Last night I witnessed first hand the slow death of a company. On my way home from work, I passed a Borders book store. Ordinarily, I am accustomed to going to Barnes and Noble to search for my next book. But convenience being what it is at that moment, I checked it out.
I pulled into a mostly empty parking lot. That’s not too shocking because it was snowing. But it was a bit disconcerting nonetheless. I walked into the store and immediately felt like I had been transported to a wake.
The store was void of the quiet hustle and bustle of Barnes and Noble. In fact the only other consumer in the store kept eying me suspiciously as if to say, “So what are you doing here?” The store was laid out like a Barnes and Noble, but it was more like a $10 knockoff of a Gucci bag at the Silk Market in Beijing. Merchandise seemed to be stacked up all over the place with books intermingled in random categories. I only saw a single employee, a woman lazily standing in the checkout area, hoping me or the other suspicious shopper would bring a book up to checkout.
The death of Borders is all around us. Its stock is basically worthless, and it is going on its fourth CEO in five years. It is hemorrhaging cash. The situation is so bad that last month a major investor said on CNBC that a bankruptcy at Borders a was a “low-probability event” and that bad news caused its stock to rise 37% (granted it was only trading for about $1.00 a share so it rose $0.37).
What Borders has failed to do is give consumers a reason to shop there. (From my experience last night, I will not go back unless something drastically changes.) Although many believe Barnes and Noble to be the death knell and bane of the “local bookstore,” it have given consumers reason to use it, even if it is only the availability and diversity of titles. Moreover, B&N has also managed to change with the times, modifying its business model to account for changing consumer preferences and methods of delivery.
If Borders is to survive, it must give me and the rest of the book shopping market a reason to shop there. A reason that is both different and better than Barnes and Noble. Not simply a $10 knockoff.