Yesterday I went over to More Than Words on Moody Street in Waltham to present them with their $3,144.14 Benefit Restaurant Donation check as our July beneficiary. I'd been in as a customer a couple of times before, but this time I got the Royal Tour. It blew me away.
From the customer's viewpoint, More Than Words [MTW] is a casual, urban bookstore/café - complete with a full-service to-order beverage counter, a rich selection of used books and music for sale, comfy couches, and free wi-fi. Staffed by earnest, friendly young adult baristas and booksellers, the experience is akin to a compact, well-loved Barnes and Noble.
But my tour guide, the very impressive MTW Associate Marceline Josile [pictured below with the equally impressive MTW Founder and Executive Director Jodi Rosenbaum, and me], by ushering me down the back stairs, lifted the veil on the sophisticated and finely-tuned machine occupying the enormous basement below.
More Than Words' business is books. Made up of row-upon-row of bookcases loaded with painstakingly catalogued books for sale - some openly sorted, others in plastic bins - shelves packed with a hundred or more boxes of un-sorted fresh donations from individuals and businesses, and the enormous commercial laundry basket-fulls of rejects, the MTW "warehouse operation" is a model of data-driven efficiency.
Have you ever wondered what happens to a book you donate to a used book reseller? Well - after thanking you - the smart ones [like More Than Words] enter your books' ISBN numbers into a deep database of current statistics on the popularity and pricing of titles available from myriad online used book resellers.
Hey, it's nothing personal, but you can bet that a significant percentage of that beloved library you painstakingly collected and that you finally screwed up the courage to edit simply won't make the cut. - More Than Words is a business. And one that's outgrowing its space. They simply can't accommodate dead inventory. So they are forced to cull, and they do so with ruthless precision.
But it's not just their organized workflow or their scientific methodology that impressed me. They post up-to-yesterday sales data parsed against sales-forecasts-by-profit-center [yup - they track seriously granular data] for the entire staff to see. They've got personal performance objectives quantified and posted for every co-worker to see. [Their level of transparency would - and should - embarrass the Obama Administration] Their level of operational efficiency and business savvy and acumen embarrassed me, quite frankly. I was so stunned and impressed by all Marceline and Jodi were showing me that it was easy to forget for a while that...
The REAL mission of More Than Words is to help shape and direct the precious lives of all the challenged young people they can. To quote from their excellent website, " Youth at MTW are in teh foster care system, court involved, homeless, or have dropped out of school. These subsets of the youth population face tremendous barriers to employment and there are few training programs that are designed to empower youth to develop the skills, experience and self-efficacy critical for a safe, meaningful and successful transition to adulthood."
I've seen it first-hand: More Than Words sells coffee and books to the public; but far more importantly, More Than Words delivers the goods to challenged young people when it comes to building self-respect, self-confidence and character, teaching real-world job skills, and an awareness of what it takes to make it in the working world. I met about a dozen of their current associates and graduates yesterday and have never been more impressed with the confidence, carriage, and professionalism of young people growing into their grown-up shoes.