First, thank you. You are doing thankless work and probably going broke in the process. People won't even realize what they had until you are gone, which is actually why I am writing this letter. I don't want you to go.
The problem is that many of you have already gone, most of you that are still around are on your way out, and those of you thinking about opening new don't stand a snowballs chance in the Watchtower of Fire unless you get smart.
The first thing I want to tell you is, it may say "shop", or god forbid "shoppe" on the sign, but you had better not plan on being just a shop or you will fail. If you are planning on just kicking back in your store and being a clerk you will fail. You need to do more than just sell stuff if you want to survive. I can get stuff cheaper and faster than I can get it from you. You need to be a community center and a service provider first, than a shop.
Lets take each of these in turn.
COMMUNITY CENTER: I was talking today to my friend Howard who is a PR guy for some major acts, and a lover of record stores. He noted that people don't really go to really good record stores for records and never did. They go because they want to learn about the music they dont know about. The owner of the store knows more about whats cool, and is cooler, than you are at 16. You go to soak up his wisdom on music, and hopefully be recognised by this older, cooler, more knowlegeble guy. In the process you will buy stuff, but the buying is a by-product of just being there. If you havent ever been to a good record store, than I pity you. Watch High Fidelity to see what I am talking about.
Occult stores are the same way. The first guy I ever picked uyp Hoodoo tricks from was a Conjure shop owner. I learned all about Santeria and Palo primarily from shop owners. I met John Reynolds, my most primary spiritual and magickal teacher in an occult shop. Now a days people turn up in occult stores to meet me. In the process, they buy things. Often just because they feel akward hanging out so much in a store without buying anything.
Build a community around your store. Most of you have events and such, but do more than that. Introduce people. See what customers are interested in and hook people up with those of like mind. You may not make a buck off it directly, but it will come back.
SERVICE: This is really the big one that I want to stress. Provide services for customers. You will probably make more money off this than you do from the stuff you sell. Sure, most of you have readers available, but go the extra step. When talking to customers about their problems, suggest a spell. Put it together out of stuff in your store. Most of you have herb cabinets, learn how to use them. Crack open a few books and know how to put things together on the fly. I sat in a struggling store one afternoon a couple weeks ago and convinced the owner to let me run her store for 2 hours while she watched. I spoke with customers that came in, suggested magick that would be applicable to their situations, taught them how to do it and sold them the stuff. I made more in those two hours than she made in the last two days. Its not enough to know your stock, know how to use it. If you arent charging customers unfair prices or making up fake curses that need lifting than you are providing a service that they will respect and come back for again and again. This is also how you get non-occultists in.
If you are brave and want to go a step further, you can set up altars in the shop, set lights for clients, and do rituals for them, not just tell them how to do it themselves. Some won't want to go there, and I understand fully. There are plenty of reasons for and against this route for a store, but its worth considering.
SHOP: Lastly, you are a shop. Unfortunately you have some pretty steep competition. B&N, Borders, and Amazon are gonna kick your ass in Books, so carry what you need to but don't go overboard. You need to fill your shop with stuff that your clients did'nt even know to look for. Stuff that will catch their imagination and make them ask questions. When they do, make sure you are ready with answers. Remember, you don't want to just be a shop keep. You want to be a Priest, a Scholar, and a Worker. Something that the Internet and Barnes and Noble will not provide.