BUILD RAPPORT ON COMMON GROUND
Staying overnight in a motel in a strange town, one of my first moves is to look up “bookstores” in the Yellow Pages. Let’s say I find one to visit. What would make me want to visit again? Why would I suggest—or not suggest—to friends that they visit this particular bookstore on their travels?
As far as I’m concerned, the store can be small and neat or sprawling and chaotic, contain all new books or all old, high end first editions or mostly paperbacks. What makes or breaks it with me is the bookseller. The bookseller must be (1) knowledgeable—about his or her stock in particular and about books in general; and (2) welcoming. Not simply one or the other! Both!
Most of the bookstores I visited this winter passed my test with flying colors. One failed miserably on part (2) and left a very bad taste in my mouth.
People in sales talk about how important it is to establish rapport when trying to gain a customer. Research indicates that people like people based on perceived similarities, ways in which the other is like the self; thus the message you want to give is, “Me, too! We’re in this together!” You do not want to make someone in your shop feel stupid or wrong or unwelcome. I know, you’d think that would go without saying, but we booksellers are a strange breed!
In someone else’s shop, I always identify myself up front as someone with a shop of my own, rather than sneaking around furtively like a spy and then springing my sales tax number at the counter with a “Gotcha!” One of my reasons is that, even as the customer rather than the seller, I want to establish commonality and, I hope, rapport at the outset. I don’t expect bookstore owners in other states to recognize my face or remember my name when it’s been a year or more since we’ve met. I do expect a certain degree of congeniality. I usually buy books on these visits, after all!
Well, on this particular, ill-starred visit, every question or comment out of my mouth was dismissed or corrected or ignored by an unwelcoming bookseller. Rather than seeking commonality, he went out of his way to impress upon me that he was smarter and more experienced and more professional and better organized—you name it. And though I asked three times for books on Benjamin Franklin, in the end I had to find the books myself. He was too busy one-upping me to provide any help.
When I told my husband how it had gone inside, he was surprised I’d bought anything. Well, I found a few books I wanted. I won’t go back, though, and I won’t send friends.
If you’re so cranky that you can’t provide a welcoming atmosphere, you might as well close up your bookstore and go home. You’ll be doing your business a favor.
[a sidebar from the editor of The Bookshop Blog: I had a very similar experience with a lady on Sherbrooke street in Montreal. I’ll spare the details but she was rude and unprofessional, I never returned after that first visit. A few months ago I strolled past her vacant shop. Now I’m never happy when the city looses a bookstore but I must admit I wasn’t sad either.]
** On a positive note, If you know of a bookseller that is the opposite of the one described above why don’t you tell us about them in a comment just below – don’t be shy about sharing their location!