With their high startup costs and low success rate, brand-new retail stores aren't usually entrepreneurs' preferred outlet for a new business. Like many digital-age founders, trademark and patent lawyer Raj Abhyanker turned to the Web to launch his tech startup, Trademarkia (now LegalForce) in 2009. But earlier this year, Abhyanker decided to take his online trademark-registry business in an unusual direction by opening a brick-and-mortar establishment.
Located in the middle of busy University Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif., LegalForce BookFlip opened its doors this past February. The core service offered by LegalForce — a simple, streamlined way to search and apply for trademarks, domain names and patents — is also available at BookFlip, but Abhyanker wanted his combination bookstore, tablet retailer, speaking venue and walk-in legal-advice center to be more than just a service location. He envisioned a full-service center for law education.
"We're changing the way people access the law," Abhyanker said. "Lawyers have a bad reputation for being difficult to reach when you need them, so we wanted to create a bookstore-meets-law-firm where people could see a lawyer during retail hours. Since it's a bookstore, people can also browse and buy law books to educate themselves first."
[Related Article: How to Trademark Your Business Name]Trademarkia/LegalForce founder Raj Abhyanker Credit: LegalForce
In a tech-saturated environment where e-books have largely replaced paper copies and physical bookstores are shutting down, Abhyanker knew he had to have a unique business model to make BookFlip a success. He based his concept on a trend that he predicts in the retail market.
"Retail stores that offer bundled services and goods do well," Abhyanker told BusinessNewsDaily. "Physical locations will increasingly allow you to walk into a store and sign up for a connected online service. Retail stores will become an online location with a human touch."
When BookFlip opened, Abhyanker truly wanted it to become part of the local community. The spacious orange and white lobby — equipped with couches, tables and a coffee counter — was designed to be a "hangout" for entrepreneurs and others with an interest in law to read, browse and chat. While tablet sales haven't been as high as Abhyanker had hoped, customers looking for a stress-free, convenient legal experience are coming into his store and taking advantage of its other services.
"People see us as a community resource and knowledge center," he said. "Our seminars and events are becoming increasingly popular for accessing legal information in a more comfortable setting."
Realistically, Abhyanker believes it will be three to five years before BookFlip begins to see a profit, and that he'll probably need to tweak the store's model several times before getting it right. But having the success of LegalForce's online component behind him makes him confident in his business venture.
"A retail store is hugely capital-intensive — I never would have made this risk if I didn't have another successful business," Abhyanker said.
He warns entrepreneurs considering a retail business as their first startup to proceed with caution, noting that they should expect to spend and lose a lot more money than they originally anticipated.
"If you take a big risk, you should have something else going well for you," Abhyanker advised. "Make sure you have a backup plan, because if you don't have one and your startup fails, you'll be in big trouble."
Because he does have a "plan B," Abhyanker hopes BookFlip will break the mold of traditional legal counsel.
"It's a new way of accessing the law, and it may or may not succeed," he said. "If it does, we'll change an entire industry."