People have asked me, "What went wrong? Are all Borders stores closing?" several times over the past week. It goes back a long way, back before I even started with the company. It supposedly started in the mid-90s, some say around 2000, and some say around 2005, and one of the first nails in the coffin happened around 2008. I don't want to bash my employer, but I can definitely concur that the company not getting behind the internet revolution was definitely one of the main faults. Borders wasn't selling books online as Amazon began to dominate the market, and they had actually partnered with Amazon.com for a short time sending Borders customers to Amazon's website.
People have asked, "Is it because of the Kindle?" Nice idea given most Borders employees hate Amazon.com, but the Kindle definitely didn't help as the company got behind the less impressive Kobo line of e-Readers and those horrible Cruz readers and Cruz tablets. People have asked a lot of questions that each represent a brick in the end of Borders--all of these things from people going online, the kindles, Wal-Mart and Costco are all to be considered. One thing I can say that probably took us down was the massive amount of debt that the company carried through the middle of the last decade until now.
I will say that I loved Borders as a brand before I even worked in a Borders. Borders is where I found all of my Buddhist reading material; I found such a variety of books that I didn't have to go into special bookstores to buy; I took comfort in the fact that I could buy my books, DVDs, and CDs all in one spot given they would likely have anything I would be looking for. Borders to me represented a place where you could go and find laid back and incredibly knowledgable people who could recommend anything to you; you wouldn't regret buying anything a Borders employee suggested. In late 2008, it seemed that being part of that Borders image was about to change for the worst. That's when a CEO came to town named Ron Marshall who forced us to sell specific "MAKE titles" to customers; it didn't matter if you came in for a specific book, we had to recommend these titles to you and push you to buy them. The image and the atmosphere of Borders wasn't what it used to be, and we played the role of a retailer that was desperate for sales as we prayed that we would never see the company in bankruptcy. We worked in the store short staffed and stressed out during peak times of the year--including the infamous Christmas season of 2009 where most employees were complaining about 3-5 people being staffed in the store during the Christmas peak shopping days and hours.
What are my reflections on it now that we know what our fate includes? I would say that while it's sad, we definitely knew what was coming (in fact, a Borders employee made a Borders Liquidation BINGO sheet that has a "we knew it was coming" tile). I can also say that people shouldn't think Borders is the end--Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are going to be in the same position in 3-5 years with Barnes & Noble losing a couple of billion dollars in assets and Books-A-Million reporting 100 million dollars in losses. Amazon.com as one customer told me is the "Wal-Mart of the internet, and has killed the book business." I can say I agree, but I also heard many customers tell us how sad they are we are going under--but yet many of these people will also tell you they can't resist shopping on Amazon.com.
How am I handling the liquidation process?
Well, TIME magazine wrote this amusing article HERE about how much our liquidation sale sucks because anything that was discounted last week via a coupon or discounted price of 20-30% is now only 10% in the liquidation's starting process (funny how TIME Magazine doesn't understand how liquidation sales work), and we're hearing a lot of people say they want deeper discounts and will come back. We are simply in the store as staff of the liquidation company that now owns us and are selling off the assets. There is nothing we have to sell, we don't have access to our own computer systems to help customers find titles, the pictures from employees showing up on the net show stores in disarray with piles of books everywhere in their store, and we're simply there to take the customer's money. Am I taking it personally? Not one bit. Am I bitter towards the liquidators? Not at all. I'm just taking the process like those who knew what their fate was on the Titanic as it sunk.
To the customers asking me and my fellow Borders employees "What will you do now?" Please stop asking us. Many of us simply don't know what's ahead of us in our lives. I don't know what the conditions will be of the job market next week, next month, or around September when this process will supposedly be over and we're left to filing for unemployment. Many of us are responding with witty comebacks or mild smartass comments in reply that you are taking literally; I can assure you none of us are really going to go be on Safaris in Kenya, and none of us are going to be sitting at home counting how many millions we have left from our lottery earnings. Just stop while you're ahead, enjoy your bargains, and mourn the loss of your local Borders without asking us if they're finding us jobs or asking us personal questions about our finances--unless you're prepared to offer us jobs.
So, with that, I'm sorry to say that I will probably not be seeking employment in this business after it's all done. I'm probably done being Brian the Bookseller. But I want to thank all the customers I had who appreciated all my recommendations, all of the authors who gave me the time of day when I e-mailed them or added me to their personal Facebook pages to talk about their books, and most of my co-wrokers who I have gotten to know over the years as well as Borders for giving me a job in 2005 when I relocated here to California.
I wish this blog could have lasted longer and regret that I'm pulling the plug on it as quickly as it began. But if you were a reader, thanks for following.
-Brian the Bookseller
Here are some liquidation related photos for your enjoyment. I took a few of these in my store during Day 3. I also included the Borders Liquidation Bingo, a letter to customers left by the staff in a closing store, and where you can find the nearest Borders restroom.