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Majors Books Marks 100 Years

One hundred years ago, the American Heart Association didn’t exist. There were no sulfa drugs or penicillin, and “vitamins” hadn’t yet been given that name. In one century, polio rose to the level of outbreak, a vaccine was discovered, and now cases are virtually unheard of. One hundred years ago, there was no Medicare, no open heart surgery, and little government ability to regulate medical advertising.

Yet somehow, through those and countless other changes in the medical field, Majors Books has been a constant institute as a supplier to doctors, nurses and students. From humble beginnings, Majors Books targeted one niche of both the book and apparel industries. The result has been 100 years of strong growth and an intimate understanding of its chosen market and customers.

It all began with John Albert Majors, a medical student who helped pay his way through school by selling books to doctors. Upon his graduation, he became Dr. J.A. Majors and continued selling books through the W.B. Sanders Co. to raise the money needed to open his own practice. He soon recognized that doctors throughout his assigned area were constantly clamoring for the most updated information on procedures, studies and treatments. Majors would haul the publisher’s books from office to office in Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi, and ultimately decided to open his own storefront in New Orleans in 1909. The small store carried medical books from multiple publishers and was located not accidentally across the street from Tulane University School of Medicine.

In the century since then, J.A. Majors Co. has seen many changes in both the medical profession and the publishing industry, but it has kept its focus on serving the nurses, doctors and medical students who staff the nation’s hospitals and medical facilities. J.A. Majors Co. grew to include locations in New Orleans, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and Long Beach. When its wholesale network was acquired in 2004 by Baker & Taylor, the Majors family held on to its bookstore locations in Houston and Dallas under the name Majors Scientific Books Inc. Now managed by third-generation family members, Majors Books continues to enjoy prime locations and a loyal customer base.

“Majors’ success has come from two traditions,” says Albert Majors McClendon, who is co-president with his cousin, John A. Majors III. “Our inventory is specialized in the health sciences, and we provide personalized service. Because we are in a niche market, we are located in the heart of the two medical centers thus providing easy access to many of our customers.”

Both locations are 10,000 square feet of unbroken space dotted by well-organized bookshelves, equipment displays, scrubs inventory and reading nooks. The ceiling rises up to the open rafters, giving the impression of more space. The wall colors are simple to provide a resting place for the eye after taking in the variety of book covers and equipment packaging. Each location has a distinctively modern feel, with flat-screen TV product displays and sleek furniture where customers can review books before making their final selections.

Majors Scientific Books Inc. employs about 20 people at the two stores and the corporate offices, which are part of the Dallas location. Each store has a manager, a buyer, a receiver and sales staff.

Majors Books strives to be the one-stop store for professionals and students alike. Textbooks are found on the rear walls, while the center bookshelves are dedicated to books directed at practicing doctors and nurses. The front portions of the stores are perfect areas to show scrubs and equipment in eye-catching displays to entice customers as they amble to the books or the checkout. McClendon says books make up 90 percent of the inventory and sales, but he says uniforms and equipment are getting high-traffic positioning in an effort to boost those segments.

“By adding the additional products, our clientele are able to fulfill many of their professional and educational needs at a location that is convenient and familiar,” McClendon says. “Most stores selling scrubs and lab coats only sell apparel, and most medical supply stores selling instruments don’t sell books or apparel. Having multiple lines at Majors gives a full-service, one-stop shop for our professional and student customers.”

Majors has carried scrubs and lab coats since the very first store back in 1909, according to McClendon. He says the company has seen scrubs change in cut and style, and has seen the full cycle in popularity from solids through patterns and themes and back to solids again. As hospitals have changed back and forth between providing scrubs and requiring staff to purchase their own, Majors has simply adjusted inventory to match demand. Laudau is the major supplier of scrubs and lab coats, but Majors Books also carries Urbane, IguanaMed, Prestige, MedCouture and other brands.

Signs clearly designate each book category, and the staffs rotate sections every month or so. McClendon says this helps returning customers discover new topics and titles if they make a beeline to their “regular” section. Practicing nurses and doctors, who make up about half of Majors Books’ customer base, may stop in the store on their way to and from offices within the medical centers. Students at any of the nearby medical schools, including Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Texas Medical School in Dallas, make up about 40 percent of the customers. They tend to buy textbooks and basic supplies like scrubs and stethoscopes. The general public represents the remaining tenth of the customers.

Majors Books doesn’t rely much on casual foot traffic. Most customers are either medical staff already on the medical center campus or students seeking out the store for a specific purchase. McClendon says, “The key to our advertising is that we are health science specialists; we have 100 years of personal service; and we have books, apparel and instruments at one store. We get students to the store by providing needed book info to faculty and building relationships with them. We attend several offsite meetings each month to sell books, whether at a school or a hotel for a [continuing education] conference such as a local group of critical care nurses for example.”

Majors also hosts in-store events, like job fairs or association meetings. Such events help increase awareness of the store itself while promoting a positive impression of the Majors name. With each meeting or event, whether on-site or remote, the staff collects names and email addresses to add to the store’s database. That database is notified of sales, new book titles and future events. Majors Books hands out $10 gift cards at many conferences and student orientations to help entice new customers to check out the store.

One aspect of the company that has changed drastically since the days of Dr. J.A. Majors is technology. The company maintains a website that is packed with standard company information hours, locations, services and so forth but also serves as a portal to its separate blog site, online bookstore, and online uniform and equipment store. While Majors has sold books online for more than 10 years, the uniform and instrument online store was launched just last year. The online uniform store is backed by the UniformMarket Store System and has helped increase the scrubs and shoes side of the business. Because he has seen success already without any advertising, McClendon looks to the new online store as the “greatest potential for future growth” and plans to market the website with targeted online ads and improved search engine placement.

“We have an opportunity to use the web better to draw customers to the store just as store customers find the website a convenience when they can’t get to the store. The newest technology now allows us to measure hits on searches and banner ads to tailor how we advertise to our target market more effectively,” he says. “I think today it is imperative to have a web presence and the proper support to market it. There is a high cost to market on the web, but there is no other business marketing that is so targeted and measurable.”

Technology is also changing the print book business, as more and more publishers offer textbooks and reference books in electronic format. Majors Books offers kiosks in its stores that allow customers to review books, skim targeted portions or read entire tomes.

Just as technological advancements affect the medical industry, they will continue to play a part in the Majors Scientific Books of the future. But for a company that has remained relevant through major medical breakthroughs including the discovery of penicillin, the first heart transplant and the development of CPR, Majors Scientific Books Inc. is ideally established to last another century and beyond. From humble beginnings of a single man’s desire to pay his medical school tuition, Majors has evolved into an institution in the Houston and Dallas medical communities.

2137 Butler Street
Dallas, TX 75235
Phone: (214) 631-4478
Fax: (214) 634-0410

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Spring & Summer 2009 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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