Today we welcome Sarah Mitchell, owner of Global Copywriting, to the Small Business Owner blog. Sarah identifies a valuable lesson from the recent Borders experience and shares her thoughts on not losing sight of your core business and what made you successful. Thank you Sarah. Naomi
The news that Borders has gone into voluntary administration hit hard. As a lifelong bookworm, it’s always difficult to hear a bookstore is failing. I’ve spent countless nights trolling the aisles of Borders looking for a treasure or six to satisfy my love of the written word. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see where they went wrong.
The Old Borders Experience
I’m originally from Michigan where Borders was founded so this particular news is even harder to bear. When I think back to the Borders heyday, it’s a very different picture than the megastores of today. My neighbourhood Borders was on a corner block with lots of parking. While the store was spacious inside, you could hardly move because of the narrow aisles and stacks of books on the floors and every available surface. While you were always encouraged to read, it was often hard to find a place to crack a book open. The staff were extremely friendly and well-read which helped when you needed to find something in the jumbled maze of books.
The New, Improved Borders
Every Borders I’ve been in during the past 10 years has been very different. The shops tend to be located in city centres garnering plenty of foot traffic. The aisles are wide. Comfortable chairs are littered throughout the shop. Coffee shops are installed in central places to encourage you to linger longer. The shelving is all accessible and online search stations are located around the selling floor to help you find what you’re looking for. Someone gave the shopping experience a lot of thought – or did they?
Last week my family visited the only Borders in Western Australia in the Perth CBD. We immediately dispersed to three different corners of the store – science/math, children’s section, and literature. We arrived with the intent to prop the place up with as much of our custom as our monthly budget would allow. If Borders closes shop, it’s not because my family didn’t do what they could to keep them open.
At the end of an hour, we met to assess the damage and prioritise our purchases. The sum total of our selections came to $14.95. Yep, that’s right. We managed to select a single book to be used as a baby gift. How did that happen? In an effort to improve their trade, Borders forgot about their core business. None of us found a single book we wanted to purchase.
The New Customer Experience
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The old Borders used to have shelves crammed with books, not just bestsellers and tomes from celebrity authors. Browsing in the shop was also an exercise in discovery. With so much diverse stock, I always found something new. The floor clerks were keen to recommend something based on where I was looking or what I had brought to the counter for purchase. I usually bought a couple more books than I planned because of this individual ‘word of mouth’ service. The online search kiosk doesn’t recommend anything.
We all agreed while there were plenty of books in the store, the variety was limited to what we could find anywhere and buy much cheaper online. My young son made the astute observation that he didn’t go to Borders to buy Thomas the Tank Engine toys or a vegetable brush. When we took stock of the sales floor, a large percentage of it had been turned over to merchandise not related to books or book reading. The net result is three dedicated book buyers walked out without making any significant purchase.
The lesson for this, of course, is to stick to your core business. It may be tempting to diversify or alter your service and product offering in an effort to expand. If you lose sight of what’s made you successful, you run the risk of derailing your whole company. There’s nothing wrong with staying in a niche. Your customers are probably hoping you do.
Have you ever been tempted to expand your business? What happened?
Sarah Mitchell, Content Marketing Consultant and owner of Global Copywriting