Being a newcomer to the the life of a bookshop owner, this blog has and continues to offer me so much in ideas and advice. It is most appreciated, indeed.
As a way of saying, “Thanks.”, and possibly offering ideas and advice to other newbies, here are my thoughts on a few items of importance:
1) BE CONSISTENT
Being the owner of your own business, perhaps after working years for someone else, you may be tempted to come and go as you please. DO NOT SUCCUMB TO TEMPTATION!
Set your hours of operation and make sure you, or your employee(s), are there at your stated opening time and remain until your stated closing time. You want people to know when the shop is open and when it is not. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than arriving at the shop and finding it closed when they are stopping in to pick up an order, to browse or when they need a specific title for a trip or a gift. At best, they will be mildly annoyed. At worst, they will find someone else to buy from since they cannot count on you. The inconsistency of hours at the coffee shop that used to be my neighbor brought this issue front and center to me. Many annoyed and caffeine-deprived people came in to inquire, “WTF!!”, during the last weeks before the doors closed for good. Make sure your hours are posted clearly. I label the back of my business cards with my hours and make sure to provide them to my customers. I also use my website, Google Places listing, blog, Facebook page and e-mail list to keep everyone up to date. This is especially important if you increase hours for holidays or special events. If you are the chief cook and bottle-washer like me, the sole proprietor, make sure you have at least one day off a week and make sure it is always the same day of the week. Everyone needs a day for running errands, doctor appointments, getting together with family/friends and the like. A burned out business owner won’t be in business for long.
Before you open up, even before you select your space if you are going for a brick and mortar shop, find out what your community needs and wants in their new, local indie bookshop. If possible, I recommend a paper survey made available in the local coffee shop, laundromat, Chinese take-out, hair salon, anyplace people may congregate and have some time on their hands. Questions to include should include age range, how many books read per month, preferred genres and favorite titles and authors. Include an inquiry about what non-book items they would be interested in having available. Along with no bookstores within a ten mile radius of my town, there is no local gift shop either. Come up with a ‘niche’ that will set you apart. Find something you can provide that no one else does, something they really can’t get anywhere else. I try to find as many local authors and books on the Finger Lakes Region of New York and have them in stock. The local historical society has been a big help with this. I also carry artwork on consignment by local artists and friends. Its also a good idea to inquire where they purchase books most often. Know thyne enemy. Check out your competition. Stop in the places mentioned by your potential customers and see what you are up against.
Advertising is not just print, radio and television. Again, if you are a brick and mortar shop, have clear, large and visible signage. A banner in the window or, if possible, on the storefront. Signs by the road or the sidewalk, as allowed by local zoning or custom. You want people to know where you are and what you have for them. Encourage good word-of-mouth by providing excellent customer service. Reach out to your community by contacting schools, daycare centers, senior centers, gyms and anywhere you can provide a service. Currently, I am helping the school librarian with an author visit coming up in January. She scheduled the visit on a Tuesday because she knows the shop is closed that day and I would be available to conduct the sale. We are providing several titles at a 10% discount and the students can will be able to get their purchases autographed. Since just prior to Christmas, local high school art students’ projects are hanging in my gallery area. Kids, along with moms and dads, have been stopping in to see the display. Traffic, traffic, traffic! In addition, I am partnering with the local Curves gym to offer an extra 10% discount on the Health/Wellness/Diet/Exercise books which will be on sale in the month of January. A strictly on-line bookseller can do the same in their community. You can even help with fund-raising by working out a sale/discount program on selected titles or genres for a particular oraganization. Make sure to utilize the social media at hand to spread the word about you and what you have to offer. Blogs, Facebook… every bit (and byte) helps.
I hope these ideas are of some help. Make use of your imagination and think outside the box, as they say. Keep plugging away and don’t be discouraged. It took awhile for the local school to get the message but when the superintendent called me last month to order several books for his staff, I knew my months of persistence had finally paid off. Set yourself apart from your competition as often as possible and shine in the best light.
Happy New Year!
Mackerel Sky Books & More