Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Kingsley.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Lisa. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I opened the store in 1995. I had managed a couple of stores for about 5 years and knew I wanted to take that leap into owning my own shop. This neighborhood was still rebuilding from the Northridge earthquake and there were a lot of empty storefronts. But, it was a great established neighborhood and there were several other small, individual businesses on the block, so I thought it would be perfect for a used bookstore.
From the beginning we concentrated on non-fiction, primarily hardcovers. We were the only used bookstore in the immediate area but there were close to 70 stores in L.A. County in 1995. So, there was a really rich book-selling tradition in the city.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The entire book-selling world was rocked by this idea of a world-wide web. By 1995, the internet had started to be recognized as a potentially great way to sell books. The drawback was that it took so much time to upload books; dial-up connections had no speed, so it could take half the night to upload a file of 20 books. We started with just a few thousand books and it took almost a year to get everything online. After that though, I think we were the first in the area to have our entire inventory computerized and online. There’s no question this is one reason we’re still in business.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Books On The Boulevard – what should we know?
Because there are so few used bookstores now, an entire generation has grown up with no experience of being a browser. I’ve had numerous people (adults as well as children) ask me if they can rent the books, or if this is a library. If they haven’t grown up with access to used books, a store filled with a lot of hardcovers can seem a little intimidating. I sometimes have to do a little bit of outreach to get them comfortable with the idea that they don’t have to buy something every time they come in—they can browse.
Fortunately, we have a lot of books priced under $10, as well as more expensive hardcovers and antiquarian titles. Over the years, I’ve had people who started out very tentatively, with small softcover purchases. Over time they’ve found categories they like and now have the confidence to buy a more expensive hardcover book.
The best part of this job is when I can find the perfect book for someone—a 1940’s era “Joy of Cooking” their mother used, or the exact edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that they remember reading.
The great thing about owning a brick and mortar store is the chance to interact with the neighborhood. In some cases, our customers came here as children and are now buying for their kids. I would never have imagined that when I first opened the doors.
We’re one of those places where it’s not only ok but encouraged to talk to the person next to you. Take Saturday mornings for example; kids (and some parents) will be playing with the pop-up books in the children’s section and outside couples stop off to browse the outside racks, with coffee and pets in tow. There are always people parked in lit or history who share notes about the books they’re reading or authors they collect. People who walked in quietly will leave laughing and talking with each other. It’s a fun, totally non-stressful experience.
We have a lot of teachers that stop in to buy books for their classes or will send their students in. We welcome their reading lists, so if we know local schools are reading certain titles during the year we’ll stock up on them.
I started an institutional program a few years ago that gets us out working with local schools to purchase books in bulk for their students. We can often offer lower prices than schools can get on the Web and we can take purchase orders, which they can’t always do online. Right now, we’re working with schools from Westwood to South L.A., as well as here in the Valley.
And, even though we don’t have the room to do book signings in the store, authors often have us set up their events in other locations and provide the books. These kinds of things make us more visible to people who may not purchase used books on a regular basis.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
It’s completely tied in with how satisfied our customers are. We give the personalized service that neighborhood stores have always offered. I’m noticing that the more people shop online the more they recognize and appreciate that.
Whether it’s personally delivering textbooks to a campus or helping to pick out the perfect birthday gift, you know you’re not clicking a link to order from a faceless “dealer.” My customers are buying something from a local business owner who cares about them.
I’ve been asked if I’d open another store but I think the fact that this is a small store helps me keep a handle on the business. I’ve never wanted to supervise a large staff or leave the buying in the hands of anyone else. In that sense, I’m exactly like booksellers going back to the first book stall in ancient Greece: I buy what I like and hope my customers feel the same way!
- Address: 13551 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
- Website: www.booksontheblvd.com
- Phone: (818) 905-0988
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/books-on-the-boulevard-sherman-oaks?osq=books+on+the+boulevard%2C+sherman+oaks