Earlier this year Bull Moose, a 10-store New England chain specializing in music, movies, and video games, added new and used books to its Bangor location. Three months later, founder and owner Brett Wickard said that he is ready to roll out books chain-wide when the opportunity arises. “Our goal,” he said, “is to be the place where you buy inexpensive, fun, collectible stuff.”
Wickard describes himself as an “opportunistic” retailer, able to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities that come his way, which is how he began testing books at the store in the Maine Square Mall in February. Not only could he isolate marketing for that store, but he was able to combine vacant spaces adjacent to it to grow the store from 4,000 to a little over 10,000 sq. ft. Given the reduced rents available in Maine and New Hampshire, where his stores are located, Wickard said, “I feel like now is the time for retailers to be aggressive.” For him that translates into book sections in all stores as space becomes available—he wants to dedicate at least 3,000 sq. ft. to books—and adding more stores.
Bull Moose, which is headquartered in Brunswick, is aggressive in other ways. Its stores are open until midnight on Monday, so that customers can take advantage of Tuesday releases, and Wickard believes in low prices. He’s willing to go toe-to-toe with online retailers for books and is discounting all new titles 35%. “We strive to be a great retailer,” said Wickard. “We’re used to thin margins, particularly on video games, which are single digit. It’s the retailer’s job to be as efficient as possible and to help build the businesses you’re in.” Although the stores’ emphasis is on new, they also stock pre-owned DVDs and music. At Bangor, the book mix is predominately new, roughly 10,000 new titles and a couple thousand used.
For now, Wickard is promoting very few books on the chain’s Web site (www.bullmoose.com), since they’re only available in one store. As for e-books, he said, “we keep an open mind to everything, because we’re literally a customer-driven company. We don’t change our minds on things. We don’t even have a mind. We have our customers’ minds.”
So far the biggest impediment that Wickard has encountered as his 20-year-old company enters the book business is from publishers. “We never judge our customers,” he said. “But we’ve run into one preconception on the publishing side that we’re an entertainment store, so we’re only interested in entertainment books. We sell fiction, biography, children’s, romance, and YA.” He’s also concerned about getting authors and publishers behind book events at Bull Moose. In-store music performances often draw 100 people, and he sees author appearances as equally important.