Coronavirus diary: Focus

One of the most difficult challenges that I have faced as a small business owner is the ability to be flexible in my thinking. The store has gone through many, many changes over the years, and I have had to discard cherished plans, and be willing to take on once-questionable tasks or inventory in order to grow. Some of the best ideas “I’ve had” have been forced upon me by my co-workers, whose different perspectives have always been a strength.

The incredible upheaval caused by the coronavirus closure has had two effects relative to my adaptability.

In the first place, I have had to swiftly change how we operate in order to have a chance to survive. These changes have been radical, and sometimes painful. Some of them–like not buying books and not having staff–are not sustainable long-term. If this drags on for more than a few months, I will need to make further difficult decisions, potentially even giving up the Corvallis store altogether. (The landlords have not yet been willing to be flexible on the rent.)

Secondly, however, I have had to learn to stay focused on what has made Browsers’ a strong bookstore. Now is not the time to try to force my vision of what I want Browsers’ to be upon customers. Instead, I need to consider why people have shopped at Browsers’ for so many years: low prices, wide selection of favorites, deep selection of interesting subjects, and a quirky focus on vintage. Other bookstores or online sellers rely on better presentation (not hard to do), newer books, specialties, events, list- and data-driven inventory, or sidelines. There’s a whole range of booksellers out there and I don’t need to compete with them on their terms; I need to keep Browsers’ personality intact, or else I’ve lost the game already.

In other news, I’ve also spent a couple thousand bucks ordering new books for our online sales. I wouldn’t have done that unless I were pretty confident that we’d need a six-month supply, so as of now, I’m staying optimistic.