...take pains to arrange your window display in an

uncluttered manner, showing the kinds of books you

have...However, a window display is not really necessary...more

important is a window for the passers-by to see into your

store...At any rate, if you do go with a window display, keep it

low-never more than 36 inches high leaving a lot of room for the

people passing to see in youe store, and notice the people

browsing thru your books. We know of one successful operator who

had members of his family, relatives and friends, purposely

"browsing" thru his store, just to project that kind of image for

the store.

Once you have your store location selected, paint the entire

interior in a dark, warm color, such as mahogany. Install a

lighter shade of indoor/outdoor carpet throughout. The lighting

should be indirect, and somewhat subdued to give the store a warm


Locate your checkout counter parallel to one of the side

walls...You don't want it blocking or guarding the easy entry or

exit from your store. You want your customers to feel comfortable

just visiting your store. in other words, do everything you can

to encourage the browser,because it's proven time and time gain

that the browsers are the book buyers. Allow the people to come

and do generally as they please;to pick up thumb thru the books

that interest them; to read them and "fall in love" with them.

These will be your real book buyers.

Your book shelves should run along each side wall, and across the

back of the store. Don't build them more than six feet high.

Partition these shelves into sections about four feet wide, and

at the top of each section, place a sign

 indicating the general subject matter of the books to be found

in that section.

Paper the walls of your store, from the top of your book shelves

to the ceiling with posters--colorful and descriptive travel

posters, broadway show billboards, concert posters and full color

dust jackets from books that are perennially popular.

The next thing is to build or buy half shelves, tables and

revolving racks for other or more books. The half shelves--about

4 feet wide by 4 feet high and similar to book cases in your

home--should be located at right angles to your wall shelves, and

in the rear of your store. The tables should be about 3 feet wide

by 4 feet long, and about 30 inches high. These also should be

located at right angles to your wall shelves, but closer to the

front of your store. A revolving wire rack, to hold currently

popular or specially featured books, and located at the front of

your store, will be a special extra merchandising effort that'll

really pay off in sales of your books.

In locating your half shelves and tables down the middle of your

store, stagger them--one 3 feet from the wall shelves, the next

one 6 feet out, then 4 feet and so on. This will allow people to

be "seen" in your store; cut down on the appearance of a formal

or military layout, and project a more casual atmosphere for

browsing and this is precisely what you want. This kind of

arrangement will cost you some space, but it will be worth it

with increased traffic.

Another merchandising idea that works very well is a couple of

revolving wire racks on wheels...These you push outside and

position near the entrance to your store. You can feature popular

paperbacks, and a few oversize hard cover books with bright,

flashy colors in these racks.

Your store hours should match those of your neigbors...In fact,

you cold "jump off to a quick start," by opening a half hour

earlier than your neighbors. Use his opening half hour to take

care of paperwork, and get yourself organized for the day. When

the early shoppers see you're open early, they'll begin coming

into your store to "browse and kill time" while they wait for the

other stores to open.

If you cannot be there to "open the store," then hire part time

help. The best arrangement is house wives or college students in

4 hour shifts at the minimum wage.

First off, write out a list of duties you want each clerk to

perform while he's on shift. In addition to taking care of sales

transactions, you might want him to do some stocking, dusting,

cleaning, sorting and prcing..Regardless, you'll have fewer

problems and enjoy bigger profits if you formally write these

"shift duties" out, and post them as job requirements, and

explain them when you interview for hired help.

Look for, and try to hire only book lovers who are personable,

outgoing, and have some sort of business aptitude. You the train

these people in all phases of your operation, with the thought in

mind that they will run the store in your absence, and eventually

be your store manager. the best way to find such people is by

talking with your customers, observing which might be willing to

work for you, and which of them might best fulfill your needs.

You'll need a outside sign for your store- preferably one that

hangs right angles to the flow of traffic in front of your store.

Many successful used book stores utilize hand-carved wooden

signs, while others display painted signs with calligraphic

lettering. By all means, spend the extra hundred dollars or so to

have spotlights installed on your store front, focusing on your

store signs. Backlit plastic signs just don't create the

comfortable image necessary for the success of a good used book


Newspaper and/ or broadcast advertising will be much more

expensive than it's worth. Your best bet is to create a

comfortable feeling and open invitation for browsers, price your

stock fairly, concentrate on personal service, and let

word-of-mouth advertising and time do the rest.

Even so, you should run an ad in the yellow pages. perhaps and ad

in the college paper, and from time to time, special sales ads in

your local shopping papers. Inexpensive flyers inviting people in

to exchange books, or to just browse, can be printed at your

local quick print shop and handed out or placed under the

windshields of cars in the larger shopping center parking lots.

Advertising, and special sales during holiday periods such as

Christmas, Mother's Day and Father's Day are generally quite

effective in bringing new customers into your store.

Most used book store entrepreneurs use their own book collections

as start-up inventory base. In addition, talk to as many

neighbors, friends and relatives as possible for the donation of

books. Then start making the rounds of all the garage sales and

flea markets. You should have at least 10,000 books in stock when

you open for business- and that's a lot of books. Search for

books to sell-those you can buy for 25 cents or less--in all

thrift shops, Goodwill stores and Salvation Army outlets. Church

bazaars and estate sales also sometimes provide you with almost

"complete" libraries.

You might place a small ad in your newspaper announcing that

you're looking for good used books to buy. Generally, you

evaluate a book according to the price you think you can get it

for in your store. Then you subtract two thirds of that total,

and offer that as your " buying" price. Always separate the books

you feel certain you can sell from those you aren't sure about.

It's going to take awhile for you to become proficient as a book

buyer, but with practice and some experience, you'll quickly

develop the "intuition" you need to realize a profit on every

book you buy. Always flip thru the pages of each individual book,

and be sure of its condition before you quote a price. In many

instances you'll also find that out of a box of 25 books, you're

only interested in buying 10...The seller will generally be

wanting to get rid of his books, now...And for a couple of

dollars more than your "bid price" on the 10 books you want,

he'll let you have all 25 of them..This is like a windfall to you

because you can always use the "unwanted" books as leader items

or extras to generate traffic during two-for-one sales; all books

on a certain table for just a nickel each; or your choice of free

books for everyone coming in to browse on certain days..

You should carry hardcover as well as paperback books. Pay no

more than 25% of new price for a mint condition hardcover book,

and buy only those you are certain can be sold in your store. pay

no more than 10% of the new price for a mint condition used

paperback, and steer clear of the hard-core sexually oriented


Visit the libraries and book stores in your area. Observe what

people are interested in reading and what they're checking out or

buying. Stock your store with these kinds of books.

below is a listing of the kinds or types of books you should

consider stocking in your used books store:

BUSINESS BOOKS: These should include books on leadership, career

advancement, time management and people management.

HOW-TO BOOKS: These should include all the self-help and

self-improvement manuals you can find--mail order, auto repair,

carpentry, metalwork, home building, gardening, and business


COOK BOOKS: You'll probably be surprised at how many people buy

books relating to the culinary arts. A well stocked cookbook

section will mean definite profits for you. Forget about books on

dieting, home economics, and etiquette--these just don't do well

in used book stores.

SPECIAL INTEREST BOOKS: Watch and listen to the people of your

area...Be on the lookout for people into World War, history,

aviation, sports perfection, movies and just plain old book


PAPERBACKS: Women's romance, science fiction, mysteries, and

historical novels are all good movers--currently enjoying an

upsurge in popularity and sales. These will be the "best movers"

in your inventory, so develop good sources of supply, and price

them for fast sales.

Building and maintaining your inventory, while continuing to

rapidly turn that inventory over, can be handled in a number of

different ways. It's not a good idea for you to exchange two or

three of your customer's books for one of yours. There's always a

variance in price, plus you may not want the type of books your

customer is offering to trade.

The most feasible plan seems to be to give the customer a "credit

chit" for each book you buy from him. Simply

have a supply of business cards promoting your store, printed at

your local quick print shop. On the back of the card, have them

print something along these lines:

"The bearer of this card is entitled to _______________ cents

credit on 50% of the listed price of any book at Ye Olden Book

Store/s/ Your Signature."

Then when someone brings in a couple of books to sell, you pay

him in credit chits, marking in the amount and signing your name

on the card. An easier way might be to have your signature

printed on the cards when you order them--you or your clerk would

simply fill in the credit amount, and emboss the card with a

notary-type embosser.

Usually, you allow 20 to 25 cents for mint condition paperbacks,

and about one quarter of your selling price for hardbacks. Always

make sure the customer understands that regardless of how many

'credit chits" he has, the credit chits can only pay for half the

purchase price. This of course, is to protect your cash-flow

problems, and your income of "hard money."

Many used book stores add to their income potential by adding

tape cassette lending libraries. These are a real money makers

with a kind of service tat lends out "books on tape" and special

learning programs where portions of the rental fee applies to the

purchase of the original tape cassette.

A great many used book stores add to their income by running mail

order book selling operations in addition to the retail business.

This is a natural, either for a retail operator wanting to expand

his market or a mail order operator wanting to increase his




RENT (1st and Last month's)..........$1,000 to $2,000

UTILITY & PHONE DEPOSITS.............$50 TO 300

INSURANCE (1st Quarter Payment).......$100 TO 200

LICENSES & PERMITS...................$50 to 250

INVENTORY............................$2,500 to 5,000

SHELVING & REMODELING................$2,000 TO 5,000

MISC (Decorating, checkout counter

      cash register, supplies........$1,000 to 1,500

LEGAL & ACCOUNTING...................$600 TO 1,200

ADVERTISING & SIGNS...................$1,000 TO 3,500


TOTAL................................$8,250 TO 18,950

OPERATING CAPITAL....................$5,OOO TO 12,000

Entrepreneur should have enough operating capital in reserve to

not only keep the store operating for the first year, without

counting on anticipated profit, but also enough for unseen

emergencies without having to count upon income from the store to

see him through.


PAYROLL.............................$1,500 to $2,500

OWNER/OPERATOR SALARY...............$1,000 to $2,000

RENT/LEASE..........................$ 600 to $1,000 

ADVERTISING........................$ 500 to $ 1,000

DEPRECIATION........................$ 100 to 150

UTILITIES & PHONE...................$ 150 to 300 

PRINTING & STATIONERY................$ 100 to 200 

SHIPPING COSTS......................$ 100 to 150 

INSURANCE...........................$ 50 to 100 

MAINTENANCE.........................$ 50 to 100

MISCELLANEOUS.......................& 100 to 150


TOTAL...............................$4,200 TO 7,650

OPERATING COSTS.....................$4,200 TO 7,650

ANTICIPATED SALES...................$5,000 TO 8,500

NET PROFIT BEFORE TAXES.............$ 800 TO 850

PRO FORMA ANNUAL INCOME (B/T).......$9,600 to 3,000

A word of caution: Though you must project an open, COMFORTABLE

invitation to browsers and would-be book buyers, you MUST also

inconspicuously guard against shoplifters and outright thieves.

The best is to place mirrors strategically throughout the store

so you can see your customers from the checkout desk at all

times. Your smaller and more expensive books should be kept up

front SO that you can see them and what your customers are doing

with them, without seeming to be guarding them. There are a

number of theft prevention gadgets and devices available, but

even more important is alert hired help that can keep an eye on

the customers without making them feel they're being watched.

The risks of starting a used book store are high for the dreamer

unaware that it's just another retail business and should be

handled as such. Well organized and intelligently-operated used

book stores are very stable, and they provide a very comfortable

income for the owner-operator willing to persist thru the

start-up period.

This can be the kind of business you've always dreamed of owning,

but you'll have to have the patience to let it grow and the

perseverance to see it thru to its ultimate success. With these

thoughts in mind, I say reach for the sky and may the angels of

paradise always be smiling upon you with endless good fortune!