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A marketing suggestion for Borders
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Permit me to tug on the old school tie for a moment. I graduated from HBS five years before you. If you're not the right person for me to contact at Borders, please tell me who is. (I'm hoping you're still VP Marketing and Biz Dev for Borders Group.) This morning I flashed on a marketing idea for Borders.

Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, California, closed its doors last week, after 50 years serving Silicon Valley. To many of us, Kepler's was more than a fine, independent bookstore. People knew the store for its early support of geeks, anti-war rallies during the VietNam nightmare, the locus of poetry readings and great author visits, and being the center of its community. I remember when Stewart Brand opened his Whole Earth Truck Store a block away. Or when it was one of the few places to carry computer books.

Kepler's died from lingering effects of the dot-com downturn, competition with Amazon, and (my guess on this) more floorspace than their stock warranted. When I told a friend today that Clark Kepler had shut the place down, he took it harder than if I'd told him my grandmother died. Kepler's had spirit, personality, and a following.

Here's the idea. Borders could "rescue" a few independent stores for chump change. (Your wholesale prices could even return them to profitability but that's not the main benefit.) The reward would come from headlines that trumpet "Borders Saves Historic Bookstore from Oblivion." That would certainly soften Borders' reputation for stomping on little stores. A store with a following, like Keplers, could turn into a great boutique brand for you guys, perhaps the name of a portal for talk-to-a-human service for obscure books. At the very least, it would be a way to score some great PR at next to no out of pocket cost.

If Cody's Books in Berkeley ever suffers a similar fate, I hope Borders would see the benefit of propping them up, too. (Fred Cody learned the book business as an apprentice to Charlie Kepler's father.)

All the best.



Blogger Harold Jarche said...

But I just read at Worthwhile that it's now open.
I'm glad it's worked out :-)

10:18 AM  
Blogger jay said...

Borders passed on the deal, short-sighted I thought, because Kepler's is indeed more than a bookstore. The locals got together, dumped in money, developed a viable business plan, and put Kepler's back on its feet. Whew!

12:18 PM  

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