What a joy visiting Hawaii’s famous Talk Story Bookstore, meeting owners Ed and Cynthia Justus and hearing their surprising secrets to building a successful life and business in an out-of-the-way location. Here are a few take-aways from my interview with them.
The #1 Prerequisite for a Profitable Retail Business is NOT Location, Location, Location – It’s Clarity, Clarity, Clarity
Their bookstore is on the least-visited major island and in a town of less than 3000 people. Yet they have been one of Hawaii’s Top 50 Fastest-Growing businesses for the past five years. TripAdvisor says they’re THE #1 visitor destination on Kauai.
How can this be? In one word …CLARITY. Clarity is the new location. Clarity about who they are. What they want. What they don’t want. And they stay true to those priorities. Which means gently and firmly enforcing their rules.
For example, you’ve heard “There’s no crying in baseball?” Well, there are no thongs in bookstores. At least not in THEIR bookstore. The twenty-something who walked in wearing her version of an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini was asked to honor their posted sign, “No shoes, no shirt, no shorts, no service.”
The woman who told them she was going to leave her kids in the store while she went shopping across the street? Nope. “This is a bookstore, not a babysitting service.”
PAVE THE PATHS
Ed and Cynthia didn’t have a background in the book biz and didn’t plan on buying a bookstore. They visited Kauai on their honeymoon and liked it so much, they decided to take a leap of faith and stay. How did they make money from the first day they put their sign up, when they had no experience in the industry?
Ed says, “Amazon’s website taught us everything we needed to know about book-selling. Instead of us trying to figure out which books to stock and what to charge, we simply followed the favorites. Why re-create the wheel? Their site told us the most popular books in each genre and the going price for gently-used books.”
I said, “That’s brilliant. There’s an urban legend called ‘Pave the Paths’ which recommends that instead of prematurely installing sidewalks at public places (e.g., colleges and county buildings), it’s smarter to wait and find out where people naturally walk and then put the sidewalks there.
That’s what you did. Instead of stocking what you hoped might sell, you ‘booked the beloveds’ and bought proven ever-greens that have a track record of always being in demand.”
Don’t follow The Rules; Follow Your Values
For example, the “rules” say a brick and mortar store has to have a cash register, right? The problem is, cash registers lock you into one location, often in a front corner of your store. What if you have a customer in back who can’t find what they want? If there’s no one around to answer their question, they often leave and don’t come back.
Ed and Cyndi don’t have a cash register; they have cash belts. Wearing a cash belt around their waist gives them freedom to wander the store and connect with their customers. While I was there, they greeted every single person who walked in the store. One was always out on the floor, asking people if they were looking for something in particular and then pointing out recommended authors in their preferred genre.
The trend of many bookstores is to offer coffee to attract customers. Well, they tried that and you know what they learned? Coffee sells coffee. Books sell books.
Another “rule” of retail businesses is you need to diversity if you want to grow. So, they added an art gallery with works from local artists. A restaurant. Book clubs. Internet service. Chairs so people could sit.
Guess what they discovered? Those extra services took lots of extra time and effort, created a lot of problems they didn’t want or need … and didn’t boost profits. In fact, Cyndi said, “We found that for every chair we took away, we added an extra $1000 of income. People who sit and read books for free for hours often walk out without buying any books.”
The rules say a retail business needs an inventory system. Ed said, “Why? We mostly stock one copy of each book. Why spend a lot of time logging in and tracking single sales? Plus, we handle every purchase so we know what’s selling and what’s not.”
The Secret to Loving Your Life and Work? Stop Watering Dead Plants
As we talked, it was clear to me that one of the reasons they’ve been so successful is they QUIT doing things that didn’t work; that didn’t make money; and that didn’t bring them joy. This frees up time and money for business activities that contribute to their quality of life instead of compromise it.
They quit the belief that bigger is better. They’ve built and sustained a successful business because they’ve honored their belief, “If we don’t love it; we don’t do it. If it doesn’t add personal and professional value, we drop it.”
Chip Away Everything That is NOT David
I told them, “There’s a (perhaps apocryphal) story about Michelangelo who said, when asked how he creating his masterpiece sculpture, ‘It’s easy. I just chipped away everything that wasn’t David.’”
I smiled and said, “You have ‘David’d your business and life. You have chipped away everything that isn’t congruent with your values and vision. As a result, the light is on in your eyes and you’re successful for all the right reasons.”
So, what surprising lessons did I take away from my time with Ed and Cyndi?
* CLARIFY your values, vision, priorities and policies and STAY TRUE to them.
* Quit watering dead plants and DAVID your life and business.
* Gently and firmly ENFORCE RULES to protect what’s important to you.
When we do the above, we build a successful life, business and career where the light is on in our eyes – and things just keep getting better and better – for all the right reasons.
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Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert, is on a mission to help people create quality projects that add value for all involved. Her work – including her TEDx talk – and books POP!, IDEApreneur, Tongue Fu! and Got Your Attention? have been featured in NY Times, Forbes, Fast Company and presented to NASA, National Geographic, Capital One, YPO. Want Sam to share her inspiring insights on how to create a successful life and career at your next convention? Contact Cheri@IntrigueAgency.com
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