Barnes & Noble is a 130-year-old company with 33,000 employees and a market capitalization of almost $800 million. Yet, it's newest, best shot at regaining a little mojo against Amazon is something just about any college student or stay-at-home mom could have come up with.
Short version? They're going to start serving booze.
Finally, something exciting.
Yep, Barnes & Noble is rolling out a new concept--four stores so far--in which it will put beer and wine on the menu. There's an official announcement, of course, with analysis on financial websites. But the reason I think this might actually work has to do with how I first heard about it.
It was on Scary Mommy (a pretty amazing product of the company I work for, by the way). Here's how our writer covered it:
What's better than books? Books and beer. Or wine! And you can soon get both at a Barnes & Noble store. ... The company hasn't released info on a proposed dress code so it's unclear if hanging out in my pajamas while drinking and reading will be deemed acceptable. Nonetheless, this is exciting news for book lovers.
That reaction is one of bemusement and excitement, and it makes sense to me. Back in college, when we wanted to get people to show up for school meetings and events, we'd throw in beer and wine. Sometimes pizza. Maybe $50 or $100 worth of booze and food was enough to attract a crowd.
It's a simple idea, maybe even a little "lowest common denominator." But it works.
Treating customers like adults.
Of course, it's not just that Barnes & Noble will apparently be applying for liquor licenses that prompts the excitement. We don't exactly have a shortage of bars in America.
Instead, I think it's deeper, and probably a combination of two things:
1. Turning the stores into gathering places.
2. Acknowledging that your key customers are adults, who might like to turn a trip to the bookstore into more of a real outing.
And that's one of the only things that a brick-and-mortar store like B&N can provide that Amazon can't--at least as long as they're almost exclusively online. You can't hang out at Amazon with your friends. You'll never drop by with a friend after work to have a beer and shoot the breeze.
Sure enough, when you dig into the corporate-speak in the Barnes & Noble announcements, that's pretty much what they're going for.
When losing only $10 million is a good thing.
The truth is, B&N is in trouble--although it has been for some time, which makes you wonder if the constant reports of its death might be greatly exaggerated.
Same-store sales are flat or growing at just 1 percent, Bloomberg reported. The Nook lost $98.6 million last year. They're touting it as good news that it might lose only $10 million a year by 2018.
But this new direction--and it's only a test program, but it might have legs--is all about yet another pivot. It's about trying to find "creative ways to get customers in the door," Bloomberg continues, as "part of a broader shift among brick-and-mortar retailers toward offering experiences, rather than just physical goods."
What do you think? Is adding beer and wine to the menu enough to restore Barnes & Noble to its glory days? Or if you want beer with your books, would you rather just hang out in a bar and skim Amazon on your phone? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.