An Entrepreneur's Road to Opening a Brick-and-Mortar Retail Business
"If you want to do something big, learn as much as you can about it, get professional advice and good mentors"
Kate Layte, 28, enjoyed the experience of working for a major publishing house for a while. Reading had long before opened her “small world” up to the vast scope of the human condition, after all. But in the end, corporate life just wasn’t for her.
“I felt stuck for a while,” she says, “then woke up one day in October of 2012 with the idea that I should open a bookstore in my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.”
So after two years of planning, Layte opened Papercuts J.P., a brick-and-mortar independent bookstore occupying 500 square feet of space in her Boston neighborhood in Massachusetts.
Layte, a former English student of UMass-Boston, shares with Monster some of the challenges of opening and operating your own business as a young person and some of the lessons she has learned throughout her journey from a gear in the corporate machine to becoming an independent entrepreneur.
Q: How did you go about opening Papercuts J.P.? From finding a property to securing loans, what are the things entrepreneurs need to consider when they go down this road?
I prepared as much as I could. I took free online classes at Coursera.org ranging from marketing, business law, accounting to psychology. I found a couple of great and inspiring podcasts — The Introvert Entrepreneur, Design Matters and The Accidental Creative. Also I wrote and rewrote a business plan, met with free retired business mentors through the Small Business Association, went to free business, accounting and tax classes at the Boston Public Library and consulted with someone who had opened a bookstore before. And lots and lots of reading, of course. One of my favorites was Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption by Laura J. Miller that gives a fascinating history of bookselling and how vital they are for a neighborhood to thrive.
As for finding the space — I live in Jamaica Plain and would walk around all the time looking for places, calling to find out costs and plugging those numbers into my business plan. It took a while to find something that fit, but last October I found this spot at 5 Green Street, fell in love with the wood floors and high ceilings and knew I could make it work — even though it’s only 500 square feet — I wasn’t deterred.
I was determined not to go into more debt as I’m still paying off my student loans. Maybe not the best idea, but if you really want to do something big, learn as much as you can about it, get professional advice and good mentors, then share your knowledge on a crowd-sourcing platform and with your loved ones. Knowledge, a good network and preparation make up for lack of funds any day.
Q: Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew at the start of the process that would have helped you?
Listening to customer feedback is vital in creating something that’s not just what I want it to be but a true reflection of the neighborhood that I serve.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of starting a business?
Convincing yourself and your loved ones you’re not crazy. Of course it’s a terrifying experience — especially for your loved ones seeing you give up a stable job for the uncertain. But it’s exhilarating and the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I’m very hard on myself, but I’ve found that being my own harshest critic was a blessing in disguise, as it made me work harder to prove it to myself that I could do it.
Q: Once up and running, is it ever hard keeping it all afloat?
It’s a ton of work every day but I planned a timeline so that I would be open before the holidays knowing that holiday sales would give me enough leverage to get through the winter. Specific difficulties are keeping up with everything being published, knowing I can’t buy everything for the store and anticipating what books readers will enjoy. It’s been steady this winter though, despite it being the worst on record.
Q: Why did the idea of opening a small, independent and hyper local store appeal to you rather than trying to get into something much larger? A lot of entrepreneurs seem set on taking over the world. I don't get that sense from Papercuts J.P.
I love my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Two of my favorite writers are buried in Forest Hills Cemetery— E.E. Cummings and Anne Sexton. Sylvia Plath, another favorite, lived in JP for a while when she was young. It’s a beautiful, creative neighborhood that didn’t have a dedicated independent bookstore. The charm of local bookstores is that they know their neighborhoods and in turn their communities support them. If you distance yourself from the people and just start viewing customers as big data it gets awfully impersonal very fast. I think there’s a danger when you replace humans with statistics and I’m not interested in that nor world domination. I just want to share good books with my neighbors.
Q: Do you have any plans or dreams of opening either another store in addition to Papercuts J.P. or just another business in general?
I’ve got my hands full now but I’ve got no idea what the future will bring.
Q: Lastly, do you have any advice for young creatives who similarly dream of opening their own business?
Read. There’s a lot of good stuff that people took the time to write down, edit, design, print and distribute. The Internet is great, but long-form reading in whatever subject interests you is vital. Try subjects you’re not interested in also! You might learn something new that allows you to flip what you think on its head and bring you to a new idea. That’s innovation. And for God’s sake, take advantage of free online classes like EdX and Coursera. There’s so much stuff you can learn for free. Not to mention your local library and the Small Business Association.
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