I have to hand it to FIRE PETAL’s owner, Michelle Witte. She was amazingly honest and open, and a real pleasure to interview! Kudos also (IMO) for opening a beautiful new bookstore for kids and teens in this ah, challenged economy. And it’s doing so fabulously, too! A real dream come true, I think.
So enough about me. On to Michelle and FIRE PETAL !!
JKB: You’re a new independent bookstore. What prompted you to open in the particular area of town, and why this time?
MW: When people ask why I’d do something so crazy as open a bookstore (a dying entity) during a recession, my only thought is: There’s never a good time to take a risk like this. Why let one excuse or another stop you from following your dreams. The thought that originally kicked me into gear with the store was, someday will never happen if I don’t make it happen.
As for the location, I’d lived in Centerville, but had to move away about a year ago. I love this community for many reasons, but the two biggest for locating a store here are proximity to Salt Lake City and the neighborhood feel of the community. Since we’re only 10 minutes north of Salt Lake you’d think it would be much like the city, but it’s really not. Plus it’s the only real independent bookstore between Salt Lake and the next large city, Ogden, which is about 40–50 miles away. I say “real independent” because there are some children’s boutiques and game stores that also sell books, but the retail space devoted to books is much smaller than that devoted to other items.
JKB: Do you do special events for the youngsters?
MW: Of course! That’s one thing indies can bring to a community that larger retailers can’t—the active participation in literature and events. We’re still feeling out what would be best for our store, but we plan to do traditional events storytime and book groups. In addition we’ll have writing groups for teens, writing classes, author discussions, signings, and pretty much whatever we can imagine. Since I own the store, I can do pretty much whatever I want, and I love doing fun, crazy, quirky things.
JKB: How do you get the word out about your fabulous bookstore?
MW: Ooh, I like the sound of “fabulous.” Publicity is actually a tricky thing, especially for a traditional establishment (bookstore) in an evolving world. I used to work as a journalist and editor for newspapers, so I understand how to get the information you want in front of the media. The thing is, newspapers are dying. I don’t say that lightly. The paper I used to work for just laid off nearly half of their staff—including the entire copy desk. So traditional forms of advertising just aren’t going to be as efficient as they were in the past.
Another path is to use the internet as marketing tool. It has a lot of pros and plenty of cons as well. How do I find my target audience? And, more than that, how do I make an impression on locals in my target audience. But viral marketing is cheap (other than my time), and I can reach a wider audience. But as I mentioned, how do I narrow that to people who will actually walk into my store? I’m still working on that.
I don’t know the magic answer (please email me if you do), but I’m experimenting in a lot of different ways to figure out what really works. So far, I’m seeing it’ll have to be a combination of traditional media mixed with online venues. The ideal situation would be for the mix of marketing to spark a word-of-mouth frenzy. Actually, the most interested customers walking into the store come after recommendations from friends and family. Those who walk in off the street might be interested, but there’s a higher likelihood of them walking right back out again after a quick browse. It’s the personal connection—the community—that will bring customers to our door and keep them coming back.
JKB: Could we have your website? Twitter account? Facebook? (Note to readers: showing support online is just as awesome as dropping by! You can even purchase books online through FIRE PETAL, I’ll tell you more about that in a bit)
MW: Do you really want the list? This could be dangerous—and much more than you asked for.
JKB: Hit me.
MW: Well, here goes:
JKB: What are some upcoming events we all can look forward to?
MW: Starting Friday, Oct 15 at 3 pm, we’ll be having a weekly storytime. The next two weeks, storyteller Jeff Bond will share ghost stories with kids age 8–13. We also have writing groups for Teens and YA writers – check out our website for details!
JKB: I also understand that FIRE PETAL will shortly have a way to order books online through the store…so make sure to swing by and support your local indie – EVEN if it’s online, EVEN if you aren’t local! By buying independent you support the fabulous book economy…doncha want to do that?
And if you’re in the area, have a FANTASTICAL KID’S birthday party at FIRE PETAL! Details here.
Thanks again, Michelle, for stopping by The Mixed Up Files! You are amazing, and FIRE PETAL rocks!