When most of us think about an ecommerce website, we think of a place with pictures and descriptions of inventory, which a shopper can toss into a virtual shopping cart and buy with a mouse click. With the advent of portals such as Abebooks.com, there are esellers who don’t have carts. In fact, some of them don’t even have websites.
Givens Books in Lynchburg, Va., has a website, but no shopping cart. They do, however, sell used and rare books on the Internet by listing as many as 3,000 of their best titles at any given time on Abebooks.com. Danny Givens and his sister Ginny Goettler operate Little Dickens and Givens Books, a business started by their father in 1976.
DANNY: Dad started the business in a building that used to be a gas station, right next door to where we are today. He was a teacher, and mom would run the store until he came home from teaching, and then he would run the store. They did that for a few years until he could work the store full-time.
Danny, also a teacher, started a toy and teaching supplies store next door. He bought the bookstore from his aging father in 1999, and built the 16,000 square-foot building, which now houses all of the businesses, including a cafe. His sister Ginny runs the usedbook department.
GINNY: We have about 75,000 used books (not counting a huge paperback section). I keep about 3,000 titles on Abebooks.com at any one time. About 15 percent of our used book sales happen on the Internet. The Internet sales are a little more labor-intensive, because you have to have things very well-organized. I have to look them up and verify what they are and how they might be priced before I put them up.
While the Internet income may not be a major portion of their revenue stream and a little harder to work, it comes from books they most likely would never sell anywhere else, certainly not in the local store.
GINNY: I remember selling a couple of volumes on maritime law (for more than $1,000). The buyer was someone who specialized in maritime law. The books were not in very good condition at all, but he wanted them. I sold a former librarian a first edition of Dune for $400, and it was all bent up and library stamped. I think I would have waited for one in better condition, but this buyer wanted it.
Ginny didn’t get to own it or even sell it, but the most interesting book she has seen was a signed edition of Geronimo’s biography.
GINNY: The woman was dividing her estate and had a signed, first edition of Geronimo’s [auto] biography. Sounds crazy, but it turns out he?d sell his autograph, in pencil, for $2 at shows and fairs. It was the only thing he could write. It was quite a feeling to be holding something that was actually in Geronimo’s hands.
The success of the business comes from having something people want or need and an emphasis is on customer service.
DANNY: It is very important to us that we do everything possible to please those customers who have made it possible for an independent bookstore to thrive in a small community regardless of what big chain opens up “down the street.”
Will they expand their Internet presence?
DANNY: I don’t see us getting into selling online except for Abebooks. We do maintain a web presence with a calendar of events, which people in the area have come to expect. The web is an important tool in simply making announcements. We are going to expand the Internet activity over the next couple of months with customers writing reviews of books and toys. We?ll offer an incentive, like a discount on their next purchase, for people to review books and toys that you find in our store.