The ups and downs as an independent book and media operation
When Dane Ferguson recounts earlier times, he’s like an open book. He is honest about the highs and the lows of operating an independent book store. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat the challenges he’s faced or the wins his team has earned. Talking to Ferguson about books, entrepreneurship or the new trends in pop-up shops is refreshing. It’s hard not to just keep listening to him expound on various topics, (we talked multiple times for the story).
Ferguson opened his first bookstore in Grand Forks in 2010. Prior to that, he was working retail straight out of college. His expecting wife was teaching. All around the region, chain bookstores were closing, including Walden Books and B. Dalton's here. “I thought about a little bit different concept with books” he said. He wanted to capture the desire of book buyers looking for new titles, and old. Most readers didn’t care if the old titles had already been read by someone else.
Six months after quitting his job, he opened his first store with the help of his brother and wife. “It was way more work than what I had in my mind before we started,” he says with a laugh. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Initially, Ferguson offered new and used books from a single location. A year after opening in the Menard’s strip mall, he was looking to capture more foot traffic from the mall. He opened a Kiosk there while he kept his original store location running. Then he opened a second store in the mall, giving him two locations. By 2014, he’d moved both stores into one consolidated location in the Grand Cities mall after trying to make multiple locations work. Sales were consistent at every store. The desire for books was constant, but it always seemed like the book tracking system wasn’t as efficient as it should have been, or customers always wanted a book that was at a different location. Even the joy and excitement he and his team had gained from opening, running and maintaining a bookstore was fading. When he decided to move into the current location, they grew their non-book offerings out to include toys and other media. “We had a grand opening, and everything was going great.”
But then, as Ferguson admits, his focus shifted. He is an active entrepreneur and advocate always trying to think ahead. He is the type of person that may end up on the cover of a business magazine someday. With a dispersed focus, the book store was losing ground for two years. He even took a different, salaried position that made him travel away from the region more. From 2015 to 2017 he had tough decisions to make about the store until eventually, everything came down to a choice. Refocus on the books or figure out a dreaded alternative.
Last summer, he chose to reapply his business acumen to books. He put together a pop-up shop book event in Fargo. Then, he traveled to Bismarck to perform the same offering there. “The results were amazing. It gave us new life.”
The shops, and his renewed focus, saved Ferguson’s bookstore operation name. With the success of the pop-up shops proven, he even had a re-examining of his Grand Forks store with the team. He asked them to talk on or look for the good things to continue doing, and the areas they should cut. Today, he says, everything has come together and everything about the bookstore and his overall focus is better.
“I’m proud of that,” he says. “We turned it around when we needed to.”
With an independent spirit and new offerings that have been proven successful, Ferguson is back on the road to becoming the region’s prominent book provider. He’s found unique ways to tap into his customer base and frequent readers to help stock the best books people from the region want to read. That’s never an issue. People love reading. In 2017, the book industry sold more than $10 billion. Ferguson is always honest about everything. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, it seems, it’s all turning out to be a great story. G
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PHOTOS BY: RUSS HONS PHOTOGRAPHY
From Issue 2, 2019