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Business Information by Gladys Edmunds

Business Information by Gladys Edmunds
At age 15 Gladys developed a travel service that would prosper for more than 30 years. She is a national award winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker, author and columnist. Visit her at www.gladysedmunds.com

Big Ideas Can Fuel a Small Business

Big Ideas Can Fuel a Small Business

Longtime friend Tony Norman and I periodically meet for coffee to discuss writing, literature, authors and good books. As associate editor, columnist and book review editor for our local paper, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, he keeps up with the literary happenings around town. He always knows where great writers and lovers of classic literature hang out.

In our most recent coffee klatch he talked about an author's event, a reading at a small independently owned bookstore in our area that I was not familiar with. As a lover of good books, I was intrigued as I listened to Tony talk about the wonders of this bookstore and the author events and readings that take place there. He assured me that it was no ordinary bookstore and its specialty was real literature and the owner was meticulous in bringing into her store only the best of the written word. He suggested that I stop by and check it out. And the very next day, I did!

I met and talked with Lesley Rains, owner of East End Book Exchange, nestled in a busy, established location on a Main Street.

Walking into the store was like a visit into the world of how bookstores of yesteryear were before the Big Box stores arrived. Bookcases were arranged both along the wall and in freestanding cases that created aisles. Several wooden antique library chairs were neatly placed to allow for resting while pursuing an interesting title. There were hundreds of choices from a mix of new, used and rare books, and a special section for local authors. It was like a visit to the Humanities department at the library, a bibliophile's delight!

With all the talk of big businesses putting the little guy out of business, I was intrigued to learn more about Lesley, how she got into the bookseller business and how she views the future of small independent booksellers.

Her love of books started in her many childhood trips to her neighborhood librar. That love led her to study history in college and eventually enroll in Penn State's doctorate program in history. Her plan was to make a career in academics.

After returning home she soon discovered that the only jobs available had nothing to do with either history or her love of literature. She gave up her dream of a career in academics, and took a job as an administrative assistant at a non-profit organization.

Not to be defeated, Lesley found a way to resurrect her love of history and literature and became a weekend entrepreneur. She opened a bookstall at the Public Market on the weekends. Her tiny 8-by-10-foot corner space was the beginning of her entrepreneurial venture.

In less than a year the business had become popular and had outgrown the stall. Lesley found an affordable space, said goodbye to her day job, and East End Book Exchange was born.

Several days before meeting Lesley, I ran into a woman who is an instructor in the English department at a university. I asked her how things were going and she said that the problem in the English department is that young people don't read anymore because there are too many digital devices distracting them.

I asked Lesley about the woman's statement as I wondered who she is selling all of these books to. She said, "Yes, I have heard that said also. But, the idea that young people don't read books is baseless. I sell books to young people all the time. My average customer is in their 20s. And they can't seem to get enough of quality literature."

While I visited, the phone was constantly ringing with people looking for titles and folks were frequently coming up to make a purchase. It was clear that Lesley definitely has a popular and growing business.

I asked her about her marketing and P.R. strategies. She said that using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has helped her to get the word out. She makes a point to post on upcoming events and about new books that have come in and to share photos online of the store's author events.

I asked her what advice she could offer to someone who wants to successfully run his or her own business. She said. "Start by educating yourself about the field you are going into. Figure out what you don't know that you need to know and learn it! The business world can be very risky so you must be exercise caution and take your time. And finally you have to trust your gut instincts."

As we brought our conversation to close, I asked if she would comment on the controversy around bookstores going out of business because of digital devices.

"There are a lot of naysayers talking about the future of books and particular printed books," she said.

"Bookstores are surviving and will continue to survive as long as the owners are savvy business people who understand how business works and not just know about books," she said. "The bookstores that will continue to flourish going forward will not be romanticizing books and their affection for the people who love books. But they will understand and be able to couple their love for books with a savvy business sense. And I think that I've done that and I hope that other aspiring booksellers do the same."

Leslie can be reached at info@eastendbookexchange.com


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