It’s not only Books-A-Million that is benefiting from empty Borders locations with fixturing in place. On Tuesday online third-party bookseller Ukazoo Books signed a lease for a former Borders Express store in Southgate, Mich. It plans to close on a second Borders Express in the Philadelphia area and will open a new store in its Toledo, Oh., warehouse, according to Edward Whitfill, general manager for the retail stores. Ukazoo, which was founded a decade ago by brothers Jack and Seth Revelle to sell their college textbooks, opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in the Baltimore suburb of Towson four years ago. Taken together, the new stores will quadruple its on-the-ground presence.
“The idea of growing has been in the works for a while,” says Whitfill, who saw the closing of Borders as an opportunity the company couldn’t pass up. For him, the Express stores are just the right size for an Ukazoo Books, which should be a maximum of 10,000 sq. ft. In addition to buying fixturing from Borders, the company is looking to hire Borders booksellers to fill 30 to 38 jobs. It currently employs 12 booksellers in Towson. It has separate offices in Baltimore where the Revelles and the company’s programmers work.
Ukazoo focuses on used books. The product mix, about 100,000 titles, is 90% used and 10% new, primarily bestsellers and authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Moore, whose used books are hard to keep in stock. The Towson store also has an active events schedule, meeting rooms for local writers groups, and an art gallery that displays regional artists’ work. The new stores, which will open in time for Christmas, may also carry nonbook items such as traditional puzzles and games.
Although Ukazoo, like many retailers, stumbled in May when gas prices hit $4/per gallon, it has more than recovered. “We’re doing double digit increases over last year,” says Whitfill. “I have full faith that a lot of independents are going to have a good Christmas.”
Currently Ukazoo’s online sales are stronger than its bricks-and-mortar business. With the opening of three more stores that could change. The company also developed its own POS and inventory control software, which it is considering selling to other used booksellers further down the road.