Paper stores were originally news agents selling newspapers, magazines, and cigars. But no more, at least for the Paper Store, headquartered in Acton, Mass. Ever since Bob Anderson, fresh out of college, purchased the original 700 sq. ft. Paper Store in Maynard, Mass., in 1964, he has tinkered with size, format, and product mix to turn it into one of the largest regional chains—and one of the fastest growing retailers—in New England. The company now has more than 1,000 employees and continues to hire as it expands.
The Paper Store has opened an outlet a month for each of the past seven months and now has 32 gift stores, most 8,000 sq. ft. During the same period, the privately held chain remodeled two stores extensively and two moderately. Now it’s about to move its 30,000-sq.-ft. warehouse out of Acton to a facility that’s four times the size in Leominster. Anderson has a new store slated to open this fall, and is readying a complete overhaul of the Web site (www.thepaperstore.com) with a shopping cart for October. In addition, he is considering buying an additional group of stores, which he declined to name.
Anderson’s desire to build the company has been fueled by strong numbers, along with his biological clock. “I’ll be 70,” he says. “I have five children in the business, and I want to retire at 75.” His sons, John, Tom, and Jim, handle retail, operations, and shipping and receiving, respectively, while daughters Laura and Meg are buyers.
Although books make up 6% of sales at the Paper Store—its product mix includes Vera Bradley handbags, Hallmark cards, Stonewall treats, jewelry, women’s clothing, toys and gifts, and home decor—that will likely increase. Like the adage about Boston weather, “wait five minutes,” Anderson is all about giving sections their due, and has no trouble shrinking or expanding categories based on sales. He sums up his philosophy of business and life by reciting part of the last stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s “If” and substituting “products” for “men”:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all products count with you, but none too much
The Paper Store is also one of a number of New England retailers to benefit from the collapse of Borders, particularly its Hudson and Beverly, Mass., stores. “They were coming to us for gifts anyway,” says book buyer Mike Joachim. This year book sales are up 25%–30%, with less inventory. In addition to a 350–400-sq.-ft. dedicated book section in each store, since Joachim’s hiring last fall the stores have begun to do more cross-merchandising with sports books and logo clothing, cookbooks and gifts for barbecue season, as well as children’s. Recently the chain has begun placing books at registers as part of its new “The Paper Store Recommends” program of three hardcovers and 11 paperbacks each month. In June, the Paper Store will introduce an online book club with in-store displays. The first selection, Lucinda Riley’s The Orchid House, was #25 last week on the stores’ bestseller list. For the first time the chain is also featuring one or two titles in its seasonal catalogues.
Joachim’s motto for books is “focus, focus, focus.” Even though the selection is relatively small, with so many stores the right book can rack up a lot of sales. Humor books are perennial sellers; Dan Cangelosi and Joseph Delli Carpini’s Italian Without Words, for example, has sold several thousand copies. Small-format gift titles like The Pocket Pema Chödrön have also become store staples. Occasionally a small press title works, like M. Dickey Drysdale’s The Wrath of Irene, an instant book produced through CreateSpace, which describes last year’s hurricane that caused so much devastation in the Northeast. One sales rep, who preferred to remain anonymous, described the chain’s approach this way: “They try to be very particular on which hardcovers to bring in and focus instead on top trade paperbacks, either top name authors, rep suggestions, or those that have regional interest. When I get an order for a title, it means some pretty good billing since the number is usually over 100 copies.”
Anderson, who regards himself as an entrepreneur with a staff of entrepreneurs, has placed only two restrictions on the book section: no books with naked women on the cover and no books on committing suicide. Currently the Paper Store carries only print books, but Anderson likes to keep his options open, as long as changes are geared to the customer. “It’s a sophisticated world out there,” he says. “We’re trying to keep it uncomplicated.”