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Independents DO it

How are they going to survive otherwise? You’ve read other stories about the small specialty store that provides an experience so different that you immediately want to pick up the phone and tell all your friends: “You’ve got to see this!” You can’t wait to increase your trend spotter capital by talking about the novelty of the store’s approach. What happens when the business is not really novel? What do you do when the market is already filled with big chains that provide a good discount, loyalty programs, and throw in a café for good measure?

How are they going to survive otherwise? You’ve read other stories about the small specialty store that provides an experience so different that you immediately want to pick up the phone and tell all your friends: “You’ve got to see this!”

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You can’t wait to increase your trend spotter capital by talking about the novelty of the store’s approach. What happens when the business is not really novel? What do you do when the market is already filled with big chains that provide a good discount, loyalty programs, and throw in a café for good measure?

What’s your sustainable business model then? Here’s what you do when you’ve been selling books way before the chain stores and Amazon: you build a business around your customers and instead of asking them to come to you, you go to them. Here’s how Michael at Joseph Fox Bookshop, and his father Joseph before him, do it in Philadelphia.

1. Michael is the “go to” person for publishers in the area. Does the author speak at events? Chances are either the publisher or Michael is asking that question when the book comes out. To do that, he has become as expert at:

– Getting and giving the scoop. If Michael knows about an author wishing to come to Philadelphia to promote a book, he will give the scoop to his trusted partners in professional associations. When Seth Godin decided to promote his new book The Dip, I knew about it the very next moment Michael got the call.

– Bringing authors and professional associations together. He knows which groups will attract which audiences and acts accordingly. For example, he provides books for the speakers’ series at The Free Library of Philadelphia, where mostly fiction and contemporary nonfiction (but not business) are hosted. He also happens to sell a very nice and varied selection of poetry, theatrical works, and fiction.

– Getting involved in the community. For many author events he partners with the Friends Select School, which I am told is an excellent school. He gains credibility by providing visibility to high quality education. He stands behind literacy: by promoting book reading, he is promoting the value of time spent learning.

2. Joseph Fox Bookshop is the “go to” store for interesting, and specialized books. Today I found a very good English translation of Giacomo Leopardi’s Thoughts (Pensieri), which I will treasure. You may not be surprised to know that he stocks quite a good selection of interest books on architecture, design, crafts, photography, and the arts in general.

– The staff is knowledgeable and extremely nice. I was greeted with a smile and felt a gentle, yet not pressuring presence throughout my exploration of the book titles.

– The store is nestled between a great shoe boutique at the corner and a crepes restaurant in the French quarter of Philadelphia. When you walk in, you think you’re walking inside a narrow little European bookshop. I recommend going in just to have the experience. You will probably buy something before you leave.

I’ve known Michael for a number of years. We met at Fast Company Real Time Philadelphia in 2001. Since then we’ve done a series of author events together and he has always come through – for associations and for the authors and publishers. This coming weekend, he will be part of the Philadelphia book festival, which he is also helping promote.

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Who would you go to if you wanted to pull off a great book-signing event? Am I a customer? Yes, and much more than that. Michael and Joseph Fox Bookshop have built solid relationships within the fabric of our city. I wouldn’t consider even thinking about someone else. If independents do it, isn’t it time we declared a little bit of independence ourselves?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • ConversationAgent@gmail.comwww.conversationagent.com