Donna Kaufman is the co-founder of Paz & Associates, a Bookstore Training and Consulting Group. The former bookstore manager decided to assist aspiring bookstore owners all over the world in success during an era when stores are rapidly becoming virtualized. She spoke we us about the best parts of her job and about making sure new booksellers have the tools to contribute to book business and their communities for years to come.
How did you get involved with the industry?
In 1982, after I’d graduated from college, I got a job in Marketing with Gale, a publisher of library resources. It was fascinating to learn to write direct mail copy about amazing reference materials (really!). I recall that each day after lunch, our small marketing team would open all of the mail orders from librarians, reading their letters and comments and incorporating that into product development and promotional copy.
What was the drive behind creating a company specifically for the book-store business?
After working with two publishing firms and then managing one of the country’s leading indie bookstores, one with a full restaurant, I decided I was going to either open my own bookstore or open a training company to help more bookstore owners develop business skills. When so many people dream of opening their own bookstores, many with little to no business experience, I knew I could put together workshops and training materials to help them learn the numbers, develop a business plan, create competitive advantages, and manage the business for love and profit.
Describe your current position at PAZ. What do you do specifically in the process?
I’m a partner in the business with my husband, Mark Kaufman. I love the balance of right brain, left brain work in what I do. I develop and deliver training programs, work individually with clients to create business plans, lead our team of contractors who contribute services to design bookstores, develop opening inventories, create marketing materials, conduct business valuations when clients want to buy or sell a bookstore, and help prospective booksellers and owners of existing stores help improve their businesses.
What are the typical demographic of your clients? Have there been noticeable changes over the years?
Most of our trainees have held professional jobs in other industries. It’s surprising to us just how many female attorneys are unhappy with their work and want something to feed their souls. Over the years, we’ve seen many professionals who work for corporations simply burned out, wanting to re-evaluate their work/life balance, and find more joy in what they do for a living.
All of the different people from around the world we work with. Each has their own dream, vision, skills, creative ideas, and experience. Book people are interesting, educated, and worldly, and we’ve made many, many friends over the years. Industry gatherings are a joy because we connect, catch up, and are reminded of how fortunate we are to do what we do.
Comparing the book industry now to how it was when you initially started, what are some developments that have significantly changed the business model of bookstores?
Internet commerce has been huge. It has changed human behavior and books have become a commodity always available (for less) somewhere online. Ebooks, which I believe should be introduced along with the trade paperback format, have taken a small chunk of the bookstore business and now are another choice of how people can choose to read. I am not surprised that ebooks have not caused the demise of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore; what I’m surprised about is how publishers could introduce a format with a simultaneous release with the hardcover when it has devastating impact on the financial well being of an entire channel of distribution (retail).
As everything is being digitized and sold online, what are some challenges that your company and bookstores will face in the years to come? What are some ways that you or others have dealt with the change?
We always say that “discounting will kill you” and it is a death spiral for a retail bookseller when gross margins are already so tight. What will keep bookstores strong into the future is to capitalize on all of the things people can not find online … a wonderful sense of place that nourishes the body and soul; opportunities to gather for discussion and personal enrichment; the chance for writers and readers to connect and expand their worlds; and a delicious selection of books and other merchandise that cater to the reading lifestyle. The possibilities for combining all of these elements are endless, so long live indie bookstores!
In the News: Mark Leslie Lefebvre, President of Canadian Publishers Association, says the shift towards digital is making “independent booksellers as more important than ever.”