Literally across the street from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Quantum Books appears to be an anomaly in this age of mass merchandisers and mega-bookstores. Quantum Books is an independent technical and professional bookstore owned and managed by June Kapitan and William J. Szabo -- a knowledgeable husband-and-wife team. While the presumed industry pacesetters like Barnes & Noble Inc. and Borders Group Inc. are currently struggling to realize respectable earnings, what are the keys of success for this seeming maverick?
Starting at the beginning, Kapitan and Szabo have both been well-schooled in the book publishing, distribution and retailing business first having worked in middle-management positions with the preeminent house of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (New York). Szabo’s work centered on college textbook sales at Wiley, and later moved to import-export trade with Longman Inc. USA. Kapitan subsequently was the first woman to be selected a vice president of the Oxford University Press. They both perceived the need for a superior retailer of technical and professional books in leading educational and research centers in the United States.
In 1984, they accepted an invitation to become junior partners of Reiter’s Scientific and Professional Books, then located on Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, DC. Over the next two years, they concentrated on upgrading the inventory management and author-title-publisher database of this noteworthy technical bookseller in our nation’s capital. Obviously, this now completed their education with hands-on experience as retailers.
Leaving Washington in April of 1986, they embarked upon establishing their own technical and professional bookstore. As with so many ventures, the second key to their success would be location. In retrospect, this step might appear to have been almost a no-brainer. Surprisingly, the world-renowned Boston-Cambridge scientific and research community lacked an adequate source of leading-edge technical and professional books. Hence, this was the location, and the specific address should be "across the street from MIT" -- known affectionately by its students as Nerd Central as well as Cambridge Tool & Die. The first customers walked into Quantum Books in the fall of 1986; Quantum celebrated its Twelfth Anniversary in October 1998.
Piercing its high-tech ambiance, the third key to Quantum’s success is that it is truly a contemporary reincarnation of Miss Livingston’s Village Books from the early decades of this century. Quantum knows and understands its customers intimately; it can anticipate their changing interests and professional needs. And Quantum knows its authors and publishers equally well and, therefore, can share critical pre-publication information with its customers. Quantum is a singular source of valued information to the scientific community just as Miss Livingston was the fountainhead of new works for the literati of her community. These are marketable services where the mega-bookstores do not attempt to compete. Some have defined Quantum as an idiosyncratic bookstore.
And the fourth key to Quantum’s success is as new as tomorrow -- an unrivaled database of authors and publishers for titles in print as well as scheduled titles forthcoming. Assiduous attention is devoted to assuring that this database is up-to-date and more comprehensive than anything else available for titles on mathematics, physics and advanced-level computer sciences. While Quantum maintains an on-shelf inventory of 20,000 of the most current titles, its greater strength may be the 65,000 titles on its incomparable database. The newly-launched Quantum Books Search and Custom List Generator Utility [http://www.quantumbooks.com/find.html] not only facilitates searches by title, author or ISBN number, but also allows searches for key words in the abstract. Listings can be in short form (one line) or long form (everything including abstract). Books can be designated from the search result, the most-recent title in a search bracket identified, and a custom list can be generated quickly for a customer’s specific needs.
Quantum’s retail business is rivaled by focused corporate sales as well as a worldwide mail-order business. Special orders and allied customer services are more significant than in the typical bookstore. And the Internet [http://www.quantumbooks.com/] generates a major segment of Quantum’s business. Perhaps uniquely, since first opening its doors, virtually every Quantum customer has had Internet access. Email is a primary mode of customer communications; online order placement is now routine.
How important have these four keys to success been? Today, Quantum Books is a world-girdling business. 1995 alone logged a 25 percent increase in sales. Imaginatively, this is an enterprise built on old-fashioned marketing fundamentals and simply utilizing today’s best tools. Outfitted with new clothes, Miss Livingston would undoubtedly be a valued partner on the Quantum team today.
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