How a new inventory system helped Borders rise to the top of the stack.
Booksellers Louis and Tom Borders set up shop in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1971, the year the publishing world disgorged I'm OK -- You're OK and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. From the start, the brothers wanted to offer a much wider selection of titles than their typical competitors did. But they also knew that the store, which they called Borders, would have to turn over its inventory frequently to survive. So Louis created an inventory-tracking system, using software that was designed to pick winners in horse races. It enabled salesclerks to quickly find out how many copies of a book were on the shelves and if any were on order. Borders began selling its inventory-management services to other bookstores, and for a decade the brothers thought of their company as principally a distributor. Only later did they focus on their supposed "core" business by opening more bookstores across the country.
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman