New Borders Group CEO George Jones said in an interview with PW last week that while his immediate goal is to make the retailer's financial results "better than they have been," he emphasized that "in the larger sense... Borders is not a troubled company. It has a strong foundation. There is plenty of opportunity to take the company to the next level."

Jones attributed part of Borders's disappointing second quarter to the cyclical nature of the book business, but said that as CEO, he will look for ways to "shore up" the company's defenses against a downturn and put the company in a position to take advantage of an upturn in business. Although Jones said it is too early to talk about specifics, he said he is interested in having Borders not only understand the needs of its customers, but anticipate them. He is excited about the Borders Rewards program, the customer loyalty program launched earlier this year that now has eight million members. "If we didn't already have this I would have started one," Jones said about the Rewards program. He envisions using the database to target the needs of the customers and to drive customers into stores.

Jones also backed several initiatives started by previous management, including the implementation of Paperchase gift and stationery departments and Seattle's Best Coffee cafes, while downsizing the space devoted to music. Jones said he is committed to finishing the remodeling efforts currently underway, but noted that high investment in these programs won't go on forever.

Greater use of technology will be key to boosting sales, Jones said. While Borders has a "nice partnership" with, Jones said he will review the company's entire Internet strategy.

The primary challenge, Jones said, is to set Borders apart from its competitors and make it "the place consumers want to be. I've got lots of ideas. We'll see how many are feasible."

Free Advice from Publishers for Mr. Jones
"Borders needs to create an enhanced retail shopping environment that makes the shopping experience superior."

—Publisher of a large publishing house

"Borders developed a book-buying structure based upon a supermarket model. It favored carrying the very large companies' titles over those of the smaller ones. The problem with that system was that it overlooked the perennial bestsellers of smaller and midsized companies. I would suggest that the new CEO modify its buying system to allow for more of a merit-based program. I don't mind playing the game with one hand tied behind my back. I just want to be given a chance to play."

—Rudy Shur, publisher, Square One Publishers

"Borders needs to clearly define the buyers' responsibility for what they are buying, and their role within the organization."

—President of an independent publishing house

"I'd look for revitalization in the way books are marketed in stores. (Category management seems to have faded away, for better or worse.) I'd like to see the stores become a destination for the consumer, make them user friendly and warm and inviting. I'd also like to see them raise their profile in the community, perhaps ramp up community marketing initiatives to drive consumers into the stores."

—Marketing manager at a midsized publisher

"Create a 'Green Living' book category. The way the book industry categorizes books insures that people will never find what they are looking for. Redo the categories to correspond to people's lifestyles and how their interests fit together. He should check out what Whole Foods did within the food supermarket business. If he made Borders the Whole Foods of the book industry, he might increase sales significantly."

—Margo Baldwin, publisher, Chelsea Green

"Borders is way too process-heavy internally and nowhere near nimble enough to capture business as it is happening. They have no central focus, no one person in the office who seems to have anything like a vision for what the shopping experience should be. One of the interesting things that Jones said in the Times article was that Borders customers tend to spend a lot of time in the store, but that time isn't converted often enough into sales. My personal take is that one of the reasons customers spend such a long time is that Borders doesn't know how to close the sale. They need to refine their retailing vision (develop one actually) and stick to it for more than a few months."

—CEO of midsized publisher

"Create a 'real' process whereby frontlist titles or backlist books that are working well can be identified and reordered quickly, so that opportunity is not lost. Also, regular, reliable and shorter replenishment cycles would be helpful. "

—President of a midsized publishing house

"The #1 suggestion would be for Borders to be responsive to publishers' ideas for promoting and selling books, and to work with publishers in a more proactive way. Embrace the publishers and the industry. You can't go it alone, Mr. Jones! Work with us."

—President of a midsized professional publisher