Ten-year-old Traders' Library in Columbia, Md., may be one of the best-kept secrets in the financial book world. In addition to having its own Web site since 1994 (www.traderslibrary.com), it's the silent partner behind the bookselling operations of 375 companies, including Cyber Corp., a subsidiary of Charles Schwab. The site creates monthly online specials for its partners and produces millions of print catalogues for them in categories ranging from financial planning to investment for beginners.

Starting with its 1997 reissue of Edwin Lefevre's Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, a fictionalized biography of speculator Jesse Livermore first published in 1923, Traders' Library has co-published 20 books a year with John Wiley & Sons, and it has its own line of 100-page Trade Secrets bargain books. The company holds business seminars that are taped for resale. In late June it will held a conference on technical analysis in Washington, D.C., the first of three conferences that it will stage this year. "I'd much rather subordinate my brand to somebody else, if we're going to make more money on it," Chris Myers, founder and CEO of Trading Limited, the parent company of Traders' Library, told PW. "Our goal is to be the comprehensive source for all information in the finance niche."

In late March, after years of supplying books for other companies' click-and-mail-order operations, Traders' Library began furthering its own branding efforts by opening a 500-sq.-ft. bricks-and-mortar bookstore, which doubles as the reception area for its offices and warehouse. Even before the store opened, Traders' Library, which is located halfway between Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C., was attracting visitors from as far away as Florida. "One of the reasons we opened the store," explained Myers, "was that as a warehouse operation, customers often came and asked if we could let them look around. They got in our way, and we got in theirs."

Despite the common belief that the longer people stay in a store, the more they'll buy, Myers has already tinkered with Traders' Library's furniture to discourage customers from spending quite so much time. "People won't leave. They stay for seven or eight hours," said Myers. Some are likely attracted by the software and video stations and the wireless headphones for sampling audios, while others prefer easy access to the one million items that Traders' Library stocks in its warehouse. Although the bookstore carries only 1,500 titles, customers can key whatever books, software, video or audio they want into the store's computer. If the item is not in the store, someone from the warehouse will bring it up front for them.

It All Began…

Myers started Trading Limited in January 1991 with $400. Casting about for something to do after signing a noncompete clause when he sold his software company, Anywhere Inc., Myers decided to try his hand at low-tech financial items. "Our mission here," he said, "is to distribute every product in our niche regardless of the publisher. Today, with all its businesses combined—Traders' Library, FP Books and Marketplace Books—Trading Limited does $10 million in sales annually. "We're growing at 35% in a terrible market," emphasized Myers. "We went the opposite way of the dot-coms. We have no outside investors and no long-term debt."

For Myers, opening a bookstore was not so much about making money. "We have 11,000 people in this area who have bought from us," he commented. "We said if we did $100,000 in the store, we'd be very happy." Instead, as he sees it, the store offers a way to turn the potentially dead space of a reception area into a client acquisition area. "It's basically just another way to feed the machine, another ear into the niche," he continued. "It give us a lead on what to publish." And on what's selling. Traders' Library's May bestsellers didn't resemble the Booksense '76 list, for instance. Traders' bestsellers included Oliver Velez and Greg Capra's Tools and Tactics for the Master Day Trader: Battle-Tested Techniques for Day, Swing, and Position Traders (McGraw-Hill), David Bach's Smart Women Finish Rich: 7 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams (Broadway Books) and Jack D. Schwager's Stock Market Wizards: Interviews with America's Top Stock Traders (HarperBusiness).

Even though the store has been open only a few months, Myers is already working on expanding the concept. Later this year, he will add a meeting room where customers can hold workshops and seminars and tape them using Traders' Library's video and audio equipment. Myers is also trying to market mini-reception-area bookstores to investment firms. At present he's in talks with two companies to install approximately 50 small-scale stores.