Socks, Soap and Other Surprises in a Book Shop

The holidays are here and while most people are bustling about trying to find the perfect gift for that friend, teacher, sister and mother, retailers are scrambling to make sure they have that perfect gift for friend, teach, sister and mother. When people dream about owning a quaint bookshop in a small town they don’t think about their bookshop as a retail center that is counting on the holiday season to bring profits.

When my partner, Robert, and I bought The Book Garden just over a year ago we weren’t exactly sure about this inventory thing. Stocking the shelves with books we loved was easy. Figuring out what other people liked to read, a bit more challenging. Then trying to decide what sidelines we wanted to carry became even more of a quandary. “How do we figure out what is going to sell?” Robert would often ask – knowing there was no easy answer. Of course there are resources out there on merchandising but not as many as one would think and they tend too be too general or too specific for our needs.

We visited our first gift show a few weeks after acquiring our fabulous little shop. Not just any gift show – The New York City gift show.

One day of traipsing through the throngs of tradeshow attendees we were exhausted and grateful to have the former owner of The Book Garden with us to help navigate the endless sea of vendors and select the handful that might be a good fit for us. She had marketed the bookstore as a “book and museum shop,” which worked for a time but needed refreshing.

As we enter our second holiday season we are a bit more confident about our product lines and book selections but there is no exact formula. We are a small shop so ordering too much or too little of an item has a greater impact on our bottom line.

Here are a few of our best selling items, and a few that didn’t do as well as we thought they would (aka, flops):

Things our customers want:

Books –

  • Catcher in the Rye
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Le Petit Prince
  • The Hobbit
  • Good Night Moon
  • The ology series
  • Previously loved books

Other stuff –

  • Alpaca “reading” socks
  • Locally made soap (yes, soap is a bestseller!)
  • Maple Landmark activity birthday cards
  • Positively Green greeting cards
  • Out-of-Print T-shirts

    Rare and previously loved books are a hit in our small town shop.
    Rare and previously loved books are a hit in our small town shop.

Things they didn’t really care for:

  • Alpaca reading/lap blankets – these are sooo soft and cozy. Like the socks, these are made from fleece of locally raised alpaca. We LOVE them but people don’t come into a bookstore expecting blankets I suppose. Socks they are okay with though. Go figure.
  • Juggling balls
  • Kids science kits
  • Political biographies (we were warned by the previous owner)

The good news is we seem to be doing well with almost all our book selections and since we are a bookstore that should count for something. Do you have any surprise hits or big misses? I’d love to know what they are!

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  • Figuring out what our customers want is such a science and it’s taken a while to figure out (and this is very much an ongoing process 3 yeas later).

    We realised that the books we loved are not necessarily what our customers want. Here Christian, business, motivational and children’s books sell so well and I personally don’t read all of those genres. However, we must be a viable business, so we need to pay attention to what our paying customers want.

    Over time, we have added other things to our product line, including stationery, games and toys.

    It’s an interesting and fun journey for us……..

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  • Life is all about the journey, right? Thanks for the feedback.

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