When you consider the uncertain future of many existing booksellers, starting up a brick-and-mortar bookstore in 2016 might not seem like a strong business plan.
But as it turns out, the right niche can make all the difference.
Two sisters are trying to bring a popular genre of fiction out of the shadows, and they’ve found a market waiting for them, longingly, with beating hearts and bated breath.
This is the story of The Ripped Bodice, a new bookstore in Culver City, California.
In this TGIM short, you'll learn...
- How you can succeed by identifying and fulfilling the needs of niche markets
- Discover the smartest ways to ask questions and get actionable advice
- Why having a business partner is about more than just splitting up the workload
Check out the full short below:
Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode of TGIM.
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Leah: "This is the second time that’s happened with a book that was coming out and we didn’t have it by the day it came out. Is there any sort of mechanism for telling us that we’re not going to be able to get it in time so we can order it from somewhere else?"
Recording: "Leah Koch, the brand spanking co-owner, along with her sister Bea of North America’s only romance novel bookstore is on the phone with a book distributor and she’s not happy. The novel she wanted for their monthly book club, a novel that comes out today has yet to arrive and apparently won’t. Longing maybe fine in the plots of the novels they sell but on the business side, not so much."
Speaker 1: "It looks like we have a problem within the system or is it a problem with your little bookstore that we don’t really know who you are and ..."
Leah: "Both. We’re not exactly top priority."
Recording: "Open for just a couple of months, The Ripped Bodice Bookstore may not be a well known retailer to book wholesalers but they’re making waves in their specialty corner of the world, romance novels. Yes, romance novels. You know, the harlequin style paperbacks with Fabio ripping at some barely contained heating bosom on the cover and a happy ending in the final chapter. Only it’s a lot more than just that old cliche. Ask the sisters what genres of romance they carry and you’d better get comfy."
Leah: "American historicals 18th, 19th and 20th century. Contemporary sports. Contemporary cowboys. Early historicals. Historical Westerns. Highlanders. Romantic suspense. Regency. Victorian. I love rock and roll. Christmas and Hanukkah."
Recording: "For these 2 recent college graduates, a store was a business born of their love of romance novels and the desire to work for themselves. Yes, they’ve heard all about how big bookstores are dying but niche stores as it turns out are actually thriving. Don’t let the soft pink walls, comfy sofas and chastity covered fool you. Despite the whimsical decor, this is no wild trist but more of a carefully planned affair. First they identify the burning need no one else was interested in fulfilling."
Leah: "I do think it was a problem. I think it was romance is fighting this reputation that we’ve had for so long and not having a bookstore which is one of the many injustices that romance faces. All other genres seem to have specialty bookstores and have earned that right and romance has certainly earned that right 10 times over."
Bea: "If you go into a Barnes and Noble, there might be a few shelves of romance but they’re not in any way organized by the actual genre. They’re alphabetical. Feels in that bookstore like their needs are not being met and we have come forward and hopefully met those needs."
Recording: "Then rather than approach a bank or look for other investors, you know, the kind your parents would like to see you with ..."
Leah: "We understood that 2 untested, very young women walking in to a bank, we’re not going to walk out with a $90,000 loan."
Recording: "It was straight online to that wild untamed suitor named Kickstarter, a move designed not just to raise money but to connect with women, well mostly women, who were looking for others who share their enthusiasm for the romance genre."
Bea: "Kickstarter has this incredible build in opportunity to reach out to a community and say, “Is this something you’re interested in? Put your money where your mouth is.”"
Recording: "Not to mention that these donors could turn into repeat customer, true believers easily reachable by the emails they’ve supplied. It wasn’t long before they pass their $90,000 goal and quickly set up shop in this store front. In keeping with their narrowly focused marketing and to make sure their core customers felt at home, they kept things as unapologetically feminine as possible."
Leah: "Eighty percent of the readership of romance is female."
Bea: "It’s 85."
Leah: "Eighty-five. It’s somewhere between those 2 numbers. We have amazing male customers and they are so respective of what we’re trying to do here and how they can fit into it. We’re just not apologizing for the fact that first and foremost, this is for women. We don’t think we should have to."
Recording: "Although they’re still new to the business world, because of the media buzz about their store they’ve found themselves on the receiving end of questions from other would be entrepreneurs. They’re advice about advice? Well, when you ask a question, seriously ask a question."
Bea: "We talked to a lot of people for advice. Emailing bookstore owners and authors and publishers. My advice to people is to seek out practical advice because so many people were like, “Reach for the stars. You can achieve your dreams.” I’m like, “Thank so much for that sentiment. That’s very unhelpful.” If you’re going to ask people for advice, have a list of really specific questions."
Leah: "That’s it. Yes. You want to know about a Kickstarter? Tell us already what you have figured out."
Recording: "Maybe their best piece of advice is the importance of not getting snowballed by your own plans before you’re up and running which may mean - gasp - Taking some time off before you make that final decision."
Leah: "We never took a day off in our planning phase."
Bea: "That’s not true. Well, it’s like ... No."
Leah: "We so never took a day off."
Bea: "I guess that’s true. Because there was a moment where Leah and I turned to each other and we were like, “Wait. We never decided if this is what we want to do with the rest of our lives.”"
Leah: "I know. We’re never ... We like never had that conversation until really far ..."
Bea: "Like do you want to be a book seller?"
Recording: "Clearly the answer was yes but just as clearly staying on the same page is vital to that end. The sisters will also tell you that working with someone who can level you out in different ways is key."
Leah: "It’s very emotional opening a business. It’s ups and downs. There can be really hard days. To have somebody who’s going to check in on your emotional state of being in addition to, “Hey. Did you get that contract send out?” That’s important but it’s also, “Hey. Are you freaked out about that deal that fell through? I’m really bummed about it. How do you feel?” It’s just really nice ..."
Bea: "Have you slept for the past 2 nights?"
Leah: "Yes. That’s very important."
Recording: "As for that book wholesaler who couldn’t get them what they wanted when they wanted it? It’s okay. Like a neglected wife on a dusty acreage who spots the new cow hand bathing in the nearby creek. It was just time to move on."
Leah: "Okay. Well, I’ll just cancel it on my page then."
Recording: "Yes, the Koch sisters say they’ll use another wholesaler, one more attuned to their needs as a small business. Yes, another happy ending in the romance universe. Hey, can we get that big swell of romantic music here please? Awesome."
About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.