Bookstore Owners, Are Church Sales Your Enemy or Your Partner?

Whether or not we want to admit it, local, charitable, nonprofit organizations are in competition for local dollars with businesses that need to turn a profit to stay alive. School bake sales take customers from the bakery, church fund-raising meals siphon diners away from restaurants, and amateur sales of arts, books and crafts, while they may “bring people to town,” also mean a lower register total that day for retail shops. But what’s obvious to an entrepreneur is not necessarily obvious to someone who has never been in business.

There are two questions here. First, how can nonprofits support their causes without undermining business? Second, how can business contribute to their own and nonprofit success? Fortunately, victory doesn’t have to go to one side only, if both are aware of each other’s needs. But if we’re going to be members of a community, we need to come together on how fundraising is done.

One of my suggestions is that a local organization might solicit one-day discount fliers from shops and restaurants to distribute them at their event site. I would be happy to note on each flier the total spent by that customer and make over 10% to the group’s project. (My wholesale discount on new books is only 40%, but I generally offer a 10% discount on special orders–books I don’t have in stock but order by customer request—in order to build my clientele.) Being able to partner with local projects and concerns would be a great source of satisfaction to me. Being part of a community is important to me. I care about this place and these people!

For years I tried to establish a partnership with the school library, but despite all the publicity and word-of-mouth I could give the idea, it never gained more than half a dozen participants. I now believe that such partnerships take community support, effort and coordination, not simply one merchant’s uphill struggle.

The nonprofit board member with whom I had “the conversation” this morning suggested, in her turn, that nonprofit event planners need to look not only at who will be helped by a specific fundraising project but also who might be harmed, so that unintentional harm can be avoided. That’s a dawning of awareness! My voice was heard!

July 2010 will mark the beginning of my eighteenth summer as a small-town bookseller. Life would certainly be easier if all a bookseller had to do was open a bookstore and welcome the bibliophilic crowds eagerly beating down the doors, but, unfortunately, business rarely works that way. We need to put on that public education cap from time to time, also.

So I encourage other booksellers to “have the conversation.” Find a sympathetic ear and present your case calmly and dispassionately. Explain, don’t complain. Listen in turn. Done right, the conversation should come out win/win. Don’t we all want to be part of the solution?

Pamela Grath
Dog Ears Books
106 Waukazoo Street
P.O. Box 272
Northport, MI 49670
(231) 386-7209

[editors note: at a church sale not that long ago we made a donation of a few surplus boxes of books and the organizer was more than happy to put out a stack of our flyers at his checkout table]

3 thoughts on “Bookstore Owners, Are Church Sales Your Enemy or Your Partner?”

  1. Wow – I love church sales, library sales, AAUW sales, PTA or PTO sales, I just love book sales. I don’t see them as a detriment to my business. I see them as a way to network with other book lovers, a way to advertise my store – I never go to a sale without a stack of my business cards that have a stamp on the back that says, “Judy says I get 10% off” – I give them to everyone! I make friends with the local librarians and help when I can – in turn they’re more then willing to send me customers. I also find some pretty great deals at book sales. It’s one of the ways that I re-stock my shelves. I have lots of competition – there are 2 other bookstores in my town, a library, several thrift stores – all of them sell books – but after 14 years, I’m still here and I’m still making money. If you’re still in business after 18 years it sounds like you are too!

  2. I find that the local library sale, which is held two blocks from my shop, usually BOOSTS sales for that day. To some extent, greater availability actually feeds the appetite for MORE of a good. Why do restaurants cluster together? Why are their ‘districts’ in cities devoted to specific goods? Groupings fuel demand.

    There is eventually a levelling point where demand can’t be goosed any higher by greater abundance, but an annual booksale is unlikely to exceed that point.

    Honestly, I donate excess stock to the library sale… and stick a bookmark in each book.

    The local church has fairly frequent rummage sales and are quite happy to have me come pick over the lot and take some of the books off their hands. They’re almost invariabily left with stuff they don’t know what to do with.

    That type of sale can take a bite out of the lower end of the market for widely available titles, but often fuels demand for books further up the market. So someone picks up book 1 of a series at a rummage sale but can’t find the rest. They’ll come to you for the rest of the series.

    For getting stock for yourself, such sales are often great sources because what the average browser wants is what you don’t want and what you do want, the organizers may be happy to give to you for pennies if you’ll just get it out of their hair!

  3. It is great to see the positive attitudes of others.

    Pamela, – yours is an interesting point and I would like to further your notion of turning lemons into lemonade by first passing on an anecdote that may help others.
    “When I was a teenager I found myself wondering what other people were thinking about me.
    As I reached my mid-thirties I no longer gave a damn what other people thought of me.
    I was well into my 50’s before I realized no one was thinking about me at all!”
    The truth is – everyone is busy with their own life and if we stopped to figure out the long term ramifications of acting in the best interests of everyone else – we would never move again.
    We have three huge organizations in our city holding all their sales in May and June for a total of about 16 days. For the last six years (and now, after 22 years in business) we have found our in-store sales actually do very well even as the organizations rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    We in the used books business use the opportunity to buy up every book we think we can resell. The charities love us because of the positive energy we bring to the sale and because we are usually the biggest buyer supporting their cause. Lemons never tasted so sweet and they sustain us for months!
    Keeping focused upon improving your business turns many negative situations into powerful opportunities to improve everything and everyone around you.

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