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How (and Why) My Favorite Brick and Mortar Bookstore Continues to Thrive

Posted by Ron Aspe, CEO on 11/30/2017
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bookstore.jpgFrequent travelers through San Francisco’s airport who love to read have probably stopped in at Compass Books in Terminal 3. The quality and range of their selection always impresses me, as do the knowledgeable staff. Recently, when SFO underwent significant renovations, I feared the store had closed—another victim of the digital age.

Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated

Contrary to the conclusion I erroneously jumped to, the store is thriving in an expanded location with an even better selection. I was so pleased to see it, I ran in and bought a bunch of books that will probably keep me awake until next year.

Why are they succeeding when others fail?

When I imagine Compass Books’ strategy, it looks like this:

  1. Don’t do what stores that are failing do. Whoever runs this store seems to understand that a “me too” strategy is not going to cut it.
  2. Don’t annoy people. Ever gone to the bestseller rack in a book store and find there are no bestsellers? Instead, it is full of books written by best-selling authors… which weren’t best sellers. So, I ask, “Where should I look for books that are bestsellers?” Why, somewhere else I suppose. Grrr.
  3. Curate the content. Pick and choose the best, the unique or the rare. Introduce visitors to topics, genres, authors and ideas they might have not otherwise encountered.
  4. Don’t be transactional. Instead, be experiential. People at the airport often have time to explore. Give them opportunities to do so.
  5. Make it personal. Recommendations are not sales pitches. They are opportunities to connect with visitors.

Knowledge managers and directors of museums, libraries and archives, take note!

Lead, don’t follow. Find out what success looks like in your field. Ask tough questions of yourself and your constituency. Then forge a path forward that differentiates you from your peers who are struggling.

Eliminate friction points. Become the connector. Create, source and promote useful resources. Help people find the right people. Apple Genius’s aren’t really geniuses (sorry). But they are helpful, well trained and available.

Curate your digital content. Don’t just dump it into a DMS or stick a keyword search engine in front of it. Google’s scooped you in those areas already. Categorize it. Link it. Tag it. Start now. Just cover 100 of the most critical resources, in your opinion. Then cover another 100.

Create good experiences. Do you have a web site? Is it engaging? Do people find what they want, do they explore—or do they give up in frustration?

Personalize it. How do you get someone to engage with your content? Easy. You say, “I read it, and here’s why you might want to read and use it for your XYZ project as well”. Add comments to everything in your database—and make it possible for others to do the same.

You probably see many examples of “what works” to engage customers and clients in your daily life, from the coffee shop you go to in the morning, to the bookstore on the corner, to the garage where you take your car, the gym you work out at twice a week, or the home improvement store that expects you every Sunday. Give some thought to why they are successful, whether in the aggregate or on specific dimensions. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and “fast followers” can put a shine on someone else’s great strategy. You simply have to observe, and then take action.


Topics: Library Management, Information Management, Management, Marketing, User Engagement