APPLE PODCASTS | SPOTIFY Annie Jones is the owner of The Bookshelf, an independent bookstore in Thomasville, Georgia. The store has been a local staple in the southern town for almost 40 years, while Annie is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her taking ownership. In this episode, Annie shares how she earned the store through sweat equity, […]
Annie Jones is the owner of The Bookshelf, an independent bookstore in Thomasville, Georgia. The store has been a local staple in the southern town for almost 40 years, while Annie is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her taking ownership.
In this episode, Annie shares how she earned the store through sweat equity, the trials and tribulations of her early days as owner, and how focusing on her community has created a steady stream of loyal customers – even in the age of Amazon.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Owning a bookstore was never part of Annie’s life plan. After graduating from journalism school in 2007, she went to work as a Communications Specialist for the Florida Bar Association.
Although she loved her work in the legal field, it wasn’t long before Annie experienced what she now calls a quarter-life crisis. She wanted a more fulfilling career.
When The Bookshelf opened a small outpost in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, she emailed the owner to see if they needed a volunteer – they didn’t, but they did need a part-time manager.
Annie planned to enjoy the best of both worlds by going part-time at her 9-5 communications job. But when her boss turned down the plan, Annie handed in her two weeks’ notice.
Annie’s sudden decision to leave her job was out of character. “I’m very risk-averse,” she says. “All of this doesn’t come naturally.” Luckily, the risk paid off.
Although she had no retail experience and a lot to learn, Annie thrived in her new role. A few years later, when the owner decided to close the Tallahassee outpost and sell the Thomasville store, she offered Annie a chance to earn ownership through sweat equity.
After five years of hard work (and with the help of a small business loan), Annie bought the store in 2018 – and became the proud new owner of The Bookshelf.
Those early days were equal parts excitement and nerves. “Owning a business is not your standard 40-hour-a-week job,” Annie says.
Originally, she thought she would be able to commute from Florida, where her husband practiced law. But they quickly realized how important The Bookshelf was to Thomasville and that if Annie wanted to make the business work, she needed to prove herself to the local community.
With the former owner off on maternity leave, Annie was left to figure out hiring, marketing, and bookkeeping on her own.
“The transition had a few messy parts. Managing and owning are very different things, and I was in bookstore owner boot camp without a trainer.”
One of the most difficult aspects of taking over the shop was learning the finance side of the business. “Finances are still one of the most stressful things to me. Sometimes I see a Quickbooks commercial and want to scream at the TV because it’s just not that simple.”
For the first few years, Annie ran the store’s finances as if they were her own, which put a lot of pressure on both herself and the business. Since then, she’s hired a bookkeeper and an accountant to take over taxes.
“That first year, I thought I was going to throw up in the accountant’s office. Nothing sends me into a spiral like taxes, finances, and the feeling that I’m doing it wrong.”
What Annie didn’t realize before taking over The Bookshelf is that books aren’t a very profitable business model – they’re expensive to stock and have small profit margins. Most of the profits at the store are generated through gift items and community events.
Annie works hard to make The Bookshelf a financially successful business year-round because that’s not guaranteed in the book business. She regularly adjusts prices to find the right balance between profitability and accessibility.
“I want to have something for everyone, but I also want to be a profitable store so I can do practical things like pay my staff.”
When she took over the business, Annie knew she wanted to focus their marketing efforts on what The Bookshelf does best: community.
The store hosts regular Reader Retreats, Literary Lunches, and virtual workshops. Annie also hosts the From the Front Porch Podcast, a weekly show about books, small business, and life in the South.
One question Annie is always grappling with is, “How can we have a for-profit business in a world where publishing and Amazon have made that difficult?”
Ticketed events are just one part of The Bookshelf’s strategy; another is their customer experience. Every order comes with beautiful packaging, a handwritten note, and a branded bookmark.
“I want to show people that we are a people business. Our staff is women-owned and women-operated. We can tell you who packaged your order. We can tell you the name of the grandchild you ordered it for. I’m so proud of what we’ve created because it’s something special – and it’s something Amazon can’t do.”
As an Enneagram Five, Annie says she often operates from a scarcity mindset where there’s never enough time, money, or resources.
It wasn’t until her business coach asked her what number she needed to bring home to feel comfortable, and she couldn’t answer, that Annie realized there was a deeper issue at play.
To any business owner struggling with a scarcity mindset, Annie says to remind yourself that you’ve dealt with hard seasons before and you can do it again. If you’re newer in business (or you’ve been in business for years, but still struggle with the numbers side), don’t be afraid to ask for help from an expert.
My finance course for entrepreneurs, The Blueprint Model can help you define your Enough Number and learn to manage the money side of your business. Check it out here!
Annie is a firm believer in hiring outside help in all aspects of her life – from a business coach to a personal assistant, spiritual director, and therapist.
“There were things I didn’t even know were available. Business can be isolating, but talking with other entrepreneurs and realizing there was help to be had.”
On her team, Annie leans on other people’s strengths to balance her weaknesses. She makes decisions intuitively, which is great for brainstorming new marketing ideas, but some decisions still need to be based on data. Learning to combine her strengths with the more data-driven people on her team has been a game-changer.
One of the most difficult parts of owning a business is detangling your personal identity from your role as an entrepreneur.
After a decade in business, Annie has learned to prioritize her needs alongside the business (or in some cases, before the business). Recently, she moved a bookstore event to clear her calendar for a special anniversary dinner with her husband.
“I was so proud of myself because 10 years ago I never would have done that and now I’ve learned that being a person comes first. I love The Bookshelf, I love the work we do, I am not the work that I do.”
With the 10th anniversary of her ownership approaching, there’s one memory that stands out in Annie’s mind: her father telling her that she was too young to make a mistake. Even if owning the store didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be a mistake because she would learn something new.
Luckily, it did work out! But her father’s advice always stuck with her, because it freed her to take a chance. As for what she would tell herself 10 years ago, Annie says, “You’re going to figure it out as you go and that’s okay. No one is grading you.”
If you’d like to support a small business this holiday season, check out The Bookshelf’s Shelf Subscriptions!
To hear the full story and more about Michelle Boyd, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Annie B. Jones owns The Bookshelf, an independent bookstore in downtown Thomasville, Georgia, where she and her husband Jordan have lived since 2013.
In 2012, she began living her Kathleen Kelly-dream as the manager of The Bookshelf in Tallahassee, and in 2013, she took over operations of the flagship store in Thomasville. Annie was previously featured as one of Southern Living magazine’s 50 innovators changing the South; in 2016, The Bookshelf was listed in the top ten of the Independent Small Business of the Year Awards, and in 2017, it was named Small Business of the Year by the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce.
Annie currently hosts From the Front Porch, a weekly podcast about books, small business, and life in the South.
December 21, 2023