About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bride of List!

All told I have visited around 80 of the Borders that are closing, adding two in Burlington and Peabody MA this past weekend.  Around 25,000 square feet, e average store that's closing.  Leave aside the drain represented by entire stores, each of those could have done it's business in 5000 fewer square feet, 5K x 200, and that's one million extra square feet floating around, and the troubling thing is that the 450 stores that remain open probably carry around another 2M spare tire around the belly, and the bankruptcy filing doesn't help that. 

Start at the top, alphabetically by state, and the Anchorage store is as typical an example as any.  When I visited Anchorage in 2006, the Borders was disappointing. I had been to the amazing Waldenbooks in Wasilla, which had an amazing selection in an amazingly small space, kind of a captive audience, and then the BN in Anchorage which was selling books in jaw-dropping quantity. And then the Borders?  Well, it was just OK. It had no doubt been first in the market, but clearly was no longer best. Move ahead four years and a remodel or two later with four years of likely declines in same store sales, with the music and movies sections gone, and then you would end up with that 31k sq ft box looking like the tumbleweed friendly environs of the Plano TX store in 2010. 

In the San Francisco area, we've got the too expensive flagship in Union Sq that's closing, the Pleasanton store in the Walmart mall where you can almost see the better-situated BN on the other side of the highway in Dublin, the Fremont store which I doubt ever made much money, and the store in San Francisco Center that is only 20k sq ft and doing a decent business but which must be carrying a heckuva rent bill. 

LA, there's the Century City store that replaced a prosperous small Brentanos with a Borders that I thought should have been a gold mine but somehow never came close. Pasadena was 40k sq ft, which can't be justified any more, and the equally large Glendale store that was a ghost town long before a spiffy huge BN opened across the street. I am surprised that the older Long Beach store is going, but then you see it's 30k sq ft which is too big even though it was still selling books. The newer store in downtown Long Beach was a shipwreck from day one. 

Connecticut us getting creamed. The Danbury store was quite prosperous in 2002, Milford is an upgrade from a Waldenbooks to a new wing of the mall by e movie theatre, and that's going. Manchester was a really nice store once upon a time but was in decline and started to look seedy and had a spiffy new BN to contend with -- and still had a better wider selection in the sf/f category than that spiffy BN as of Thanksgiving.  Is there any chance Borders could have sublet the old store several years ago and grabbed the BN location?  Southbury was a Waldenbooks replacement new concept store that opened less than three years ago. 

Chicago is getting creamed. It is the anti-DC, a market where every store seemed below average but where more and more and more were opened.  Huge swaths of the market are now being ceded to BN. But what does it say about the company that 16 of 29 stores within a 50 mile radius of downtown are closing?  Did they all start losing money only recently? I mean, the Evanston store was my first introduction to a seriously underwhelming Borders, and that was over a decade ago. 

And on and on it goes, stores that never should have opened (Commack NY) or ended up on the wrong side of the tracks when a better-located BN came along (Peabody MA) or too big and perhaps helped to their death by bad management (Westbury NY was not known for the quality of its alphabetization, and Monroeville and Langhorne PA a tad large), or relocated to make more room for more stuff even after the death of music-movies was on the horizon (Austin north), or strangely placed (Mt. Kisco is mediocre, White Plains is starting to fade, let's in-fill with a store in Scarsdale).

All happy bookstores are alike, all unhappy ones are unhappy in their own special way!

When I went to Dallas, I got annoyed that Borders was sending big national authors to their original Dallas area store that was big, cobwebbed, not looking very prosperous any longer, while there was a livelier happier somewhat newer store a few miles down the road. Why?  Because that was the old store where big tours had always stopped, thus they always should. The "good" news is that the friendly better nicer store is going to stay open, the original Dallas store will not. Alas, that inability to be fleet of thought remains intact.

Some people want to blame the Borders inventory stickers as the quintessential example of inefficiency. Um, NOT! Stickers told employees where to shelve books, every store has to do that somehow, you can go to a BN and watch employees spend time scanning books to figure out where to shelve them, which is its own kind of inefficiency. Books needed to cross the warehouse and go from the incoming boxes tome outgoing boxes, sticking along the doesn't add a lot of time. The process could cause an efficient business to take ten days instead of eight to move a book, the problem at Borders was doing in weeks what BN could do in days, and Books a Mllion and many other stores use stickers.

No more long Borders posts forma while, unless developments warrant.


Anonymous said...

Here in Phoenix, AZ, the death toll of Borders locations has been astonishing. The one three miles away from me in south Tempe, which I visited for magazines. One each in Avondale, Paradise Valley, north Scottsdale, and Mesa. They're killing off the once-densely stocked flagship store in north-central Phoenix (in a high-earning district, further proof that MBA's don't seem to read for pleasure).

We still have the stalwart independents Changing Hands and Poisoned Pen, both of which have had to broaden their preferred categories in order to survive.

Common wisdom is that the slack will be taken up by online sales. But what about the joy of browsing, or the isolation of people who don't do online buying?


Andrew Wheeler said...

My problem with the BINC stickers was that they did have to be placed at the DC -- and that B&N's inventory-management system works in a quite different way, with stock flowing out directly to stores in most cases. Every unit of Borders inventory has to go through a DC, adding time, freight charges, and man-hours, while the equivalent book went straight to a B&N store from the vendor.

There's also issues of local control there -- Borders never got the balance between "individualized local store" and "compliance with chain-wide promotions" settled, swinging wildly from one end to the other -- but the big problem, as I saw it, was those extra pennies and time, and they add up over millions of units of inventory to make a big drag on the company.