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Bookstore Sells Success Stories : Hopeful Buyers Snap Up How-To Business Books

July 20, 1987|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — In a bleak storefront bookstore on one of El Cajon Boulevard's many fast food strips, Harold Oakley's customers dream of freedom and independence.

Though they use such terms, their dreams are more practical than grandiose. They want freedom, not from oppression but from "the boss"; independence, not in a political sense but in a financial one.

So they troop into the Entrepreneur Book Store to scan 250 titles suggesting the kinds of small businesses that Oakley's research department believes hold the keys to freedom from wage-slavery. They are books, manuals really, with unlikely titles like "Restaurant Grease Collecting," "Shrimp Peddling," "Flame-Broiled Chicken," "Herb Farming," "Sweats-Only Apparel Store" and, of course, "Parking Lot Striping and Maintenance Service."

Want to Be in Control

And they reveal their American dreams to Oakley, the bookstore's pleasant, low-key manager who harbors dreams of starting a small business of his own. "The drive is to be your own boss, basically," he said. "A lot of people tire quickly of working for someone else. As long as they make a decent living, it doesn't have to be super-profitable. As long as they're in control. That's what's important."

"Face it," said Shannon Matranga, who has opened a successful National City mail services business with the help of one of the manuals, "if you work for somebody else all your life, you're working to make them money. I can work being a secretary for $4.50, $5, $6 an hour and never get ahead.

"I've been working full time since I'm 15. I've been working for other people for 20 years."

Oakley's bookstore is one of 27 opened during the past year in 17 states and Canada by the Entrepreneur Group Inc., the firm that publishes Entrepreneur magazine. The 14-year-old Los Angeles-based monthly, which claims a nationwide circulation of 200,000, taps into the American ownership yen with a glossy collection of small business success stories, how-to information and trend predictions written in a cheerleading style.

(The company is perhaps better-known for the extracurricular activities of its founder, Chase Revel, who was convicted of two bank robberies in the 1960s, pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1973, and last year was twice arrested for possessing the materials for making pipe bombs.

(Revel's association with the firm ended in 1982, when it filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy laws, according to current chief executive officer Barry Rupp. Rupp's firm purchased Revel's remaining shares of stock in the company in December, Rupp said.)

The company's big money makers are its thick, plastic-wrapped manuals, which contain detailed information on how to open a small business, gathered by the magazine's department of trend-spotters and researchers. As potentially lucrative small business fields develop, the staff researches a sample of firms across the country and turns out new volumes.

Each of the 250 titles contains a cover page advising prospective owners of the business's expected profits, cash investment, risk factors, growth curve, stability and potential for absentee ownership.

Inside are reams of information on marketing and location, facilities, equipment, inventory, licenses and taxes, advertising and promotion and operations--a preview of small business life for the low, low price of $45 to $75. Special supplementary manuals advise customers about such important areas as "Legal Aspects of Small Business" and "Raising Money."

Taking a Shot

"The '80s is really the age of the entrepreneurs," said Steve Oakley, Harold's brother and national sales manager for Entrepreneur magazine. (Steve is part-owner of the store his brother manages). "People are getting out there and taking the shot. It is risky, but people have found that working for someone else can also be very risky. They're not guaranteed any financial security at all."

Perhaps that's why Entrepreneur magazine sells about 100,000 of its small business manuals by mail each year, despite the fact that 61,232 U.S. businesses, 98% of them small businesses, failed last year, according to John Anderson, editor of the newsletter "Dun and Bradstreet Looks at Business." In the same year, 251,597 new businesses were started, Anderson said.

In less than a year, the 27 new stores have increased manual sales by 30,000 to 40,000 volumes, Steve Oakley said.

The Oakleys do not believe they are preying on these hopes and dreams. To the contrary, they claim that many small business failures are caused by a lack of knowledge of the task ahead, and for a small price they are providing their customers with a dose of small business reality.

"Nothing in life is guaranteed," Harold said. "It depends on the individual also. You can buy an established business and fail also because you don't know what to do. So, no, you don't prey on their dreams. You're just spurring them on."

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