In business for a total of 122 years, four well-known African-American–owned bookstores—Eso Won (22 years); Hue-Man (10 years); Marcus Book Stores (52 years); and the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center & Bookstore (37 years)—are no strangers to economic ups and downs. Recently, PW caught up with them to find out what strategies they’ve adopted to keep up with the changing marketplace. For African-American–owned stores, relationships with customers and community remain critical to survival. More important, they are unanimous in the need for publishers to make it a priority to send African-American authors to independent African-American bookstores.
Eso Won: Changing the Buying Strategy
Six years ago, Eso Won downsized slightly, to a 3,200-square-foot space, about two miles away from its original location in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the store’s profits also downsized, which co-owner James Fugate attributes to the area, plus the fact that not all his customers followed.
Accordingly, Fugate and business partner Tom Hamilton changed their buying strategy. “Once I got used to our daily sales being what they were 20 years ago, I could manage better,” Fugate quips. Now, they buy less, stocking 30,000 to 50,000 titles, which no longer include academic books since the category stopped being a strong seller. Fugate also reduces his buying in June in response to slower summer sales. The new strategy is bearing fruit, he says: “Last year was good and got us closer to where I want to be.”
The addition of remainders has helped the store’s bottom line, as has expanding the video section to several hundred African-American–interest titles, including “lots of ‘race movies’ from the 1940s.” E-mail marketing brings people in, especially when Fugate makes personal reading recommendations. And by next month, Eso Won expects to be selling Google eBooks online through ABA IndieBound.
Fugate would also like to have more author events. “Walter Mosley comes to our stores whenever he’s in Los Angeles. But we didn’t get Shaq or Harry Belafonte when they came through. Whatever bookseller the publishers knew, they used—they didn’t know us. Other independent stores are a bigger account, so we end up not having as many authors.”
Hue-Man: Clever Partnering
Hue-Man owner/CEO Marva Allen partners with both authors and local merchants. “We actually had increased revenues last year—our sales were up 18%—partly because we work so darn hard. But we’re doing 25 signings a month—that’s really intense. We need to find some wonderful, well-heeled people to invest so that we can continue.”
Renting out store space contributes to income to the New York City store. “We’ve partnered with our authors. We tell them how many people they must have in the room, and they must guarantee that they’ll sell at least 25 books. We’ve made it real realistic, especially for authors without a name.” The 4,500-square-foot store carries 30,000 titles and, lately, “a lot more ancillary products like teas, and baskets from the Happy Basket Project.” Allen also helped to create the Power of One affinity program of cross-promotions with 70 local businesses.
Until investors come along, “We’d like to partner with our publishers to give us an economic boost. Publishers need to make sure that when they have an African-American author, they book him at an African-American bookstore. We depend on the signings. But the publishers are not sending a lot of those authors to the African-American bookstores, and that alone will kill a bookstore. It feels like I have to beg for them, when [my customers] are the people who made these authors. I didn’t get Shaq, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, or Whoopi. If we can’t get investors, it is important that we get those authors.”components/article_pagination.html not found (No such file or directory)