MEET Eric Maywar: An avid book lover and small business owner, Eric Maywar opened his first bookstore, Classic Used and Rare Books in 2000. Over the years, his bookstore has won best business and community service awards from the Trenton Council of Civic Associations, BOOST, the Trenton Public Education Foundation, Living a Powerful Life, and Isles. This comfy bookstore with a “down home” feel host community events and artists discussions. Classics has wall to wall books, some which it donates to area schools. In fact, Classics started the Books at Home Program, that provides free books for kids in Trenton’s struggling school district. You can check out Classic Used and Rare Books online at http://www.classicusedbooks.com
WMI: Was a bookstore your first business? If not, what was the first business you owned, and what did you learn from that experience that continues to help you move forward as an entrepreneur?
EM: Yes, a bookstore was my first business. Before that I had salaried positions as Chief Operating Officer at a Princeton market research firm and as an English instructor at various colleges.
WMI: Your bookstore started in New Hope, Pennsylvania, correct? Tell us about owning a bookstore in New Hope, especially during the peak visitor traffic seasons?
EM: New Hope was very busy during the summer season. It was also a difficult marketing challenge, since the people who visited New Hope were from New York, Philadelphia and all points in New Jersey. This made it very difficult to place effective print advertising. Trenton is much better; with its relatively stable resident and state worker populations; advertising into these populations is more straightforward.
New Hope was slower than slow in the nine non-summer months. You had to make all your money in three months and then coast for nine months. Trenton, on the other hand, provides a stable customer base. Once you have attracted a customer in Trenton, you see them monthly, if not weekly. The tourists in New Hope had average visits of once or twice a year while my Trenton customers have an average of 12 to 24 visits a year.
WMI: When and why did you decide to move the bookstore to Trenton? I’d imagine you saw more customer traffic during the summer at the New Hope location.
EM: Our original plan was to operate two bookstores, one in New Hope and the other in Trenton. After the second flood, which shut down the entire town of New Hope for one of the three important summer months, the decision to leave New Hope was easy.
EM: Classics is a used bookstore. The customer base for the two types of stores overlap, but are not the same. Used bookstores attract browsers who are excited by the discovery of books that could be rare, collectable or out-of-print as well as interested in recent releases at 50% or more off the cover price. The chains can’t compete.
In addition, Classics is community driven and the large corporate chains are not. Classics provides free books to kids in Trenton’s struggling school system, provides support for local authors and entrepreneurs, provides free space to local community groups and (occasionally) publishes a collection of local writers and artists in the Trenton Review. This partnership with the community engenders a loyalty that the chains wish they had.
WMI: In 2011 Classic Used and Rare Books distributed nearly $10,000 worth of books to area Trenton students. Why did you decide to undertake this project? Please also share one to two success stories with us regarding the project.
EM: Studies show that the more books a child has in her home, the better she does in school. Trenton’s schools are struggling and I believe that every member of a community has a responsibility to do what they can. I don’t have lots of money or lots of time—but I do have lots of books!
In 2011, Robbins Elementary picked up a carload of books and distributed these books so hundreds of students could take home a few books each. In 2012, we struck a deal with Trenton High West to set up a take-a-book station. Three hours after we set up a cafeteria table packed with books, I received an email from a student saying that all that was left was a copy of a lesser known work by Thackery (sorry Thackery!) and requesting another batch. Our kids are hungry to learn and this is how I can help.
WMI: Classic Used and Rare Books host author readings and book signings on weekends. You also participate in area book festivals. How important is it for local booksellers to remain connected to surrounding communities and how have you found these connections paying off for your store’s bottom line?
EM: On the day of the book signing of a local author, we take 0% commission. We know how hard it is to promote and sell your own work. We have found friends and loyal customers among the authors who have come to read—including Denise Turney, author of Love Pour Over Me.
WMI: Booksellers have to be innovative to sell books. So too do authors. That shared, what advice would you give to authors who are seeking ways to sell more books in local bookstores? What three to four steps can authors take to increase the sale of their books at local stores?
#1. Promote your books at the stores that carry them. When you are selling the books personally, and therefore not giving a commission to a store, it is easy to justify just promoting your personal book sales and not your presence in stores.
However, many people who might not otherwise purchase your book might find shopping from a store more convenient and you can pick up additional sales. In addition, swapping links from your website to the store’s website makes both of your websites appear higher in the rankings of search engines.
#2. Come to the book signings of other authors. Frequently, authors will come to each other’s signings (as well as poetry readings and other events that don’t headline them personally), but still promote and sell their book.
#3. Organize a fundraiser. Authors who offer to donate 20% of their sales at a book signing to a particular charity, can more easily attract many more people who support that charity to their signing. Choosing the right charity is important as it needs to have an active base that shows up to events.
#4. Print a price on your book. I can think of specific examples of people who did not purchase a book because there was no printed price. Apparently this made them think the price was variable.
WMI: What are the three greatest challenges facing local booksellers today and what can booksellers, local governments and book buyers do to help overcome these challenges? Also, what are the three greatest opportunities facing local booksellers today and how can booksellers capitalize on these opportunities?
EM: Used bookstores do not face the same challenges as the chains. eBooks, which are taking a big chunk out of the chains, are barely affecting used bookstores. We offer better prices than either chains or eBooks and people looking for a community connection or a great browsing experience will come to us first anyway.
The Internet is both a challenge and an opportunity. It has driven down the cost of rare books (as buyers are realizing that rare books aren’t as rare as they thought), but bookstores that sell on-line can now reach customers they never would have had the chance to reach 20 years ago. Internet sales have hurt booksellers who were slow to adapt to the new pricing realities.
Most of my real challenges are local–the lack of evening or weekend foot traffic in a state capital, for example. Local government can make this better by creating a retail strip of businesses that have a 10-20 mile trade area. But every used bookstore doesn’t face this issue!
The shutting of Borders was a great opportunity for Classics. We picked up hundreds of new customers who had been brand loyal to Borders and were looking for a new place to call theirs.
Historic low property prices are the greatest opportunity we have had in a while. We are currently purchasing a building, to leverage our rent into personal equity.
WMI: Social media and eBooks have had a significant impact on bookselling, namely making it possible for authors to publish and sell their books directly to consumers. How do you see the Internet impacting the book business over the next three to five years?
EM: My best guess is publishing houses will reduce the number of physical books they publish, but that won’t affect the used business much. It will hobble the big chains, though, stores that thrive on volume sales of bestsellers.
WMI: Who are some of your favorite authors and what is it about their work you most appreciate?
EM: John Fowles’ answer to the modernist dilemma. Neil Gaimen’s exploding imagination. Ernest Hemingway’s prosaic lyricism. Ursulla LeGuin’s beautiful language. Bob Woodward’s research and access. John LeCarre’s bureaucracy of spies. M. M. Bakhtin’s epistemological insight.
WMI: Have you ever thought about writing a book? If you did write a book, what would the storyline be and what types of people would the main characters be?
EM: I have my MFA in Fiction from WMU, where I studied with the legendary Stu Dybek and American Book Award Winner, Jaimy Gordon. I have a collection of short stories in draft form, but life has gotten away from me for the moment. I’ll let you know when I get back to them!
The stories have a variety of characters–surfistas, bookstore shoppers, a boy who can tell the future with a kiss, poker players, super heroes and men and women unlucky in love.
WMI: What’s next for Eric Maywar? Where do you see yourself three to five years from now?
EM: Hopefully, we will be in our new building in Trenton, the recession will be over and downtown Trenton will have developed a signature retail corridor. My kids will be 15 and 12 and my fantastic wife and I will continue to have a blast!
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