In the last few days, several stories have popped up in various newspapers about the Barnes & Noble decision to close its B. Dalton outlet in Laredo, Texas, leaving the small city [population 220,000] with no bookstore at all, neither a chain store, nor an independent. That will make Laredo the largest town or city in the United States without a full-service bookstore, an absolutely “wonderful” Christmas present for the book-lovers of Laredo.
In past blogs I’ve pointed out the rather numerous short-comings of Borders. Now it’s the turn of Barnes & Noble. The B&N decision comes as part of its strategy to close all the remaining B. Dalton outlets in 2010, a decision from on corporate high to close high-cost, low-profit small mall outlet stores. Frankly, in the case of B&N, it makes far more sense than it did for Borders to downsize the number of Waldenbooks outlets, since from my industry sources, the word has always been that Waldenbooks was profitable until Borders started fiddling with their operations, while the Dalton outlets were, as a whole, marginal.
Even so, the B&N decision in the case of Laredo, and perhaps in other individual cases as well, is stupid. They have a local monopoly that is in the black, if not necessarily highly profitable, and B&N has been quoted as saying that Laredo will support a small but full-sized B&N — but that B&N won’t be able to open such a store for at least 18 months. Generally speaking, a city with a population of over 100,000 is profitable for the chain bookstores, and even with Laredo’s high level of Spanish-speakers, a store there should be profitable, especially with no competition.
Let’s get this straight. For bookkeeping and corporate decision-making reasons, B&N will close a profitable local outlet well before a successor B&N can be opened. In other words, they’ll destroy or at least erode their customer base…and then have to rebuild it, if they can, a year later.
All right, they have to close all the B. Daltons for whatever reasons. Then why not simply re-label the Dalton store in Laredo as a B&N Express or some such with signs saying that there will be a full-sized B&N coming before long, and add the Laredo store to the B&N supply system. Surely, it can’t be that hard. Then B&N can still claim it’s closed down all the Daltons in order to keep the stockholders or creditors or whoever happy and not anger an entire reading community.
Unfortunately, this is just another example of where pre-determined decisions are trading short-term profit considerations for longer-term profitability — and undermining the future customer base by literally chasing away readers. Exactly how much sense does this make in terms of future operations? Not to mention that it makes little sense at all from a societal point of view when reading levels among younger Americans are dropping.