News

Kepler's investor outlines business plan

Groundbreaking independent bookseller re-opens doors Saturday

When a resuscitated Keplers bookstore reopens this Saturday after weeks of intense negotiations, it will not be the same Menlo Park bookseller that abruptly closed a month ago citing financial troubles.

Instead, the 50-year-old retailer will be back with a new business plan, board of directors, investors, community programs -- and a re-negotiated lease.

Supporters hope the reinvented Keplers will have a greater chance at longevity, amid consumer trends that continue to divert business away from independent booksellers to Internet and chain outfits.

To celebrate the reopening, a rally is planned for this Saturday at 11 a.m. in front of the store, at which time a new membership program and benefit author events will be announced.

"We're excited and ready to go," Clark Kepler, president, CEO and chairman of the board, said of the impending reopening. "It's astounding. I'm not unaware of the magnitude of the work we have ahead of us, but it's hopeful and optimistic, with all the feedback from community -- and the (community) recognition that we need them to buy books from us."

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The intense effort to revive the store began the day it closed.

Daniel Mendez -- one of Kepler's four new board members and the co-founder and chief technology officer of Visto Corporation -- was eating breakfast next door to the bookstore the day the closure was announced.

"I went over there and, with everybody else, had a look of shock and despair on my face," he said, recalling weekend bike trips to the store with his children. An employee put him in touch with Kepler, who agreed to a meeting the next day.

Together with friends and other booklovers, Mendez quickly formed an investors group and board of directors. Other board members include Kepler; Bruce Dunlevie, a general partner of Benchmark Capital; and Geoff Ralston, chief product officer at Yahoo!

Mendez expects one additional seat on the board of directors to be filled with a book-industry professional.

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Although Kepler remains the largest shareholder of the corporation, the board of directors has attracted 17 investors, known as the "patron's circle," who are providing the financial basis for the store's reopening, Mendez said.

One major operational change is that Kepler will close the business office in Belmont and relocate the staff -- and his own office -- to the bookstore. He said he has been getting feedback about how to improve the store and make it more user-friendly.

The store will remain the same size, according to Mendez. It had been falsely rumored the enterprise might have to cut costs by reducing the space it rented. The new lease with the Tan Group was announced Monday, though Kepler declined to disclose the details.

Another adjustment for the store will be the involvement of consultants in Kepler's operations, Mendez said. During the past month, numerous professionals have offered their pro bono services in marketing, law, finances and other areas. The board's ongoing role will be to resource the enterprise, he added.

The store also plans to leverage the community support that's been pouring out for the beloved institution, which was founded in 1955 by Kepler's father, the late Roy Kepler.

A membership program has been announced and a call for volunteers issued to help get the store back on its feet and assist with future operations. Through the years, the bookseller developed a loyal following through its author events and unusual book choices, becoming what some called a "community cultural center" as well as a bookstore.

Mendez said he expects the community support to continue into the future.

"I see it as a whole community of booklovers, people who are passionate about their literary pursuits and who are volunteers in the store. They may not be able to run the cash register, but they can help people with recommendations. They have a passion for books," he said.

Ultimately, however, Kepler's will stay alive only with people buying locally and not online, he added. "I have made that very clear."

Menlo Park Business Development Officer David Johnson said the city is "delighted" over the reopening.

"To have a longtime retailer leave of the cultural stature of Kepler's would have been a blow. Kepler's is unlike any other retailer," Johnson said.

He added that he had received many inquiries about the property in the past month, due to its location on El Camino Real at one of the most highly trafficked intersections in the city.

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Jocelyn Dong
 
Jocelyn Dong is the editor of the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com and editorial director for the Weekly's parent company, Embarcadero Media. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Kepler's investor outlines business plan

Groundbreaking independent bookseller re-opens doors Saturday

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 4, 2005, 9:29 am

When a resuscitated Keplers bookstore reopens this Saturday after weeks of intense negotiations, it will not be the same Menlo Park bookseller that abruptly closed a month ago citing financial troubles.

Instead, the 50-year-old retailer will be back with a new business plan, board of directors, investors, community programs -- and a re-negotiated lease.

Supporters hope the reinvented Keplers will have a greater chance at longevity, amid consumer trends that continue to divert business away from independent booksellers to Internet and chain outfits.

To celebrate the reopening, a rally is planned for this Saturday at 11 a.m. in front of the store, at which time a new membership program and benefit author events will be announced.

"We're excited and ready to go," Clark Kepler, president, CEO and chairman of the board, said of the impending reopening. "It's astounding. I'm not unaware of the magnitude of the work we have ahead of us, but it's hopeful and optimistic, with all the feedback from community -- and the (community) recognition that we need them to buy books from us."

The intense effort to revive the store began the day it closed.

Daniel Mendez -- one of Kepler's four new board members and the co-founder and chief technology officer of Visto Corporation -- was eating breakfast next door to the bookstore the day the closure was announced.

"I went over there and, with everybody else, had a look of shock and despair on my face," he said, recalling weekend bike trips to the store with his children. An employee put him in touch with Kepler, who agreed to a meeting the next day.

Together with friends and other booklovers, Mendez quickly formed an investors group and board of directors. Other board members include Kepler; Bruce Dunlevie, a general partner of Benchmark Capital; and Geoff Ralston, chief product officer at Yahoo!

Mendez expects one additional seat on the board of directors to be filled with a book-industry professional.

Although Kepler remains the largest shareholder of the corporation, the board of directors has attracted 17 investors, known as the "patron's circle," who are providing the financial basis for the store's reopening, Mendez said.

One major operational change is that Kepler will close the business office in Belmont and relocate the staff -- and his own office -- to the bookstore. He said he has been getting feedback about how to improve the store and make it more user-friendly.

The store will remain the same size, according to Mendez. It had been falsely rumored the enterprise might have to cut costs by reducing the space it rented. The new lease with the Tan Group was announced Monday, though Kepler declined to disclose the details.

Another adjustment for the store will be the involvement of consultants in Kepler's operations, Mendez said. During the past month, numerous professionals have offered their pro bono services in marketing, law, finances and other areas. The board's ongoing role will be to resource the enterprise, he added.

The store also plans to leverage the community support that's been pouring out for the beloved institution, which was founded in 1955 by Kepler's father, the late Roy Kepler.

A membership program has been announced and a call for volunteers issued to help get the store back on its feet and assist with future operations. Through the years, the bookseller developed a loyal following through its author events and unusual book choices, becoming what some called a "community cultural center" as well as a bookstore.

Mendez said he expects the community support to continue into the future.

"I see it as a whole community of booklovers, people who are passionate about their literary pursuits and who are volunteers in the store. They may not be able to run the cash register, but they can help people with recommendations. They have a passion for books," he said.

Ultimately, however, Kepler's will stay alive only with people buying locally and not online, he added. "I have made that very clear."

Menlo Park Business Development Officer David Johnson said the city is "delighted" over the reopening.

"To have a longtime retailer leave of the cultural stature of Kepler's would have been a blow. Kepler's is unlike any other retailer," Johnson said.

He added that he had received many inquiries about the property in the past month, due to its location on El Camino Real at one of the most highly trafficked intersections in the city.

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