Thursday, April 27, 2017

Interview with Denise Phillips, Owner of Gathering Volumes

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Denise. Could you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to open a bookstore?

Thank you very much for having me. I am a wife, mother, and former IT professional. My husband grew up in Perrysburg, and we moved to Perrysburg in 2011. Growing up, my parents were avid readers, especially my father who was generally not without a book. After moving here, I was surprised to learn that there weren’t any independent bookstores nearby. My family and I would drive up to Ann Arbor and there we could walk to multiple independent bookstores. After my father passed away in 2013 I decided that it was time for a change in my career. I wanted to do something that would make a positive impact in the community, a place to gather that wasn’t a bar or restaurant and a place that was family friendly. I decided that for my family an independent bookstore would be an improvement to the community. It took me two years to put together a business plan and find the courage to move forward with Gathering Volumes.  

What, as a bookstore owner, have you found to be your biggest challenge and what has been one of your most satisfying successes?

By far the biggest challenge for me has been learning about marketing. I am still learning about this aspect of business ownership and I seek out all the advice and help that I can get. The challenge is determining the best way to reach out to like-minded individuals, those interested in a brick and mortar bookstore and who want to shop local as well as how to convince individuals to stop in and give it a shot. Making mistakes is part of learning and I have made mistakes, but I am gaining experience from the mistakes that I have made. I am most proud when a customer returns for a second visit and has loved the book we helped them find previously and is excited to find another.

If there was one book you could have those customers who enter Gathering Volumes read, what would it be, and why would you recommend it?

Wow, that is a difficult question. My goal is always to help customers find a book that will give them what they need at that time. Whether they need peace, excitement, intrigue, or knowledge I strive to recommend a book that addresses that need. I often recommend “The Alchemist” to customers, particularly if they feel that they need a change in their life. Although it is already one of the bestselling books in history, there are still plenty of people that haven’t read “The Alchemist” and for a fairly short book, it packs a lot of life lessons into less than 200 pages.

A common question(s) you probably get: How do you compete with Amazon? Why should readers choose to shop with you as opposed to the online behemoth?

I get that question quite often. There are a few reasons that I choose to shop at local brick and mortar stores. Local stores give back to the community in ways Amazon does not and cannot. Gathering Volumes has been open for less than 9 months and in that time, we have hosted 6 fundraising events for local schools, where a percentage of sales goes back to the schools, a food drive for a local food pantry, and a book drive. We host story times 3 times a week, author events nearly every week, book clubs for all ages, as well as activities for local organizations. We also showcase and sell local artists works in store. Our biggest event to date will be on April 29, Independent Bookstore Day, we will be hosting over 30 local authors, a local homebrew club, and providing children’s activities.

Of course, there is also the experience of being in a book showroom versus the online shopping experience. We give customers the opportunity to see, touch, and smell the book prior to purchase. They can sit in a comfortable chair, open the book up to any page, and read some of the book. They also can discuss books, get recommendations, and spend time with other people that love books. This isn’t just from me by the way; many customers offer suggestions to other customers. Of course, it is cheaper for Amazon to operate a book warehouse than to operate a book showroom and because of their size they can push for and get greater discounts and concessions. That is where we get into a discussion of price. It is impossible for Gathering Volumes to compete with Amazon solely in price and I don’t delude myself into thinking otherwise. However, I believe that many of us are starting to realize that we can’t make all our decisions based on price. Without getting too political I will say that there is a growing population that is discovering that they would prefer to keep their money local to sustain local culture, jobs, and taxes as well as to promote businesses that they can feel confident are doing the right thing.

You mentioned the Shop Local Movement, have you seen it in action at Gathering Volumes?

I have many customers come in and express that they prefer to shop locally. I also have customers come in asking me how I think I can compete with Amazon and the big box stores. I do not think that the Shop-Local Movement has caught on as strongly as is needed to keep Perrysburg real estate full and thriving with unique, local businesses. A number have closed recently and there are several open store fronts in town. I think as a theory most people understand and agree with the concept of shopping local, but I am not sure that the number of people that act on it throughout the year is high enough yet to save cities like Perrysburg from becoming full of generic real estate where we find the exact same stores and restaurants with no local flavor. I have heard of campaigns where people pledge to spend a certain amount or percentage of their monthly budget locally to ensure that they keep that money local and to “put their money where their mouth is.” I am interested to see if this campaign takes off or not.

What events do you have coming up over the spring and summer at Gathering Volumes?

Right now, we are focused on our Independent Bookstore Day event. 450 Independent Bookstores nationwide will be participating in Independent Bookstore day on April 29, 2017 and Gathering Volumes is one of them. Gathering Volumes will host multiple authors both inside and outside of the store, children's activities such as make your own Little Golden Book, The Glass City Mashers will be offering samples of beer brewed locally, and Mom's Mobile Mission will be collecting non-perishable food. We will open an hour early, at 10 am, for a special Elephant & Piggie story time, coffee, tea, and doughnuts. The store will also stay open late for Harry Potter Trivia and snacks from 7 to 9 pm. Finally, the store will have special deals and giveaways all day long including a signed short story by Michael Chabon, a signed short story by Rainbow Rowell, an Elephant & Piggie onesie, A Literary Cocktail book that has authors favorite drink recipes and more.

In May we will be hosting Tracey Hecht, the author of the Nocturnals series for Middle Grade Readers for a virtual visit and will also be hosting a Nocturnals party where the kids will participate in games such as Free the Fox and Flashlight Reading as well as dinner and a treat. We will also be hosting Kim Dinan, author of the inspirational book “The Yellow Envelope” on May 20th. On May 6th, we will be hosting 40 young authors from Woodland Elementary School as well as Children’s Book Author Holly L. Niner with her latest “The Day I Ran Away.”

As we are approaching summer break we will also be bringing back our popular STEM classes for kids. Last year our Build Your Own Super Soaker class was extremely popular.

As we’re closing in on the end of the interview, Denise, is there anything else you’d like to share or add?

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share what we are all about at Gathering Volumes and to thank you for sharing your talent with us by allowing us to stock your books.

You're most welcome, Denise and thank you as well.

Where you can learn more about Denise and Gathering Volumes:

Twitter or other online connections:
Facebook: @GatheringVolumes

Twitter: @GVBooks

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