Idon’t know about you, dear readers, but I am ready for some good news. It seems we live in a world which revels in bad news and dire warnings of worse things to come. As a small-business owner—and to be honest a small bookstore merchant, at that—a good portion of my daily routine seems devoted to people who want to tell me that the end is near. “Bookstores will become a thing of the past” is the refrain of a multitude of well brought-up and thoughtful people.
Yes, I agree larger book chains seem to be doing their best to put themselves out of brick-and-mortar business with their electronic data offerings (Matt Keen at Gravity Records must have the toughest skin in the world to endure what people say about music stores). Still, for the small guys, surprisingly, things are starting to look better in the land of independents. The success of the Wilmington Cash Mob a few weeks back (and encore’s cover story last week) should be one indication. In fact Quarter Moon Books & Gifts in Topsail Beech is reporting that 2012 is their best year ever!
“Our sales are approximately 26 percent above last year, but more importantly this year’s sales are 8 percent above our best year of 2007,” confirms Lori Fisher, who has owned the coastal book store for 17 years. Even more surprising, Quarter Moon has experienced this much success in a seasonal locale with an economic dependency resting on summertime tourists. Fifty percent of their annual sales take place between May and August.
Having once served as vice president of the government loan purchasing division with Norwest Mortgage (now Wells Fargo), Fisher took on the role as full-time mommy when her daughter was born in 1986. “I was a stay-at-home mom throughout the years as my husband’s career developed, which moved us to several locations in the U.S., eventually landing in this area,” she says.
Fisher purchased Quarter Moon just after its inception in May 1995. By the end of the first summer season, the original owners figured out the bookstore business was not for them. After Fisher read an ad listing that a local business was for sale, she decided that owning a bookstore would be enjoyable.
“My father was an avid reader, so we were regular visitors to our local library when I was growing up in Minnesota,” Fisher states of her literary love. “Books have just always been a part of my life.”
Naturally, not all has been perfect in the book business. A lot has changed since 1995. Besides the expansion of the big-box bookstores, there has been the rise of Amazon and e-reader technology. It’s just not the same game it used to be.
Fisher explains, “We have been struggling the past few years and the sales this year were going to be the determining factor for the future of Quarter Moon.”
Like any successful entrepreneur, she tweaked the formula along the way, cutting back on some parts and expanding others. “It is very difficult to compete with online and big-box booksellers, so over the years we have added a variety of different items to the store—and we try to keep our items exclusive to our store,” Fisher points out.
In addition to books, Quarter Moon carries gifts, stationery, children’s games and puzzles, as well classy but comfortable women’s clothing and sandals. They have a classic coffee bar set up with espresso drinks and smoothies, too, and 2012 welcomed the addition of a wine bar.
“This year has been quite a relief for me,” Fisher says. “I believe our new outdoor patio with colorful furniture has attracted more people to the store, and our extended hours in the evening for the wine bar has had a significant effect on our increased sales this year.”
She points out it is really her great staff that go out of their way to create a wonderful experience for each customer; that is what really makes the difference. I would agree: Personal service is key for independents and especially cannot be replicated with online stores. The smile of recognition, the heartfelt hug and inquiries about family provides a greater ability to help customers find just the perfect gift for that mutual friend shared with the merchant. It’s irreplaceable.
Fisher’s philosophy is genuine. “I feel people who own small businesses have invested their heart and soul into them and really want to make a difference for their customers and their community. When someone shops at a small business, they are supporting their neighbors or individuals significantly [rather than] some huge conglomerate with corporate offices in other regions.”
Likewise, Fisher urges customers to appreciate the costs a small business incurs over that of a larger corporation. “The cost to a small business for credit and debit cards can be crippling, especially for small sales,” she says. Hence, Wilmington Cash Mob’s brilliancy: Shopping local with cash and making enough of a splash to garner publicity for the adored small business.
While talking with Matt Keen at the Wilmington Cash Mob, he and I swapped stories of completely surprising and wonderful things that customers have done for us over the years. “You know, they’re not really customers; they are friends,” he points out. “But friends we wouldn’t have if it weren’t for our stores.”
Fisher agrees whole-heartedly. “I have established relationships with a lot of families over the years, watched children grow into adults and look forward to seeing them year after year.”
It’s a dividend that can’t be quantified. However, it is wonderful to see the sales numbers correlate.
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