updated - May 24, 2015 Sunday EDT
According to Shane Gottwals, the franchisor of Walls of Books, print isn't dead—it's here to stay. Last summer, he launched a used-books store concept, first developing four corporate stores from his home in Warner Robins, Georgia.
Don’t misunderstand. Books weren’t exactly flying off the shelves in the beginning. In the original 1,500 square foot store, operated by his wife, Abbey, in 2007, sales were disheartening. “We had one day where we only sold one book for $3.97. The entire day, that’s all we made.” Gottwals remembers that time clearly, when he augmented the profit loss from the bookstore by selling television. At one point, he hoped to make $5000 profit in one day—that would have been cause for celebration.
Luckily, his passion and persistence paid off, when a nail salon shut down next door and he nabbed the property, which was prime real estate. In addition, they developed a must have list—not dusty romance novels that once sold for a penny—but the best sellers readers were clamoring for online, trolling websites like Amazon. Gottwals purchased books only in great condition from a used book warehouse, and reached out to the local press, pitching his story: when every big chain book store like Borders was closing down, his small business was taking off. Why? Because at Wall of Books, patrons had a comfortable place to browse, and walked away with a $6 bestseller—personally recommended by Abbey, an avid reader—as opposed to the $15 version from Barnes and Noble. Soon, they built three more stores and hired a franchising company in San Diego, The Franchise Maker, to further expand the business.
Gottwals feels optimistic about the future of Walls of Books, claiming he understood the reason why so many of the large chain bookstores went out of business. They occupied too much real estate and employed too many people. This, combined with the rise of websites like Amazon and rampant price-slashing, meant stores could no longer turn a profit. The result: in 2011, Border closed 600 stores and eventually filed for bankruptcy.
“No matter what the economy,” Gottwals says, “people are going to be entertaining themselves.” When asked about the threat of E-Books and online distribution, Gottwals isn’t deterred. “A bookstore is part of the community,” he said. And Walls of Books is much cozier and more welcoming than a website or a large chain store. It's a comfortable place to sit down, open a book, and stay a while.
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