I’ve been reading story after story of Border’s books and their latest troubles.
It makes me sad.
I remember Border’s in the heyday, most notably in the mid-1990’s.
My biggest positive memory of Border’s came around that time. In 1994, as a sophomore in college, I was able to do a semester long internship in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan (home of the University of Michigan). For a semester, I was an assistant manager at a retail store, learning about human resources, bookkeeping, cash flow, inventory management, and other cool stuff.
The Borders part came in because they had just opened a brand new flagship store that I walked past every day to get to my job. Prior to that, they’d been down the road in a pretty big store, but when Jacobson’s, the big department store in downtown, folded, it left the town’s biggest retail spot empty. Border’s came in and took a department store sized spot and made it a bookstore. A big bookstore! They finished it up right around the time I was working downtown, and the transformation was incredible.
It was awesome walking by and looking in the windows, and seeing two stories of nothing but books. Growing up, my bookstore exposure was B Daltons, a store in the mall that was probably 5% the size of the new Border’s.
Soon after, the big bookstore explosion began, where primarily Border’s and Barne’s and Noble built big bookstores that dwarfed all the little bookstores, and put many of them out of business(though none of the Border’s were nearly as big or as cool as the flagship store in Ann Arbor).
We all know what happened. The Internet came around and traditional ‘brick and mortar’ bookstores have been in survival mode since.
Still, Border’s made some obvious mistakes along the way.
- Not ackowledging that online was ‘for real’ – It took them years before they acknowledged Amazon and other online retailers as anything more than a passing fad
- Getting it wrong once they went online – When they finally admitted that they needed an online presence, their first attempt at it was to form an ill-fated partnership with Amazon, who was of course going to protect their own interests before giving anything to Borders.
- Staying behind the times – eBook readers were the next wave of opportunity that Border’s missed. It took them until last year to get serious about it, and once again, they were too late to the party.
The common theme is that Border’s has not been a trendsetter in their industry in almost twenty years. Their last trend, so far as I can tell, was the creation of the big-box bookstore. Since then, everything’s changed but Border’s has not been leading that change in any way.
I fear that Border’s may soon become a thing of the past. It’d be nice to see them be able to succeed, especially since they’re still so firmly rooted in Michigan. If I were a Vegas odds maker, though, I’d have to be putting pretty high odds against their success at this point, because they just haven’t shown the gumption that it’s going to take to remain in business and remain relevant.