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November 1, 2002
Store Name: Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Store Location: 161 Lexington Green Circle, Lexington
Owner: Neil Joseph Van Uum
and Title of interviewee: Becca Jones: Kids' Store Manager
In 1986, Neil and Mary Beth Van Uum opened the first
Joseph Beth Bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky. After moving to the
Mall at Lexington Greene, the new store has grown to 40,000 sq.
ft, with two floors of books, music, childrens' departments, and
even a restaurant overlooking Lexington Greene Lake. Today, the
Joseph Beth Group consists of six independent bookstores in three
Monthly: How long have you been in business? Can you give
a short history of how your company came to be?
Jones: Joseph-Beth has been in the bookselling business
for just over 16 years. We were a small independent, but through
the hands-on leadership of Neil VanUum we have grown to include
five other stores (including Joseph-Beths in Cleveland and Cincinnati,
OH, and the acquired Davis-Kidd stores in Nashville, Knoxville,
and Jackson TN) and we have become a real competitor against the
Can you tell us a little bit about what your store offers for children?
We offer a wide variety of activities and programs for children
of all ages. Whether they are with their parents "test-driving"
some of our demo products, such as our "Thomas the Train"
set or our musical mats, reading a book, or joining us for one of
our regularly scheduled programs; everybody seems to be having a
great time! We also have many popular authors [appearing] throughout
the year to read and sign books. Recently we had Laura Numeroff,
author of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," come to our
store--with an outstanding turnout! I view...our role in the Lexington
community as an opportunity to expose as many children as possible
to fun and educational experiences in a literary atmosphere.
Who is your typical customer in the kid's store?
I can honestly say that there is no "typical" customer.
We have everybody from parents to grandparents, nannies to teachers,
to children of all ages...who regularly shop in the kids' store.
There are also adults like me who don't have kids, but still have
a great love and appreciation for children's literature. We have
an excellent Kids' Team that can help all customers (big or small!)
find the right book, or introduce you to some great titles that
you may have overlooked!
How do you let the public know who you are and what you carry?
As a bookstore, people know that they can come to us for great books.
But they've also discovered that we carry a wide variety of unique
gift and home items, along with a fantanstic assortment of toys,
games and educational products. Our marketing department works incredibly
hard to ensure that we also have interesting and informative events
to provide to our customers and community. There is always something
happening at Joseph-Beth. We're not just about selling books, as
any customer will tell you, we are about the "experience."
Do you have special meeting-nights or promotions you routinely carry
Our promotions frequently change...but we do have some events that
occur every month. We have book club meetings for different genres
such as Science Fiction, General Fiction and the "Bridget and
Beyond" book club. We have also teamed up with our cafe for
the Dinner Club, where our chef prepares an exquisite meal from
one of our cookbooks. Events or promotions that you can count on
every year include our Summer Reading program, Book Week activities,
and "Sale Day," where we discount all of our merchandise
to 20% off.
Have your self-promotion or marketing efforts been worth the cost
Unlike the businesses that you see on television or hear on the
radio, we do almost all of our marketing through self-promotion.
Our main marketing outlets include our website, email newsletter,
print newsletter, event postcards, and in-store banners and bookmarks.
But by far, our number one marketing strategy has been word of mouth.
I can't even tell you how many people come up to me and say that
they live in another state...but were told that they "had"
to come to Joseph-Beth. After an event like the American Girls Summer
Camp, we'll have peers of the kids in attendance come up and ask
me when the next one will be. It also helps that we have an incredibly
strong community presence that we have built over the years through
sponserships, cross-promotions with local businesses, and by maintaining
great relationships with our educational community... I won't say
that it's not a lot of effort, but it is certainly worth it. As
an independent, we've learned a lot about doing things in a great
good way without spending the big bucks to do it.
Why do you think customers come to your store, instead of ordering
online or going to another store?
Many retail businesses will tell you that they are all about customer
service. At Joseph-Beth, we mean it. There is not a "sales
clerk" in our midst, we are all booksellers (from our owner,
to the general manager, to the marketing department and floor staff)
and we do it because we love to read, and love to spread the experience
to others. Most of our booksellers have either obtained a college
degree or are currently working on one, and surprisingly few actually
major in English. Our ecletic educational backgrounds allow us to
better assist our customers, whatever their needs. And we do it
with a smile. We know that you can go to a chain and get a better
price, or go on-line for convenience, but you [cant' replace] the
personal service that you recieve at our store.
What special concerns does running a "store within a store"
pose, especially when the product offerings within are slightly
different in theme from the larger store?
What I have found over the years is that most bookstores that have
a children's section run into the same problem: How do you get the
main store booksellers to work as well in the kids' store as they
do in the "grown ups" area? There is something about being
surrounded by a lot of small children that intimidates most people--especially
those who don't have children of their own! What I have discovered
is that by becoming more familiar with the books and the product
(reading childrens literature and playing with the toys!) booksellers
can build a comfort zone. Even if they don't know what in the world
the customer wants when they say "the red book about purple
monsters that they had as a child" (50 years ago), one learns
the right questions to ask to get more information, or perhaps suggest
another book. It may not be exactly what they had [in mind], but
it could be a book that they would love nonetheless.
Do you have products offered for sale online? Has this Internet
presence helped your business?
In the last year we have set up an on-line ordering system where
customers can buy on-line and have it shipped to them, or they can
pick up their titles at our store. I think it's too early to say
how much it has helped business, but it certainly hasn't hurt it!
How do you see the industry changing, and how it might affect your
Due to our current political and economical environment, I think
that every business has had to make some changes and adjustments.
People think twice about throwing their money around. Historically,
however, it has been times like these that bookstores are more likely
to do better than other local businesses. Books are an investment;
when you purchase a book, the enjoyment will last you a lifetime.
When you go to a movie, the enjoyment lasts approximately and hour-and-a-half.
In perspective, consumers would much rather make an investment.
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