Borders Group, Inc. History

Address:
500 E. Washington Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
U.S.A.

Telephone: (313) 995-7262
Fax: (313) 995-9405

Public Company
Incorporated: 1971 as Borders Books
Employees: 10,000
Sales: $1.74 billion (1995)
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 5735 Recorded & Prerecorded Tape Stores; 5942 Book Stores

Company History:

Borders Group, Inc. is the nation's second largest retailer of books, music, and other educational, informational, and entertainment products. Its Waldenbooks bookstores were in over 1,000 mall stores by 1995. Furthermore, it owned the rapidly expanding Borders Books & Music superstores and Planet Music stores. Throughout the country, the Borders name is associated with superstores catering to book and music lovers, with a wide selection of hard-to-find titles and tapes as well as a growing number of varied forms of electronic media. These superstores, which numbered 116 in early 1996, provided customers with plentiful sitting and browsing areas, a well-versed customer service team, and even espresso bars featuring live entertainment.

Borders Group, Inc. came into existence following the spin off from its parent Kmart Corporation in May 1995. But the Borders name dates back over two decades. Borders began as a single used bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The shop was founded by Louis and Tom Borders in 1971. Serving the bustling academic community of the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor's smaller colleges, the store held its own and became a popular neighborhood hangout. Within the next several years, the Borders brothers opened two more bookstores in Michigan, one in Atlanta, and another in Indianapolis. In addition, Louis and Tom started a wholesaling business they called BIS (Book Inventory Systems), which experienced healthy growth.

Toying with the idea of a "superstore," the brothers opened their first prototype in 1985. Its success and the rise of similar competing stores set the retail book industry on its ear, shifting sales away from mall-based stores and into busy suburban areas (the areas that the Borders' bookstores had always targeted). By 1988, with their five Midwest bookstores and BIS's bustling service numbering 14 bookstore clients, the brothers' enterprise was bringing in a net income of $1.9 million from sales of $32.3 million. But the brothers wanted to expand in a big way.

To achieve their dream of taking the Borders name national, Louis and Tom put their faith in a young man named Robert DiRomualdo, a graduate of the Drexel Institute of Technology with a Harvard MBA. DiRomualdo had worked his way through several merchandising and marketing positions at Acme Markets and Little General Stores before becoming president and chief executive of Hickory Farms, the prominent food shop chain.

When DiRomualdo joined the Borders brothers' enterprise in 1988, the industry was ripe for the kind of expansion Louis and Tom had hoped for. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time of unprecedented growth for book retailers, as industry sales mushroomed from $59 million in sales for the top two superstore chains with only 31 units in 1989, to nearly $1.4 billion by 1994 from 350 units; an astounding 87 percent compound annual rate. Taking advantage of these circumstances, DiRomualdo, who was named president and chief executive in 1989, opened 14 new stores in the next three years. Within a few short years DiRomualdo had turned Borders into a household name in the Midwest, and analysts considered Borders the premier book superstore chain of the 1990s.

By 1992, Borders had quadrupled its size and was beginning the complicated process of going public. Around the same time, the retailer attracted the attention of the huge Kmart Corporation, which had bought Waldenbooks in 1984 and was looking to expand its book retailing segment even further. In October of 1992, Louis and Tom Borders sold their business (though they remained investors), and Borders became a wholly owned subsidiary of Kmart. Sales from Borders' operations for 1993 reached $224.8 million, a 15.8 percent increase in net sales over the previous year. Several changes were implemented in 1993, including modernized cash registers, a human resources department, formal training programs for employees, and the introduction of music to the stores' stock.

In August 1994, Borders and sibling Waldenbooks formed a new company called Borders Group, Inc., with plans to eventually break free from Kmart. DiRomualdo joined with George Mrkonic, who ran Kmart's specialty stores division for four years (which included Builders Square, The Sports Authority, Pay Less Drug Stores, Waldenbooks, Borders, Kmart's in-store Reader's Market shops and others) and had jumped over to the Group in November. He had helped shape the company into a mechanized book and music mecca. By the end of the year Borders had acquired five CD Superstores and one Planet Music outlet. The company went on to add four Planet stores and 32 new Borders superstores.

The Group's overall sales for the year reached $1.5 billion. With what some analysts have called the industry's most sophisticated computer inventory management and sales system, Borders not only possessed the highest sales-per-foot ratio in the industry, but was able to track popular titles by selling season. Borders had identified as many as 55 separately defined seasonal patterns and programmed these into the computer system to keep better track of seasonal and regular bestselling titles, and to help maintain a supply of such titles with little or no interruption in prospective sales.

Though Kmart's ownership of Borders (and Waldenbooks) was to end with the formation of the Borders Group, Inc., finances were settled with the proceeds of a public offering of the new company's stock in May 1995. Two months later, Borders announced it would purchase Kmart's 13 percent stock share. DiRomualdo was installed as chairman and chief executive, while Mrkonic became vice-chairman and president. After a one-time write-off of $182 million, the Borders Group announced second quarter (1994) sales of nearly $364 million, representing an 11.7 percent gain over the previous year's posted sales of $327 million.

Though Borders' transition from small retailer to national chain wasn't completely smooth, many long-time employees remained with the company and were rewarded for their loyalty by generous benefits worked out during the Kmart acquisition. One sore point arose in 1994 with the proposed closure of Louis and Tom's original Borders store in Ann Arbor, set for relocation into an old department store building. Not only was the new store slated to be a Borders Books & Music (the previous was books-only), but its spacious 45,000-square foot interior (four times the size of the original) could in no way maintain the homey atmosphere of the first Borders book shop, despite the added benefits of much more space and extras like the popular new espresso bars.

Nevertheless, Borders new format was obviously giving customers what they wanted and needed. In addition to its unique, state-of-the-art inventory and ordering system, Borders' employee base was another of its major boons; most employees were full-time and college-educated, and all were tested for their knowledge of literature and music prior to hiring. Additionally, the bookstore chain prided itself on first-rate customer service, offering patrons a wide range of services from locating out-of-print titles to community activities like children's storytelling hours and poetry readings.

Rounding out Borders' offerings were growing varieties of alternative educational and informational media, from videos to CD-ROMs, a relaxing and comfortable environment which encouraged customers to linger, and the ubiquitous espresso bars. An industry-first that was quickly copied by competitors, Borders' espresso bars grew from a store add-on and overhead cost to a $20 million per year venture. 82 of the company's 88 superstores had espresso bars in 1995, and all new stores were scheduled to have them.

The Borders superstore prototype in 1996 was 30,000 square feet of space, substantially larger than major competitor Barnes & Noble's megastore. Averaging 128,000 book titles and about 57,000 prerecorded music titles at an initial cost of $2.6 million, most Borders superstores became profitable within 12 months of business. Since the majority of Borders' superstores were built following the early 1990s, the company's success by 1996 had been swift and immediate.

Revenue figures for year-end 1995 were just shy of $1.6 billion for the Borders Group as a whole, with Borders Books & Music stores contributing over $622.6 million (a 63.4 percent increase over 1994's sales). The superstores contributed a healthy 39.6 percent slice of the Group's overall sales, a welcome and expected 12.2 percent increase from their share in 1994. Analysts predicted 1996 sales to reach more than $2 billion, with Borders' superstores division hitting $950 million.

Second only to Barnes & Noble in sales, Borders' superstores were chosen over Barnes' by analysts as having a better variety of products, and most expected the bookseller to overtake its rival in the near future. Additionally, Borders planned to take advantage of Waldenbooks' status as a cash cow to finance expansion across the nation. Scheduled to open between 30 and 35 new Borders superstores in 1996 and to continue the trend (from 35 to 40 new superstores per year) until the end of the 1990s, Borders hoped to not only prove its mettle but to become the country's top book-retailing chain.

Principal Subsidiaries: Borders Inc.; Waldenbooks; Planet Music, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • "Borders Group, Inc. Announces Year-End Results," PR Newswire, March 11, 1996, p. 311.
  • "Borders Group, Inc.--Booking Profits," United States Equity Research--Retailing, June 22, 1995.
  • "Kmart Sells Remaining 13% Stake in Borders Group," New York Times, August 17, 1995, p. C3.
  • McKenna, John F. and Buchanan, Robert F., "Strategic Assessment--Borders Group, Inc.," NatWest Securities, October 9, 1995.
  • Mutter, John, "Beyond Borders: Trimming Walden," Publishers Weekly, February 7, 1994, pp. 28-32.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 15. St. James Press, 1996.

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