The company is the second-largest book retailer in the United States, with 267 stores in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Stores offering new books and merchandise are branded under the Books-A-Million name or as BAM! – Books, Toys, Tech and More. The company in 2011 introduced a used book resale concept, 2nd and Charles, which has 23 store locations. Of Books-A-Million’s 267 total stores, 46 are former Borders Books locations acquired following that company’s bankruptcy in 2011.
Books-A-Million is targeting the opening of 30 new stores this year, including eight new 2nd and Charles locations. The company opened 12 new stores last year. Tyndall attributes the company’s ability to grow in a highly competitive market and succeed where Borders and other national book retailers didn’t to a few different factors.
“We’re very adaptable and willing to change to meet the needs of consumers,” Tyndall says. “We pick great real estate, and have a very conservative, smart and opportunistic approach to growth. We converted 46 Borders stores in three months; there aren’t many retailers who can do that.”
Adaptability to industry trends has been a long-running theme for Books-A-Million, which was started as a street corner newsstand in Florence, Ala., in 1917. The company, formerly known as Bookland, grew to become a staple in malls and strip centers in the East and South during the 1970s. In the 1980s, the company changed its name to Books-A-Million. In the years since, the company has made several key acquisitions including Gateway Books and Crown Books.
Many of Books-A-Million’s locations include Joe Muggs coffee shop locations offering coffee and pastries. The publicly owned company’s other corporate holdings include Yogurt Mountain, a retailer and franchisor of 44 self-serve frozen yogurt locations. The company also develops and manages commercial real estate through a subsidiary, Preferred Growth Properties.
The company is involved in e-commerce through its main website, www.booksamillion.com. Customers of both the physical locations and website can earn discounts on new books by enrolling in the company’s Millionaire’s Club.
Filling a Niche
Books-A-Million stores typically have a smaller footprint than many of their brick-and-mortar competitors past and present. Over the course of its history, the company has reduced its footprint from 25,000 to an average of 6,000 to 10,000 square feet. Most of its stores are located in shopping malls or strip shopping centers. “I feel that we’ve found our niche,” Tyndall says. “Books are still the No. 1 niche retailer in shopping malls.”
The company also carries a more varied inventory than its competitors. “We’ve brought merchandise other than books and carry it in a smaller amount of space,” she adds. “Borders had a lot of inventory in much larger footprints; we’re very smart in the way we inventory our stores.”
In addition to carrying books, Books-A-Million locations carry Nook digital readers, toys and board games and general merchandise. “Years ago, I don’t think someone would have thought to go to a bookstore and pick up a graphic t-shirt,” Tyndall says of the company’s merchandise evolution.
The chain’s newest bookstore opened in February in the South Park Mall in Strongsville, Ohio. Most of the Books-A-Million stores now under construction are located in the eastern United States.
The company seeks mid- to large-sized markets for its 2nd and Charles locations. They include college towns and other markets with at least 250,000 people located within a 20-minute drive of the store. “We want to be where families shop, and are also looking for millennial shoppers,” Tyndall says. “Our focus with that brand is on density and high visibility.” For its Books-A-Million or BAM!-branded locations, the company seeks less-dense markets with older demographics.
Customers to any of Books-A-Million’s locations can expect high service levels. “We know our business really well,” Tyndall says. “We’re very smart and focused on the customer.”
The company strives to make its store experience as pleasant and memorable as possible. The 2nd and Charles locations have one manager for each department, each of whom has autonomy over the merchandising and placement of stock in the department. Customers to the used bookstores are greeted at the door and shown to the buy-back area, where they can sell previous purchases or their own books.
BAM!/Books-A-Million customers seeking assistance on a book or other purchase can also expect to be treated well. “We’re there to help you find a book,” Tyndall says. “Our managers are very well-educated on what’s hot, what’s not and what makes sense for each customer based on their tastes.”