Retail Traffic

STOREFRONTS: Heading to the border

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Borders Books and Music superstores. In 1971 two brothers, Tom and Louis Borders, founded the original store — a used bookshop — on Ann Arbor's University of Michigan campus. Having developed a computerized, sophisticated inventory tracking system, the duo was able to expand their store operations by selling a larger variety of titles. In 1992, Kmart's specialty retail group — which also recently snatched up Waldenbooks — acquired the sibling's startup. Two years later, Borders-Walden was formed and went public the following year as Borders Group — Borders Books and Music's parent company.

Today, the corporation is a Fortune 500 firm claiming 348 Borders superstores across the United States. Notable urban concentrations are in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Internationally, Borders operates 18 locations in such countries as Singapore, Australia, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and New Zealand. Regarding franchising of the concept, corporate affairs counsel Anne Roman says, “We believe that our store model is best run under a company-owned and operated structure. We have no plans domestically or internationally to franchise.”

The superstore concept will continue to expand in the coming years. “We plan to open 40-50 new shops per year for the next several years,” says Roman. More locations will be added to communities in which the store already has a presence. Borders Books and Music superstores are found in regional malls, strip centers, power centers, urban settings and freestanding sites.

“It's not necessarily a particular environment that is persuasive as it is seeking a customer who portrays our profile,” Roman explains. Who is its target audience? Highly educated college graduates, 25 years old and above with a median to high salary base. “We also look for a population density of around 200,000 people in the trade area,” says Roman.

Currently, Borders sites measure between 20,000 sq. ft. to 25,000 sq. ft. However, the company now says it is looking at a smaller format where the GLA would range between 12,000 sq. ft. to 15,000 sq. ft. The retailer prefers a locale where its co-tenants' customer profiles resemble its own. “In a mall setting we look for strong anchors such as Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus,” says Roman. “While in community centers we like to be near gourmet grocers like Hillards or Whole Foods.” Borders store design varies as much as its locales. The retailer contours the architecture to match the community or to complement the environment it will inhabit, explains Roman.

It's no revelation that Barnes & Noble is Borders leading competitor. Both carry a variety of titles and bookworm accessories including bookmarks and writing instruments to highlight those important verses — but how does Borders differ? What is its niche? The company insists that selection is the distinguishing factor. According to the firm's executives, Borders typically has 150,000-200,000 book, music and video/DVD titles. Furthermore, it uses a computerized inventory system developed by the founders that customizes the inventory of individual Borders stores to reflect their communities. “In fact, just half of the inventory in our stores is similar chain-wide,” says Roman. “The other half is unique to each location. That's a real standout in retail and brings many of our customers to refer to their location as ‘my Borders.’”

Another way in which the book and music megastore stands out is through its ambiance. It can be very active as customers chat in the café or meet in discussion groups, or very passive as they sit in a quiet corner and read. The retailer's emphasis on service also makes it a categorical standout with the creation of new, invaluable initiatives such as Title Sleuth, an in-store computerized station. Each Borders store is equipped with five to 10 kiosks that allow customers to locate books by mapping them out within the store's perimeters. The Title Sleuth can also print a list of upcoming events unique to a specific neighborhood shop, get book/music recommendations and reviews, and even café coupons. “This service generates well over one million customer searches chain-wide in an average week,” says Roman.

Contact: Anne Roman, corporate affairs counsel, Borders Group Inc., 734.477.1392 or [email protected].

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