In Elkhart, Indiana it is not the corporate headquarters of Barnes and Nobles. At family owned and operated it’s Jon, Rose, and their 4 kids. Our bookstore is currently located where Walden’s Bookstore use to be. When we first opened we were visited by some of Walden’s old customers who had not been in for a while and did not realize that Walden’s was no longer in business. They walked in confused and lost and were caught off guard by the lack of cookie cutter rows of books they were accustomed to seeing in Walden’s. As a “small” independent bookstore we began small and day after day added to our inventory. Great care and thought was put into layout and decisions were made as to which books would be included in our inventory. From time to time some potential customers mistook our lack of product as a sign that we were “going out of business”. One customer in particular noted that Walden’s had lots more stock and then quickly added “but then again they’re out of business aren’t they?” After a short silence, and a surprised look on his face we all busted out laughing. He stepped further in and decided to browse and ended up becoming one of Mummphys regular customers. After a few more similar incidents, more stocking and connecting with new customers we’re now get asked slightly different questions. How did we come to build our bookstore? What tips do we have on owning and running a bookstore? We’re asked how we feel we fair against big box bookstores. What is our response? We think outside of the BIG box!
How is Mummphys different from a Barnes and Nobles? How do we gain and maintain the loyalty of our customers that set foot in our store? What unique shopping experience can we offer the customer? The answer to these questions is quite simple. Every customer has a need that need is filled is the key to a successful business. Going back to the basics, that for many years has been the foundation of the Ma and Pa shops that we all love, still holds true in my opinion. If you do not have what a customer wants or what they are looking for do you try your best to offer them a unique response? During these hard economic times as my wife and I have experienced first hand here in Elkhart, IN, sometimes just offering the customer a solution can turn a potential customer into not only a customer but a loyal customer.
A woman walked into our store looking for a funeral guest book which she needed very soon as her son had just been killed in a motorcycle accident just a couple of days before. The story had been one of the newspaper headlines so when she explained what she was looking for we were familiar with the story. Understandably, she seemed scattered, distracted and lost. We did not have the item but offered to call other local bookstores in hopes of tracking the item. We were able to find one at a decent price, explained her situation, and they promised to hold it for her. We offered our condolences and asked if she needed our assistance in any other way. She looked at our newspaper stand and asked if she could purchase 5 copies since they had her son’s obituary. We told her to go ahead and take them. $1.50 a piece seemed a small price to pay in comparison to what she must be going through. She seemed to be the only one running around making all the funeral arrangements. She thanked us as she walked out the door. A week later she was back but this time with 2 boxes of books she wanted to donate to the store. She had never experienced the kind of customer service she had experienced the day she came into our store and now frequents our store even if it is just to visit. This is one particular example of what we can do to help fulfill a potential customer’s need. When we don’t have a particular book we offer to order it online by using other small independent book sellers. We also offer to take in books. Many customers have asked if they could exchange books for other books or for store credit. We appreciate that we have customers that are conscious about the need to keep our environment clean and avoid having to add to landfills! They can count on Mummphys to help find a place for their beloved books! There are other ways in which our customers’ patronage is acknowledged. Many times it is through surprises that I come up with at the register on the spur of the moment. It might be an 8 year old who suddenly gets a free book just for being 8, or a customer that traveled a great distance and landed at Mummphys, or maybe it’s a teacher who happened to come in when it was “be nice to a teacher day”. This normally breaks the ice, results in smiles and laughter from the customer and is that bit of entertainment and distraction from their every day stress that they did not expect to get walking into a bookstore.
Just as the woman looking for the funeral guest book everyone has a story. Mummphys Book Nook wants to offer their customers an opportunity to relax, browse and experience an environment that is entertaining and unique from any other store they visit. At Mummphys a customer is welcomed again and again!
Many of our customers become part of our network. These relationships that began when they were once a potential customer are now a network of small independent business owners that we support. A struggling graphic artist is our sign maker, a small catering business provides the food and snacks for our monthly book club, local teachers and students are hired to be the mentors for our summer reading programs, a small local entertaining company provides entertainment for other store events we might have and a one man computer business keeps Mummphys computers running and in order! This bookstore has become much more than we could have imagined. It has become rich in so many ways, a bookstore with local customers and small business owners and employees that have become our loyal and strong supporters. Mummphys customer base is community based because we believe in offering the basic good old fashion customer service that Ma and Pa taught us. We had some big shoes to fill when Walden’s left but said no thank you and instead opted for a much smaller pair of shoes – Mummphy comfy ones!
Jon Mumford, his wife Rose and 4 kids reside in Northern Indiana.