Why We Opened a Bookstore
Early on in our deliberations about the suitability of establishing a business on Franklin Avenue, it became evident that the book industry provided particular advantages over many other kinds of businesses that one could envision for Aliquippa. It goes almost without saying that not just any kind of business can succeed in the current downtown retail environment found in Aliquippa. Reflecting both on our intended mission of promoting meaningful work and on the necessary requirement of modest financial success, we generated the following list of requirements that our core product and our basic business operations needed to satisfy.
- We needed a product that could be acquired in large quantities and at very low costs, that did not take up much space, and that would avoid the need for complex industrial operations, significant start-up costs, or customized commercial space.
- We needed a product that was amenable to automation and scalability via the use of technological innovation.
- We needed a product that would be appealing to consumers in Aliquippa and yet that could be priced in ways that made it accessible to the target customer.
- We needed a product and set of services that had intrinsic value, that could provide opportunities for enriching the experience of living in Aliquippa, and that could facilitate conversation and action about the complex social and cultural realities facing the community.
- We needed a product and set of services that could attract people to Aliquippa from neighboring communities.
- We needed a product that could be housed and sold in downtown Aliquippa, yet which could generate significantly larger profit by being marketed to a global customer base.
- We needed a product that could be received, processed, prepared, and shipped by entry-level employees with limited training.
- We needed a product and set of business processes that would generate a fairly wide range of tasks for employees to accomplish, thereby facilitating the process of introducing employees to light industrial operations, basic industrial technology, and common inventory and warehousing practices.
- We needed a product and set of processes that could generate significant opportunities for employee input, creativity, and innovation.
- We needed a product, set of processes, and services that would provide a natural space for us to connect with, learn from, and rely upon existing non-profit organizations with much needed relational capital and practical experience. Of course, long before generating this list of requirements, we already had books firmly in mind as our basic business offering. The more we reflected upon the list, and the more we have refined our business plan, the more obvious it has become that books can readily meet all of the requirements outlined above and more.
We are well aware that we live in a world where many people think books and bookstores are becoming obsolete. We’ve heard many times that selling books is old fashioned and out of touch with the where technology is taking us. Time and again we have been warned that a book store can never thrive in a small town like Aliquippa. At eQuip Books we think this kind of thinking is shortsighted and timid, and have worked very hard to show that such criticism does not need to become reality. While it is undoubtedly true that we need to think differently about how to make a bookstore successful, we’re not quite ready to give up on books just yet. And, at least so far, neither are our customers.