Into Business for Myself

My friends Mike Butler and Lauren Anderson were over yesterday afternoon, and in the course of the conversation Lauren mentioned that she had always wanted do run a used bookstore.  She knows, of course, that there is little money in this, especially since she would refuse to stock the kind of trash fiction that is the primary sustenance of these stores.  I mentioned to her that I have long had a similarly inefficient business model in mind, one where I would only sell things that interest me particularly.

As I was saying this, it occurred to me that what Lauren and I really want to do is to reverse the standard business model by taking literally the idea of going into business for ourselves.  Most businesses, of course, are not in business for themselves.  They are in business for their customers, at least to the extent that they need to provide what their customers want in order to make any money.  They are not in business for themselves.  They are in business for other people in order to make money for themselves.  If they could afford really to be in business for themselves, they would likely have very different businesses than they do.

By way of example, here is what my business model would be:

I would sell books and films and music, whether new or used, and I would loan these things also, maybe for a minimal fee.  I would sell coffee and tea and preserves and cheese.  I would sell beer and wine and scotch and pipe tobacco.  I would sell seeds.  I would also have film screenings and canning bees and scotch tastings and book readings.  Some nights I would also be a restaurant, but only now and again, when I felt like it, and the menu would only be what I wanted to cook that evening.  My hours would be irregular in the extreme, but customers could always come by the house and ask for the store to be opened if they needed something in an emergency.  There would be comfortable chairs and a bar, but  there would be no televisions or wireless internet.

I would not be in the business of supplying either necessities or desires.  I would not be in the business of enabling either amusement or labour.  I would not be in a business where the customer was always or even often right.  I would not be in the business of efficieny or profit.  I would be in the business of sharing the things that I love.  I would be in business for myself.

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5 comments
  1. I love it. Well said. Occasionally I think it would be fun to open my own pub, based on a very similar ideology.

    The irony with the whole mindset is that people who do what they do because they love it are the people I most want to do business with.

  2. Lauren said:

    I wish more people felt that way, James, because I’ve discovered in the past 18 months or so that it is far more lucrative to do what other people want than it is to do whatever it is that you want. I’m very fortunate to have the luxury of doing what I love for a lot less money than I was earning doing what I hated, but I will admit there are days when I yearn for that regular paycheque.

  3. James and Lauren,

    Perhaps we need to go into business for each other.

  4. d said:

    If one had the capital to do this, why would one run it as a business? Why not buy a large house, fill it with books and the rest, then invite people over all the time? Is the idea to interact with strangers?

  5. D,

    I assure you that I do not have the capital to start a business of any sort, but I do run my house largely on the principles you describe. I have library of books and DVDs that are available to those who want to borrow, and I have a continual stream of people coming through to have coffee or dinner or whatever else.

    The only real reason that I would have for making a business of all this would be to provide a kind of commentary on what we assume a business should be, with its obsessive focus on profit and efficiency. Also, it might entertain me.

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