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Taking on the Giant

Phil Johnson, in Forbes Magazine, writing to business execs and leaders:

Imagine for a moment what it would feel like if people walked into your company and used the lobby to call your competitors and buy their products. That’s standard consumer behavior in a bookstore. People browse, find a book they like, pull out their smart phone, and order online.

His article, The Man Who Took on Amazon and Saved a Bookstore, is about Jeff, who purchases a Cambridge MA bookstore

Jeff Mayersohn, the new owner, elicited my sympathy, but I also wanted to get to know him. I respected his mission, even if I didn’t quite believe in its future. So, Jeff shocked me a couple of weeks ago, when he told me with a certain amount of pride and pleasure that he has been seeing double digit sales growth month by month over the last year.

He got that right. The article is one of the success stories involving an Expresso Book Machine.

To truly compete, he would also have to solve consumer’s expectations for instant gratification and delivery. Jeff needed a complete production, distribution, and fulfillment model. He has likely shocked a lot of people by building one in his own backyard.

Essentially, Jeff installed a printing press to close the inventory gap with Amazon.  The Espresso Book Machine sits in the middle of Harvard Book Store like a hi-tech visitor to an earlier era. A compact digital press, it can print nearly five million titles including Google Books that are in the public domain, as well as out of print titles. We’re talking beautiful, perfect bound paperbacks indistinguishable from books produced by major publishing houses. The Espresso Book Machine can be also used for custom publishing, a growing source of revenue, and customers can order books in the store and on-line.

If I knew most of you would click through — you don’t — I would have simply included the link, but at the risk of having borrowed more than half of the article, I want you see past the story and catch the brilliance of the following two paragraphs that comes from the analysis of a writer for Forbes:

Of course, Amazon has got nothing to fear, but that’s not the point. Harvard Book Store defended their market and they did it by leveling the playing field with a giant. You shop there because it’s the most effective and satisfying experience.

Ultimately the bookstore exists to serve a community, and Jeff devised a strategy to safeguard that mission. While people will always take the path of least resistance to buy a book, they still value the experience of browsing and spending time in a place that ignites their imagination. That’s the position that Harvard Book Store has defended.

Key phrases

  • leveling the playing field
  • satisfying shopping experience
  • defending the market
  • safeguarding the mission
  • giving customers the path of least resistance

I think there are ways we can learn from this. Years ago, I had a young employee in her late teens tell me to stop telling her peers that I “could order it for you.” Her advice was a few years ahead of time. Now we simply look up the title and say, “It will be here on Wednesday.”  The response is amazing.  I wish I had the market size to afford an Expresso machine, and many of you can’t even afford the type of Expresso machine that makes coffee; but I think there are things we can do even in the limited markets we serve to defend those markets and “safeguard the mission.”

Forbes article link.

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