BOOKTHINK: Do you know anyone who has a cooler name than you?
WINE: Well it's not quite "LL Cool J" but it is my given name, so you can compliment my parents. They heard it as a last name and made it into a first name. I went 37 years without meeting another Thatcher, and there are a few little ones around now.
BOOKTHINK: How did the name "Juniper Books" come about?
WINE: When I started the business, I wanted to give it a name that sounded established and well rooted - Juniper Books just felt right. I love trees and maybe that's related to my love for paper and books too. Juniper trees are beautiful, ancient and adaptable so I think it works on several levels.
BOOKTHINK: Your online bio mentions that you turned your passion for books from a hobby into a business in 2001 after beginning your career in the corporate world. Do you miss having good health insurance? Seriously, though, is there anything about having a "real job" that you do miss?
WINE: I'm very glad I did what I did after graduating from college - working for a consulting firm, then an internet development company, then starting my own online customer service company - but I don't miss it at all. With any small entrepreneurial business there are times when it is tough and a regular paycheck would be nice or maybe just a regular infusion of free office supplies neatly organized by someone else, but the fun, creative elements of my work keep me going.
BOOKTHINK: Your website highlights some of your amazing "Books as Art" projects, including a Christmas Tree made of books, an American Flag made of books, a staircase made of books and books suspending from the ceiling. Have you had any near death experiences constructing any of these designs? Would you consider building a Leaning Tower of Pisa out of Readers Digest Condensed Books? Do you have a current pet project?
WINE: I think one of my favorite local bookstores here in Boulder - Red Letter Books inadvertently already created the Leaning Tower of Pisa with books that threaten to fall on you when you approach the front counter. It's part of the thrill of shopping there! As for my designs - yes, they all involve some risk; I hadn't really thought about that until now - they all involve some combination of working high off the ground, power tools and a lot of weight. My current pet project involves creating what looks like a rock wall out of books. I should probably consult an engineer about it before I get too far down the road as it involves 900 books!
BOOKTHINK: Have you ever purchased a collection you found out about on Craigslist, or have you just had brief encounters with strange people as a result of using the aforementioned site?
WINE: I went on Craigslist a few years ago looking for bookshelves and ended up buying the shelves and very dusty inventory of a bookstore. That wasn't weird at all. eBay purchases have led to much more weirdness, and I have bought several large collections and bookstore inventories from there. The weirdest was the occult book collection of a guy who disappeared and his landlord sold me his stuff. It still makes my hair stand on end thinking about it.
BOOKTHINK: What authors/subjects do you personally enjoy collecting?
WINE: As for literature, I have a relatively focused collection that includes some of my favorite authors - J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Nick Hornby. I went to Dartmouth and spent a lot of time there researching and writing about Dartmouth history so I like to collect books related to the College and Hanover, New Hampshire. I also enjoy books about Colorado and especially the works of Enos Mills, but I limit myself to just two shelves of Colorado books, so I force myself to sell something whenever I want to add to the collection. Otherwise it would be really large and take over everything else!
BOOKTHINK: Can you tell us anything more about the screenplay you wrote, which is currently in development?
WINE: The screenplay was something I wrote for a producer friend of mine, Wendy Lea, about her experience as part-owner of a British soccer team. It's a heartwarming fish-out-of-water story for the whole family! More related to bookselling, I started a novel about the time that I started selling books (ten years ago) about an investment banker who moonlights as a rare book dealer to impress a girl. I lost a little motivation to finish it when I became a bookseller for real, but I'd love to complete it one day.
BOOKTHINK: What advice would you give to new booksellers who are interested in making their business "remarkable"?
WINE: In all honesty, it is hard to set out with the intention of making something remarkable. What I have learned is that it takes patience and listening to your customers to make a business successful over time. In my previous career (the online customer service startup), I think I tried too hard to do something revolutionary and immensely successful overnight. The original idea was to build a customer service portal where consumers could reach many companies through one site with their complaints, questions, etc. In contrast to that experience, Juniper Books has been all about evolving the business over years and of truly serving customers with great service and great products, one customer at a time, one project at a time. The external recognition on a large scale has taken 10 years to achieve and that's fine because now I feel like I have a body of work that can stand on its own and I also feel like I am just getting started on what I want to do with books. Personally, I feel like the booksellers who write real descriptions and know their stuff are remarkable these days. They are the exception when compared to all the junky automated and confusing listings foisted on us online. I'd love for good old fashioned booksellers to get more credit and recognition for what they do. It is hard work!
BOOKTHINK: I read on the website that you do sell individual books, and browsed your well described and interesting catalogue of approximately 2,000 titles on Abebooks. Do you use any of the other traditional online venues- Alibris, Amazon, Biblio or eBay? Feel free to put in a plug here.
WINE: I sell on all of those sites, and you can look up "Juniper Books" under Booksellers to find our inventory. When I started selling books in 2001, I put everything up for auction on eBay. I loved the thrill of the auction and watching my items be bid up. Nowadays, there is too much supply, so it's not that fun watching your items get zero or one bid. I don't get much time to catalog individual books anymore, but when I have books that seem to be asking for a home beyond my customer base, I list them online individually. I also sell off books on behalf of my customers (duplicates, etc.) on the various sites, and this allows them to continue collecting and upgrading their libraries.
END OF INTERVIEW
By no means am I suggesting that you go out and try and become the next Thatcher WINE. You can't because he's the only one. What I am suggesting is that you find a way to differentiate your brand from the masses. First things first, write comprehensive and accurate descriptions of your books, package your books neatly and indestructibly, and always, always, always offer customer service that exceeds expectations. It is no surprise that Thatcher mentioned customer service throughout the interview, and his client testimonials and referrals can certainly attest to his expertise in this department. You will be much more likely for people to spread the word about you and your business when you have the fundamentals down pat.
Your next job is to start brainstorming. And to ignore your "lizard brain" (another Godin term), who will keep telling you: "You're just another cog in the Amazon wheel, they don't need you to stay in business, so just get in line and be average." What can you do that no other bookseller is doing? What unique strengths do you have to bring to the table? How can you make your packaging stand out, while still getting the job done and keeping costs reasonable? How can you offer such good service that every customer tells ten of their closest friends about you? Is there something you want to do but are afraid more established sellers in the trade will criticize you? Do it anyway. The worst that can happen is failure, which is always just a temporary setback. Does your brand say anything about the type of books you sell or the type of bookseller you are? Do you specialize? If not, why? Even if you are a generalist as I am, would it be worth taking a look at one or two areas of interest that you can begin learning inside and out and become the primary resource for? Google "Rare Photography Books" and Andrew Cahan's name is 5th in the search results, just after Biblio and a few spots before even the mighty Amazon. FYI, if you Google "Preppy Books" (a niche I decided to invent due to my obsession with this unique and somewhat imaginary subcategory) I am currently about sixth on the list. More to come on this in a future article. What are you going to do to get your write-up in the New York Times, or even in the local paper? I know, you're saying, "I don't want that much attention." Is this only because you are afraid of criticism? I can only imagine what a write-up in the NYT would do for my long-term sales and credibility, and any bookseller who doesn't want more sales or credibility is a mystery to me. There certainly are a few of them - take my favorite bookseller of all-time, and perhaps the greatest- Bernard Black of Black Books. How's that for customer service? In 2011, I propose that we all make a sincere effort to get the basics down pat, and then we then decide to make a concerted effort to become remarkable. For supplemental reading, make sure to take a look at Part VIII of Bookselling in the 21st Century, entitled Insulated Niches, Books Published for Decoration.
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Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC
Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC