Half Price Books
By Debbie Brannigan
President: Sharon Anderson Wright
Website: Half Price Books.com
I'm sure this month's Featured Business is familiar to all the bargain hunters, students or just plain book hounds of America. What may not be so well-known about this fabulous business, however, is its humble beginning, its hippie origins, or its innovative president, Sharon Anderson Wright.
Half Price Books first opened its doors in 1972 in a converted Laundromat in Dallas, Texas. The store started with 2,000 books all from the personal libraries of founders Patricia Anderson and her boyfriend Ken Gjemre. Both were in the peace and environmental movements. In 1972 they decided to act on their idea to sell used books and not have them end up in landfills.
Today, Half Price Books is the nation's largest new and used bookstore company with 90 retail locations in 14 states and more than $149 million in annual revenues! Patricia Anderson's daughter, Sharon, began working for Half Price Books at the age of 13, sorting and shelving paperbacks. In 1976, she opened and managed a store in Richardson, Texas, and in 1986, she became manager of the company's flagship store. Within three years she was promoted to district manager of five Dallas stores. Sharon was then appointed general manager and executive vice president over corporate operations the following year. She took the reins as Half Price Books president in 1996 after her mother and Half Price Books co-founder, Pat Anderson, passed away.
Sharon is personally committed to the company's mission of preserving the environment by reusing and recycling Through the years, Half Price Books has recycled more than 16 millions books and saved more than 650,000 trees. Half Price Books has been dedicated to literacy efforts for more than 30 years, supporting hundreds of projects including The Bedtime Story Book Contest, Reach Out and Read, and the annual Half Pint Library Book Drive. Half Price Books believes in supporting family literacy projects and related endeavors across the country. In addition, Half Price Books is a founding contributor to Laura Bush's National Book Festival. They also offer a 10% discount for teachers and librarians.
Sharon continues to expand Half Price Books, opening around eight new bookstores per year, but is committed to keeping the company a friendly and fun place to work. There is a quirky bookworm culture fostered by longtime employees, many of whom also have second careers in the arts. Sharon makes sure her stores are the kind of place where these friendly, knowledgeable clerks would want to work. Wright only asks that her employees wear clothing that is clean, untorn, and free of offensive slogans or graphics. "After a big debate, we decided they had to wear shoes" says Sharon.
Besides promoting only from within to fill managerial positions, she offers health insurance, in-depth training, and profit sharing to full-timers. The last thing Sharon wants to do is to grow too fast and become impersonal. She regularly turns down offers to be acquired or to sell part of her company. Accepting outside capital would let her expand faster but would crimp her low-price strategy. She can charge so little because she pays to open each new store with retained earnings, refusing to borrow. "We were raised as kids to only do things we could afford," says Wright. "Why would I run my company any differently?"
In 35 years, Sharon Anderson Wright has gone from the first employee of Half Price Books Records Magazines to its president/CEO. She has helped the company expand from a single 1,000 square foot converted laundromat into the nation's largest family-owned new and used bookstore chain. More than 1,700 employees currently generate annual revenues exceeding $150 million, making Half Price Books in the Top 200 of the nation's Top 500 Women-Owned Businesses.
About The Author:
A high school drop-out and single mom before the age of 18, Debbie struggled to provide for her daughter by working three jobs for over two years. Through hard work and perseverance, she progressed from fast food jobs to become a sought-after design engineer for the top Automotive, Aerospace and Trucking companies in America. Her passionate belief that anyone can realize their dreams led her to found Capitalist Chicks.com. It is her mission to cultivate the true entrepreneurial spirit, and eradicate the negative connotation often associated with the word Capitalist. Debbie is also a contributing panel expert on the Work Her Way website.