What worked and what didn't in the bookshop, 2009 edition

Thanks to a snowstorm and a fairly quiet day at the store, I was able to sneak into my office to begin sorting out the holiday piles. As I crunched numbers, I looked closely at the figures in front of me and realized we had a pretty good holiday season after all. It wasn’t just reflected in the sales sheets, either. The large pre-holiday crowds were, for the most part, happy with our selections, pleased with our customer service, and open to suggestions. Our booksellers, while welcoming the slow Monday after Christmas, were happy it was over but were telling more stories of the fun we had versus the Grinches we encountered. I looked over my cluttered desk and started to make two more piles…

What Worked in the Bookshop

1. The Best of 2009 display – We chose titles strictly on sales and focused on those that sold particularly well during Father’s and Mother’s Day. We ended up with a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction, mostly paperbacks, and things that we already had a good stack of because of their consistent sell-through. Everything was faced out on an endcap, about 40 titles altogether. We put up “filler” signage on each shelf that was no bigger than an index card-sized shelftalker because we had printer problems the week we put up the display. When sales were over $1000 within the first three days, we decided to save our ink and let the display run itself.

2. New York Times Top 100 display – Thanks to Twitter, I had this list in my hands within minutes of its online posting. We quickly set to work checking inventory – turned out we were only missing eleven of the 100 titles. We also had two local authors on the list (which created instant foot traffic). We used bright green shelftalkers to highlight the titles throughout the store and then created an endcap of titles that weren’t already on other displays. We put a small sign on the front and back doors announcing that we had the books; sales were instantaneous. The Sunday NYT book review is second in popularity only to Cleveland Plain Dealer reviews – we put up separate displays for the Top Ten, and put the PD top twenty up two weeks later. (slatwall displays these nicely)

3. Perfect Gift display – We borrowed this one from our sister store in Cincinnati. We used our staff picks display to highlight the best gift books of the season and created clever shelftalkers for our customers. We labeled Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided as “the perfect gift for the curmudgeon of the family.” The Big Book of Sleep was “the perfect gift for the new grandchild” while Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You was “the perfect gift for the dysfunctional family member you are proud to love.” We had shoppers talking about (and buying) the books in large quantities. We’re planning to make this a much larger display next year, and will probably do something similar for Mother’s/Father’s Day.

Where to Improve

1. Incorporating the GLiBA catalog with our own — The Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association puts out its own holiday catalog every year. We put the catalog at our registers next to the BookPage monthly and the IndieBound brochures; it moved fairly well, but we still ended up with half an unused box. Next year, we need a GLiBA display to highlight the titles, or we need to merge it with our holiday gift books table.

2. Create A Gift Basket promotion – One of our regulars called frantically on the first day of Hanukkah and asked if I could create a gift basket for a dear friend. I welcomed the opportunity (especially since it was a basket for a fellow writer). The regular was so happy with the ease of the process, the things I picked, and that I hit her dollar amount, that she asked me to create a second one. I had so much fun pulling together books and sidelines and truly loved the one-on-one time I had with one of the people who keeps us in business. It would be very easy to offer a gift basket night – come in with a list, a dollar amount, and your own basket and we’ll provide you with a bookseller, free gift-wrapping, and a free hot drink while we shop together.

3. Phone Bank – Two of the larger stores in our company already employ this technique and I think we could do it on a smaller level. Assigning a bookseller to simply just take phone calls would make things so much easier, and so much quieter on the bookfloor. We have several small offices already equipped with inventory computers and web access; re-routing phone calls to that office would be simple, and it would be a matter of scheduling an additional roving bookseller to the office instead of the info desk. Instant answers and fewer games of phone tag would result in a lot more sales.

Overall, I think we, as an industy, have done the best we could with the situation we’ve been given. Here’s to a great start to 2010!

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  • This sounds like a bookshop I would love to visit. But there was no store name in the article. Just enough references, that I realized it is within driving distance for me.

    Store name and location please.

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    • Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lyndhurst, OH (I’ll get my store logo up for my profile picture). If you stop in, ask for me and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee 🙂

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      • I love Joseph Beth!

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