The second in BTW's series of board candidate profiles features Steve Bercu of BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Board ballots, which were e-mailed to ABA main store members on Monday, March 22, must be submitted electronically by midnight on April 26.
Steve Bercu knew he'd figured out handselling the first time he sold a cookbook. "Given that my cooking skills are extremely limited," Bercu said, he was impressed "that someone bought a cookbook from me."
Bercu is co-owner of Austin, Texas, mainstay BookPeople and a candidate for a second three-year term on the ABA board. He had spent several decades as a lawyer before he became one of BookPeople's investors and then took over the store's management 11 years ago.
As an ABA board member, Bercu has been an advocate of independent businesses organizing. He is founder and president of the Austin Independent Business Alliance and sits on the board of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). "I'm extremely interested in the idea that our independence is what distinguishes us from our competition online and off," Bercu said, as well as "the relationship of all independent [businesses] to independent bookstores."
He is also an advocate of focusing on the business side of the book business. As the economy recovers from the recent recession, "I would expect the book business would also improve," Bercu said, but he added that a strong economy "doesn't make it automatically better unless we operate better."
Because of the typically thin margins in the book business, "it's crucial that we operate as extremely efficient businesses," he said. "There's always something we can improve." Bercu started his tenure at BookPeople by managing the store through a turnaround, so that search for improvement is something that's familiar to him.
Bookstores, Bercu said, only have one chance to win a customer: "If it isn't a good experience, it doesn't really matter what happens outside," he said. "We have to constantly be reinventing stores so customers realize they have a better experience here than elsewhere."
And to do that, stores need to fill the role of community centers. "People don't have the opportunity to interact with each other any more," he said. "We have a great opportunity to have people come here because it's that kind of place."
Among Bercu's goals for the ABA board in the coming year is to work with publishers to help community bookstores provide digital content to their customers. "We have to continue to seek solutions that work for independent booksellers," he said, as well as "work with our publishing partners to improve the present paradigm -- keeping in mind that independent booksellers are the showrooms for publishers' books and still the best place for them to contact readers to interest them in new material." --Sarah Rettger