Carol Goldstein from Mackerel Sky Books
Just recently I became a member of NAIBA, the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. They are a regional group that allows booksellers to connect with other booksellers in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, DC. As part of joining up, the following Twenty Questions survey was sent along so current members can get to know ‘moi’ . Since I get a lot of questions from customers and other business people, like, “Why are you doing this, you silly person?” (insert John Cleese-like voice complete with accent) I thought I would share my responses with all you lucky, lucky souls. Feel free to chime in with your answers, might be fun.
Question #1 What was the path that led you to bookselling?
Like a great many of us, I am an avid life-long reader. In college, my major was English Literature, Language and Pedagogy (high school English teacher) with a minor in Theater Arts. As a student and afterwards, most of my jobs were in some form of retail. I had finally come to a point where the annoyance factor of working for someone else far out-weighed the rate of compensation. This small town had no bookshop but they had a lake and I owned a nice house within viewing distance of same. A seed of insanity planted itself and that is how I came to open my own very own bookstore and gift shop here in the beautiful Bristol Hills of Western New York.
Question #2 How did you prepare to become a bookseller?
First thing was to get a business plan done. With the help of the SBA in Buffalo, NY, my home town, that was completed and financing came through that connection as well. Inspired by the on-line story of two women opening a shop in New York City, I chose my distributor, Ingram Book Company, and things took off from there. I got a lot of instruction and support from the SBA, Ingram and Booklog. The rest I have learned on the fly.
Question #3 What didn’t you expect when you opened/bought your store?
So far, I have been lucky. Nothing horribly unexpected has occurred, well, aside from the coffee shop next door, one of my earliest supporters and cheerleaders, deciding to give up the fight and close their doors for good. It was a bit of a shocker since part of the reasoning for choosing this particular space was the coffee shop/book shop dynamic. Other than that, nothing else of an unforeseen nature has taken place…… yet. It has only been four and a half months after all.
Question #4 What was the best advice you’ve been given about bookselling?
Keep your chin up, market your brains out and take one day at a time.
Question #5 What advice do you give to new booksellers?
See above and get in with a good distributor, make sure you have good software to keep your inventory straight and enjoy yourself.
Question #6 Who is/was your mentor in the industry?
That’s hard to say, I have had a great deal of help from my salesperson at Ingram. My contacts at Booklog have also been very informative and willing to help. I read ‘The Bookshop Blog’ but other than that, I don’t really have one ‘go to’ person.
Question #7 What categories sell best in your store?
Fiction is the big seller, for the most part. A lot of people look for history, both fiction and non-fiction, especially local history which I make sure to provide. The used books get at least a once-over by almost every customer that comes in the door, as well.
Question #8 What is your best advertising vehicle?
So far, the most mention has come from articles printed in local newspapers. First was an article on the new business in Honeoye from the Canandaigua paper (nearest city), then the local Honeoye Herald asked me to write up a press release, the majority of which was used in an article entitled, ‘Holy Mackerel!’, again about the shop opening. The next was an article done by the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle for their ‘Women to Watch’ feature. This one was in the paper and also on-line.
The other item that brought in several people was a coupon flyer in the local Pennysaver. In conjunction with my Grand Opening hoopla, that one flyer produced a lot of word of mouth and actual customers.
Question #9 What are your best non-book (sideline) sellers?
I carry local artists, photographers and gifts. I suggest doing a little research on local authors and artists to bring in work and products no one can find anywhere else. Also, any book related items, bookmarks, book ends, puzzles or games enclosed in a book-like box are always nice to have. You can check with your book distributor.
Question #10 What ways do you put your store in the public/community eye?
I regularly e-mail the teachers and administration at Honeoye Central Schools. Due to my previous life as a flea-market/craft show vendor, many people already know me and know to find me at a brick and mortar place in town. I use the local media (see entry above about advertising) and make sure I have flyers or rack cards at other local hotspots, restaurants, B&Bs, the grocery store and bank, among other things (Golden Oak Alpaca Farm! The Wizard of Clay!).
Question #11 What do you do particularly well as a bookseller and a bookstore?
Getting the books people want to the people who want them in a timely fashion. Special orders are big business here since my shop is not what you would call large. There is no extra charge for the service and I make sure to order regularly so everything comes in within five business days. I make sure to smile at and greet everyone, no matter the weather or dearth/masses of customers. Lord help me, I am a people person. And generally ‘perky’. And always helpful, directions, publication dates for new work by favorite authors, even getting everyone their own ‘Captain Underpants’ name (http://www.inthe00s.com/archive/membersonly/smf/1111764873.shtml).
Question #12 What ways have you developed to upsell to customers?
Buy one, get one promotions. If they mention they are buying a gift I suggest an art card to go with it. If they are interested in a book that is part of a series, I make sure they have them all and let them know the date the next one is coming out or mention another book series by the same author.
Question #13 What are your personal handselling favorites?
Whichever book a customer asks for. I just go to the shelf and pull it out for them. I’ve been lucky that way.
Question #14 What are your biggest rewards in bookselling?
Meeting the people in town, visitors from all over the world, the artists and authors. Just being around books and art all the time.
Question #15 What is the biggest challenge or threat facing your store at the moment?
The closing of the coffee shop, the economy and oh, the economy.
Question #16 What change would make it more manageable?
Having someone take over the coffee shop, it is for sale.. anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Also, winning the lottery would be of great help to me, both personally and professionally.
Question #17 What new skills or knowledge are most needed among your staff and/or new hires?
Right now, I’m the staff, latest hire, chief cook and bottle washer. Probably getting to know the Booklog program would be the first and most important order of business if I were hiring.
Question #18 Have you recently undergone any physical changes to your store (such as moving, renovating, downsizing)? If so, why? And how has it affected your business?
Just opened April, 2010. I re-arrange often, does that count?
Question #19 How is your time divided in the store? (ie: buying 40%; customer service/floor time 5%)
I do it all, baby! I just take it as it comes. Juggling tasks is a skill, it may not be mastered yet, but I am getting there.
Question #20 What are the big and small changes you’ll be making for your business this year?
Adding author visits and a storytime for children. Probably going to have to start serving coffee, too.