In the book business: Books Unlimited owner shares love of reading
The book business is rebounding thanks to people like Suzanne Harouff who’ve never given up on it.
Books Unlimited has been a mainstay in downtown Franklin for more than 30 years. Other shops and restaurants have come and gone over the years as the downtown has gone through changes, but Books Unlimited has been able to outlive most even during a time when new technologies are constantly threatening its relevance.
With more people attached to their smartphones, tablets or an electronic reader, everyone was convinced the print industry would suffer and eventually die off, but Harouff said she’s seen a turn around recently.
“It’s building back up — that’s what I see and what I hear from my sales reps,” she said. “The future of the book business is bright — I see it as a growing future for women in business — probably at its best place ever.”
Books Unlimited was opened in 1983 under the ownership of Donna and Randy Wolf. Harouff worked in the used books section of the store for years and when the owners were ready to retire, she decided to buy the business in 2003. Being her own boss was a dream come true, but she’s also found it to be a double-edged sword. She’s the only full-time employee at the store and has six part-time employees.
“It’s a two way street being your own boss — I like being my own boss but sometimes I wish someone else could make decisions instead of me,” Harouff joked. “It’s definitely not what people think — I can’t just take off to go play golf — but I love what I do and I love my costumers and I demand we offer great customer service.”
Anyone who owns a bookstore will tell you they’re not in it to get rich — one truly has to have an appreciation for books to be sustainable. Preserving and growing a love of reading hasn’t been easy for Harouff, but her love of reading keeps her going.
“It’s been very difficult but reading real books is back on the rise,” she said. “Many people stare at a computer screen all day long and the very last thing they want to do when it’s time to relax is stare at a computer screen at home.”
Several years ago there was a big push from the American Book Sellers Association to offer electronic books, and Books Unlimited did it for a while, but Harouff felt it was going against what she was trying to do. Her goal is to encourage reading among adults and especially children.
“Teaching the younger generations to love reading — that’s what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter if they’re reading comic books as long as they’re reading,” she said. “Kids who say they don’t like to read just haven’t found that special book yet.”
To that end, Harouff opened up Kids Books Unlimited next door in 2016 to make more room for kids reading and related activities. Now Harouff has space for children’s story time events, puppet shows, games and performances. She said it’s been a great way to engage more children as well as their parents.
“We’ve seen a big difference in the summer when kids come here with their grandparents. They come in to find books on identifying trees, flowers and birds. They’re not sitting in front of a screen while they’re here,” Harouff said.
For her adult customers, Books Unlimited has something for everyone — new releases, recommended reading from staff, used books, calendars and gifts.
Even though she didn’t have any business ownership experience before taking over the bookstore, Harouff has the skills that come naturally for many women and mothers, including resilience and the ability to multi-task with managing a household, raising children and working within a limited budget.
“You just have to realize you’re going to be married to it and you’ll work harder at owning a business than you probably have at any marriage,” she joked. “The best advice I can give women in business is to just be patient with yourself and those around you. You can’t do it in a day or week month or even a year. It’s a gradual process — you’ve got to earn your customers respect to make them want to do business with you.”