novelbooks's blog

The Status of Novel Places

Since January was the last newsletter, there’s a lot to catch up on. The antique store was totally gone from the first floor, and we couldn’t move down from the second floor. A buyer for the building was putting together a bid, and we started looking for a new location. The purchase went through in March/April, and we were told we couldn’t stay. We had 8 locations identified, but didn’t reach an agreement with one until the last part of April. We had to be out of the building by May 1. I’m sure you want some of the gritty details, and this story truly points out the importance of some of the best retail axioms.

Prime retail position. Retailers, especially in a shopping center, want the best spot nearest the heavily trafficked area. Universally, this is closest to a grocery store. Prime retail real estate, in multi-level arrangements, is the first or main floor. This is where the shopper has direct access from the street or parking lot. A retail store won’t necessarily fail upstairs, or downstairs, but sales will be lower than on the main floor. When we moved upstairs in our second year, sales became flat. They were very good, but not going up. When the antique store emptied the first floor, it gave the building the appearance of being abandoned. In spite of signs, turning lights on downstairs and other attempts to show we were open, sales and the number of customers plummeted through February into the first half of April. Comments from customers, after we moved, included surprise we were back in business, and it was so convenient being on the first floor. 

Location, location, location. In our case, this was an amazing discovery. The old location was run down outside, adding to the perception the building was abandoned. A gravel pull-off in front of the store was convenient, but not attractive. The pull-off, driveway, and parking lot are gravel. Neither I, nor the landlord, had the finances to do much about it. The building was also set back from the line of buildings along that side of the road, making it difficult to spot as you drove along the main street. On top of all that, trucks and semis would park in front of the store while the drivers got food at the deli a couple of doors down.

Our new location is across the street, opposite the deli. I can see my old location from the front window as I sit at the register. We moved in May, and we’ve had a definite increase in foot traffic. Most say they’re seeing the bookstore for the first time. Others say they noticed us when they went to the deli. Customers are coming back because the store looks so much better than the old place, inside and out. A lot are commenting on our paved parking lot, even though we have fewer spaces available. The building is newer, 1911 compared to the 1730’s, and it’s well maintained and landscaped. We moved barely 100 feet, and the visibility is much better along with proximity to the heavier trafficked businesses. 

Establish a presence. When a retail store opens, it’s important to be in a location for a number of years. You want customers to find you, and eventually become a regular part of their shopping. When any store moves, it’s a challenge to get customers to follow. I’ve heard stories from other booksellers about moving down the block, or around the corner, from their former locations. Sales dropped before they began to recover over time. It may not be fatal, but it can be damaging. In our first year, we were on the first floor and growing. The second year, we moved upstairs, and we know we lost a number of customers, even though we were in the same building. We’re starting our third year, and our sales are immediately going up in the new store. I think it is working for us because we are still too new for anyone to get familiar with our location. We also didn’t travel very far in each move. There was disruption and confusion, but the current improvements help a lot.

If you’re still reading through this, here’s the bottom line. January sales were good, February was bad, March was dismal, and the first half of April was even worse. I was considering what I had to do to close the store, and could I arrange a means to continue running Magic: The Gathering events. Two factors kept me from shutting down. 

First, it was obvious why we were failing (you did read this blog, didn’t you?), and we needed new space to continue. If I didn’t find a new place by the end of April deadline, I would close the store, rather than try to reopen at a later time. However, I was determined to find a new place, because I felt sales couldn’t be worse than they were. The store had to do better, and if it didn’t, I wanted a one year lease as a precaution. That narrowed the choices quite a bit, but there were still options. If the sale of the building fell through, and I was stuck upstairs into the summer, we would definitely have closed. Fortunately, we signed a deal with our current landlord, which beat the deadline. 

Second, April was looking dim, until Magic: The Gathering announced a limited run of Modern Masters card set. Because the potential order was large, I decided to take prepaid orders. Sales soared, some records were broken, and made the transition to the new location easier. I was going to be able to operate through the summer, but this release was a bonus. On top of that, May’s mystery convention Malice Domestic, is always a big sales weekend for us. 

I’m not upset about the old store. I was given a break there to start my business. The building has historic charm, and circumstances were what they were. The new owner is a nice guy, and will try to open an international grocery store. I wish him all the best. There are still challenges to increase sales, but I’m optimistic about the new store. So far, we've recovered to projection levels for the year, and foot traffic is better than ever.

I want to close this blog by giving a big thank you to the residents, friends, and customers, who helped pack books, move fixtures, and sort books in two days! I was at Malice when the books were packed on Sunday. We moved all the fixtures on Monday, when the store is normally closed. The store was open Tuesday, and we had sales even though most of the books weren’t moved until Thursday. Technically, we never closed, and I owe it to the dedication and loyalty of you. Thank You.

A Vision of Your Bookstore - Survey Results

Thank you for filling out the survey. The results gave me a clearer picture of growing the bookstore. A lot of the progress lies with funding through revenue. I may need to sell more to expand more, but now there’s a focused method. This post will be technical (dry), but I hope it enlightens you about the process and decisions. So onward, question by question:

1. What activities would you attend at Novel Places?  Choose all that apply

Author book signing  73.1%
Local author book signing    46.2%
Book Group
Story time for young readers
Poetry reading    23.1%
Social activities – live music, wine tasting, singles night, etc.  57.7%

I was curious to see if there was any difference between getting a local author compared to an author from out-of-state. It’s possible people may have missed the difference, but it’s clear author events are a good attraction. One purpose of the survey is to discover why attendance is so low at the recent author events. 

The other attraction appears to be social activities, and based on the comments, mostly live music and wine tasting. We had Steven Gellman here, and he sounded great. We have his CD’s in stock and, like book sales for authors, CD sales will keep him coming back. There are a number of local bands and we will try to schedule them, but I’m not sure how well it will work upstairs. The antique store is open on the first floor, and the set up prevents an open space for events. There are also local wineries that we’re contacting, and would probably be combined with an author or music event. I was secretly hoping there would be interest in a singles night. After working here 6 days a week for over a year, I could use a date!

The interest in book groups is good to see, and there is interest in a number of categories. I can set times, but if people want to create a book group, please contact me. I have contact information with several people about a poetry group and will provide updates in the next newsletter.

We have a story time for toddlers and early readers almost every Saturday starting at 11am. Sara is our reader, and she includes a project activity at the end of the reading. The schedule is not consistent, because she can’t be here every Saturday, but it’s posted on the website. If anyone is interested in reading when Sara is not here, contact me and maybe we can work it out.

A mom’s book club during the school day is a great idea, especially the part about reading young adult books to evaluate what’s appropriate for their children. I’m opposed to banning/censoring books, but the young adult genre writes about controversial and sensitive topics. It’s important to choose carefully. If the person who wrote that comment will contact me, I’d like to set that up.

2. What are the best times for you to attend events? Choose all that apply

Thursday   15.4%
Friday      34.6%
Weeknights starting at 6pm
Weeknights starting at 7pm   53.8%
Saturday morning (10-noon)    38.5%
Saturday afternoon (2-6)    46.2%
Sunday morning (11-1)
Sunday afternoon (2-4)  46.2%

The best options I draw from the results is Friday at 7pm, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon. I should ask if Saturday and Sunday evenings are acceptable. If I can be sure of the audience, I would stay after closing to host an event. This decision doesn’t prevent scheduling at other times. Schedules will depend on author availability and other events. For now, I’m eliminating Tuesday and Wednesday nights because the Magic TG players meet then.

3. What media do you use, or prefer, to find out what’s going on at the bookstore?

E-mail Newsletter and periodic announcements  92.9%
The Clipper Magazine    3.6%
Direct Mail  7.1%

I have to take the results with a grain of salt. The survey request was primarily driven through the newsletter. I did post it on Twitter and Facebook, but I admit I don’t use Facebook as much as I probably should. Most of my Twitter followers are not in this area, so I didn’t expect much a reply, and a lot of people may have missed the tweets.

I tried The Clipper magazine twice, with hardly any result, and this is a good indicator to avoid it in the future. I’m considering the Post Office’s new targeted, Every Door Direct Mail service. The direct mail service is relatively inexpensive and reliable. I don’t have to blanket half the county to send fliers through the mail. Since I hate junk mail, this is only to get community attention, not a regular occurrence.

I have a weekly Gazette ad in the Damascus/Clarksburg edition, and it is fairly expensive. I’ve considered dropping it, but I do use it for any upcoming event, or special sale.

One comment suggests a cancellation notice if no one says they’ll come. I can create invitations and RSVP’s on Facebook and the newsletter, with links on Twitter. The main problem we’re having is a number of people saying they’ll come, and then not showing up. I suspect it’s a lack of ongoing promotion on my part, but schedules are full for most people and change often. There’s a lot of competition for leisure time, even to get leisure time. I may try RSVP to see how it works, but there has to be a cutoff time for the author, and a minimum number of attendees. There’s also the possibility of walk-ins making a difference.

4. If you don’t hear about our events, what do we need to do to improve promotion?

Announce event at least 2 weeks in advance in the newsletter 76.0%
Post a reminder the week of the event in the newsletter  76.0%
Post announcements in neighborhood newsletters (HOA’s)  12.0%
Multiple ads in the Gazette   12.0%

Again, since the survey was driven through the newsletter, this isn’t much of a surprise. I did fail to list Facebook and Twitter, as comments noted, but I consider those posts as a given. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

There was a comment about a sandwich board outside for story time. Signs are a difficult proposition in the Historic District, but that’s a possibility. It’s also a funding issue, but we are looking for low cost alternatives.

Another comment suggested direct mail 15 days before the event. If we actually have a lot of events, that starts flooding the mail box (I hope for the day that happens), but also becomes expensive. We’ll look at it with the direct mail service I mentioned. Whatever gets the best response wins.

5. How often do you shop at Novel Places?

Once a week   7.4%
Once a month   33.3%
Once every 3 months  33.3%
Once a year 
Never – I don’t live/work nearby

This question makes me happy. Obviously, I would love it if most people shop here once a week, but this falls within industry expectations. I’d like to increase the “once a month” percentage, but we’re still new and there’s more to work on.

6. What option(s) would encourage you to shop more often at Novel Places?

Open earlier
Open later
Open Monday 
Better title/subject selection   47.6%
Discounts or special sale days        
Community activities – Clarksburg Day, Kite Festival, etc.  

I wasn’t sure if I needed to extend hours, or open Monday. I hope the response is because you all know I’m unstaffed at the moment. Monday is my day off, and I was thrilled no one wanted me to be open. I’ve extended Tuesday and Wednesday hours because of the Magic TG players. The store is open until 9pm, if you want to shop late.

One comment about title and subject selection had to with browsing titles.  As noted, we don’t have the space to stock many titles, but I do try to get all the titles in a series when I can. Unfortunately, that may mean not having a particular series you’re looking for, but special orders usually take one day. In some cases, however, a series may go out of print. The other part about having a kiosk/computer for customers to search/browse titles is still a space issue, but also a funding problem. I hope to offer that as soon as possible, but in the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask about using the register computer.

I want to have a shelf of recommended books by staff, customers, bloggers, etc. Even though moving upstairs allowed for more shelf space, we’re still limited. I will endeavor to find a place. Also, children books are a major part of the store, and I’m always looking to grow the selection. I will order Richard Brautigan!

Discounts and special sale days are a little troubling because I can’t compete with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I do offer Loyal Shopper discounts, which is $5 off for every $200 spent. The membership club, which is still coming, will have a 10% discount along with other benefits. Teachers, police, fire and rescue (including CERT) get 10% off with their ID. I recently included active military in the 10% discount.

Currently, the website is 25% off any purchase, with free shipping over $25. That is going away at the end of August. Not many local customers were using it, and I’m planning to add used books and other items that I can’t afford to discount that much. Discounts offered at the store will be applied to the website. This will make the website the title browser, stock check, preorder feature for users and customers.

I have a clearance shelf with regularly marked down books, and will be looking at special sale day options when I go to the trade show at the end of September.

We participate in Clarksburg Day, Kite Festival, Farmer’s Market, and any other event in the Clarksburg community. Sometimes it’s an off-site tent, in-store participation, or fliers and contributions. I’m happy to help with any event, and would like to set up more community activities at the store. We did a Halloween show on the porch last year, but it looks like the coordinator isn’t able to repeat it this year. Keep an eye out for us, and we will post events in the newsletter and on the website.

7. Where do you purchase the majority of your books?

Novel Places  24.0%
Chain store
Used book store      12.0%
Another local indie  
Warehouse Discount Store 
Online retailer    

This makes me super happy. Granted, since Borders closed, there isn’t a chain store close by. This doesn’t mean you can’t stop off at B&N, Costco, etc., on the way to shopping or work. But the indication that I beat them out is very gratifying. Obviously, I’m getting whacked by Amazon, but there’s no way I can beat their prices. I do offer one day delivery of books at no charge. You can ask questions about the books you buy. I can try to find books that you’ll like to read, instead of a computer that guesses based on strangers buying habits. Let me stop before I get on my soap box on the “evil” Amazon.

I added used bookstore and local indie, because there is John at Inklings in Hyattstown. He’s a used bookstore, but we carry different selections and used books are a random inventory. Between the two of us, we can probably find a used book for you.

Some commented that they use the library, and that’s fine. They need support these days, too. We are engaged in shop local programs that show how much independents contribute to the community through participation and local taxes for schools, police, fire, etc. This is what gets me fired up about Amazon, which lobbies in the millions of dollars against paying sales tax. Sorry. Soap box again.

How you shop is based on price, convenience, and service. I can’t get all of you to dedicate your shopping here, except to work hard and provide added value that may persuade you to change your habits. Basically, I always accepted there will be steep competition when I started the bookstore, and it’s up to me to make it work or not.

8. Are you aware of the services Novel Places provides?

  Yes No
E-book downloads        
Gift registry     
Business Bulk Purchasing 
 5.6% 94.4%
Off-site book events     57.1% 42.9%
Meeting space    61.1% 38.9%
Gaming tournaments      57.9% 42.1%
Hard-to-find Books    
85.7% 14.3%
Special Orders 85.7% 14.3%
School Supplies 33.3% 66.7%
Fundraisers 40.0% 60.0%
10% discount to Teachers, Police, Fire & Rescue, and CERT      44.4%      55.6%

I have links on the newsletter about e-book downloads, but haven’t promoted as much as I could. It is changing at the end of the year as Google is dropping the independent bookseller contract. There is another company looking to step in and they have a very strong leadership. The company will allow downloads to any format, including Kindle (okay, I won’t hate them as much), and they are planning to use independent bookstores in their distribution and marketing.

The Gift registry is primarily on the website and I haven’t promoted that because it wasn’t user-friendly. The webhost created a Wish List solution, and it can be used if you want to create a registry for parties, weddings, etc.

Bulk purchasing is about getting bigger discounts the more quantities of one title you buy for advertising your business. UpCounty Fine Wine and Beer bought a large quantity of Wine 101, got a 35% discount, and had their name put on the cover. It was an effective handout when they were promoting their new website. Bulk purchases are useful for training classes and seminars.

I haven’t promoted the latest off-site events, since it was to provide a sales option for non-profit companies that can’t sell merchandise. I can arrange similar set ups for author events, book groups, and other activities.

We have tables and chairs for group meetings, game playing, crafts, and other activities. There is no charge for the space, tables, and chairs. I don’t have a food permit, but you are allowed to bring what you want for refreshments.

I don’t have a lot of school supplies, basic items for elementary school, but will take special orders and will expand as soon as possible, depending on demand.

I can see from the results what I need to work harder on to promote. Thank you.

9. Novel Places has been open for 1 year, and we’re working on the selection of books for you.

It’s easier to summarize, instead of showing percentages. Plus, you’re probably tired of reading and analyzing numbers.

New releases & bestsellers, Classic Literature, General Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Picture Books, Chapter/Elementary books, Teen/Young Adult, History, Cooking, Health/Self Help, Hobbies & Games, Humor, and Biography, all are predominantly “keep the same” and “expand”. Romance was split, with about half wanting to “reduce” and “eliminate”. It had the highest percentage of eliminate at 18%. Religion, Gardening, and Sports had about 33% wanting to reduce or eliminate the sections. Religion surprised me, given the number of churches in the area, and requests for religious books. Nature/Pets, Science, and Travel had about 20% wanting to reduce or eliminate those sections. Given the small size of each section, I don’t plan to change them for now.

Romance is a large section of almost all used books. If there is demand for new releases, I will keep a selection in stock. I’ve stopped taking used romances, and will let the inventory sell off.

It looks like I’m going to need a bigger boat. Good evaluation. Thank you.

10. Novel Places is your community bookstore. Please share any suggestions to add, change, or keep, any service or merchandise we provide.

Great idea – Host a children’s book exchange. Kids drop off gently used books and pick out books from the assortment from others. Bring in 2 books, pick up 2 books. That last part will ensure there are no left over books, unless a kid brings in 2 and takes 1. Maybe at story time?

More requests for specific authors. Keep them coming!

Wow. One comment basically wants another Borders-size bookstore. Someday. If you help by buying all my books! Mainly, this person is looking for a coffee/food shop where the family can sit down and enjoy magazines and books. Thank you for acknowledging the space problem, but in our small way, we do have a Keurig coffee maker with a wide selection of coffee and tea (hot chocolate in the winter). I do plan to bring in magazines as soon as possible. It’s mostly a space issue. Talk to me about the selection you were interested in. We do have two comfy “leather” chairs just outside the store’s entrance.

More kid activities. I would love to, but until I can afford staff, I need help putting these things together. Sara volunteers to read at story time, and I’m indebted to her.

One comment has a long list of merchandise. I already have some of them, and should be able to bring in the other items, maybe this holiday season. I could add students to the 10% discount list, and I did have the summer reading lists this year. It should be better coordinated next year.

“I’m sorry you moved upstairs.” Thank you. I didn’t like it either, but it has advantages over downstairs. The area is smaller, but rent is cheaper, and the space allows for more shelving and better event set up. The air-conditioning is inadequate, but we managed. I’d prefer downstairs, but there are other plans in the works down the road.


Thanks again for your support and feedback. For those that aren’t familiar with small bookstore economics, margins (gross profits) from merchandise is roughly 40%. After I pay bills, taxes, fees, etc., the net profit is 2 – 3%. That’s usually my salary, or improvements to the store. The average time it takes to reach a net profit is 3 years. We started out with a very small budget, and with your contributions, we’re growing remarkably well.  If the growth continues, we may break even next year.

What this means is, trying new merchandise is risky when it’s tough to keep up with the bills. The survey helps pinpoint where I should focus my attention, and budget, to reduce the risk. The biggest task right now is getting foot traffic into the store, which is what the antique store downstairs is intended to do. It also means more word of mouth, more successful author events, more activities, and more support (from others besides you). I’m optimistic, and will do what I can to make your local bookstore a success. I’d like to see this building become a gathering place again.

I’m tired of typing. Go read something…interesting.

I Hate Trade Shows

How can a dedicated bookseller claim to hate tradeshows? They offer great ideas to improve a bookstore, offer sessions on running stores more effectively, and compare programs with other stores. Publishers and vendors show off the upcoming books and sidelines to make a store profitable and beneficial to a community.

So why do I hate trade shows, particularly after writing about how much I love them? Because I don’t have a physical bookstore. True, I had an arrangement with a coffee shop in Clarksburg, and it did very well. But it was “boutique” size, and as I was negotiating a larger partnership with the coffee shop owner, he went out of business.  I couldn’t take over the lease and packed up as well.

I’m a member of bookseller associations that put on trade shows a couple of times a year, and have attended some of them over the four years I’ve been in business. The trials and tribulations of finding affordable space in a sustainable community have been difficult in these economic times. I hated to go to the shows because I felt like I was explaining why I couldn’t be in business, rather than getting into discussions about making the business better. I wanted to talk about what was working, submitting bestseller nominations, offering staff or customer recommendations, and all the fun stuff that makes bookselling so exciting and rewarding.

But now, the hated part about going to a trade show is almost over. I begin moving into a store that I can call my own, or at least lease. A friend of mine, who started her own business at the same time, had to close. She owns the building and is trying to sell it, but in the meantime, I will maintain the property to keep the value up. We’ve worked out a great lease that helps both of us, and gives me roughly 1,300 square feet to grow. I don’t have much for a budget, but enough to get open.

There’s a dispute with the state highway over rights to put up a street sign, but we’re working on it. Otherwise, the store is located in the Clarksburg Historic District, and the building is the original 1730’s trading post built at the crossing of two Indian trails. The building expanded over the years and added a Post Office, where my granduncle was postmaster. There’s a lot of great history, and the style of the store reminds one of the general stores of long ago. The style won’t change and there will be a bit of a challenge to incorporate a bookstore, but it should be an unusual experience. The center of the store will have movable displays to accommodate book groups, signings, and other activities. There’s a lot to do, but I expect to open at the end of April or beginning of May.

If I’m still sane, I’ll be looking forward to the next trade show!

The Ripple Effect of Borders' Bankruptcy

I’m always amazed at how much traffic is generated when a business like Borders declares bankruptcy. Most of the pundits who are flooding the media with statements and speculation have been talking about the bookstore giant for years. I suppose the facts of the debt vindicate some of the speculation, but as a bookseller, I’ve been weighing the economic impact of all factors in the book industry, including Borders’ condition.

There’s a lot of sideline speculation about the future of the print book and bookstores. E-books, online purchases, and cultural changes are important factors, but the big story today is Borders. The question I’ve been asked is how Borders’ bankruptcy will affect independents as well as independent publishers. Simply, it’s anything from great to a total disaster.

First, Borders is declaring Chapter 11, which means they will still exist during and after the process is complete, and they will still be a major competitor to the independent bookseller. The independents near a closing Borders will have an opportunity to attract those customers. The Borders near my store isn’t closing, but I could be hiring an employee or two. Sadly, the employees losing their jobs will suffer greatly.

The good news for a number of independents is additional sales, but there is also the relationship with publishers. We now know the level of debt faced by some of the big publishers. They will probably get something out of the bankruptcy process, but will have to deal with those losses as well as lower distribution to a much reduced reseller footprint. I’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years, and my speculation for independents is that selection and distribution will not change significantly. I’m willing to bet that publishers will refocus their efforts to support independents. There’s a list of independent publishers that were invested in Borders, and the amounts don’t look good. If they begin to fail, I wonder if the big publishers will pick them up. There aren’t as many independent publishers as I thought, but it’s significant.

The basic rule of success in retail is high turnover of merchandise. That’s the advantage for the independent, because the small store has to be focused on inventory and what the customer wants. In recessions, we can use the same space to sell lower priced used and remainder books, and sidelines, to maintain or increase high turnover and margin. Borders and B&N are so large, all they can do is reduce inventory. Reduced inventory means paying for unused space, and Borders tried sidelines that ultimately didn’t work.

Independents will still close, not because of Borders’ bankruptcy, but from the struggle of online competition and e-books. I’m optimistic. Publishers succeed by signing successful authors, and would be foolish to cut back. Booksellers succeed with a good selection of books from publishers and focusing on customer service. Those that adapt to changing times will succeed and there are opportunities for success. I believe reading will increase among all ages with the advent of e-books. Young adults are hooked into technology and I think having a book in that format will encourage them to pause their video game and texting (maybe not) to read a few pages. Some are concerned that authors will lose readers because a Borders store will close. There will be some loss, but I can’t imagine people will stop reading, they will find another way to buy their books. As long as people want to meet authors, and book groups want someplace to meet, there will be brick and mortar bookstores.

Borders Stores Closing List

Borders Bankruptcy Filing

I Love Trade Shows

The bookseller conference, Winter Institute 6, is my first for this trade show. I've been to other national and regional shows, but Winter Institute focuses on education and is far more intense. Other conferences generally split time between education sessions and exhibit halls of vendors with preview books. The Winter Institute has a Galley Room of preview books (see my other blog and the home page), but the conference is scheduled with five tracks of three sessions each for the entire day. It's a lot to absorb and you miss a lot of the sessions, but you can't help but be excited about the future of bookselling. Bookselling has never been easy, but it's not impossible. This is a long blog about the sessions, so get comfortable.

Briefly, Tuesday night was a wonderful reception at Politics and Prose. Wednesday breakfast was an interview with Jim Lehrer and Karen Mills of the SBA about small business programs. This was followed by legislative meetings on Capitol Hill and a reception at the Library of Congress.

Thursday began with a breakfast presentation by Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor. His motivational speech, and antics, talked about connecting to imagination through entertaining displays and activities. The hard part is employees and getting the right personality for your store. Most of his suggestions are part of a successful store, but he was able to take ideas to a higher level. His book, The Retail Doctor, is available in April.

Thursday's education sessions:

Ideas That Work: Communications, Events, and Displays for Great Children's Departments
Getting Political: Creating the Change You Want to See
The New Reality: Alternative Business Models for Independent Bookstores
Creating Killer Events for Small Business

Saving Time and Money With Edelweiss

Edelweiss is an online interactive set of publisher catalogs that helps booksellers create a more efficient operation. It sorts book information among the publishers and allows the buyer to import the order into the store's Point-of-Sales (POS) system. Edelweiss allows the bookseller to share information with other stores and customers, as well as print a .pdf file for a display. It links with social media and has up to date information from the publisher. The order can be auto-mapped to the store's categories and locates local books and authors. I was concerned Edelweiss replaced sales reps, but it's just the opposite. Reps can leave notes about books and specials, and view the order so it cuts down on meeting time. It's a free service (a big plus) unless you want sales tracking, which is a subscription with Above the Treeline.

Lunch was speed dating with sales reps who pitched their new titles. We sat at preassigned tables and every few minutes, the gong would sound and the reps moved to the next table. It was very noisy, but lots of fun.

What Really Drives Choice In The Children's Book Market?
Linked By Passion: Growing Sales Through Local Retail Partnerships
New Business Models Through Strategic Thinking
New Adventures In Book Buying: Working with Reps Near and Far 

Adding A Cafe To Your Bookstore

Bookstores looking for an additional source of revenue, typically turn to an in-store cafe, wine bar, or snack stand. While food service does provide a higher margin, there's a lot of planning and issues to consider. Top priorities are allocating space, permits, and health inspections. If you serve or sell wine, you have to follow age restrictions. Food preparation means higher workers comp insurance because of risks. Some of the tips offered were to prepare food in-house to control quality and freshness. It's also easier to do cookbook tie-ins to the menu. Cafe's also attract new customers who stop for a meal, and end up shopping for books. A signature dish, chocolates, sweets, and pastries are additional attractions. Perishable items take time to determine daily quantities to avoid loss. Offers to swap the competition's coffee for the cafe coffee is key to change customers buying habits.

Non-Book Rountable / Children's Roundtable
Frontline Booksellers Roundtable / Small & Mid-Size Store Roundtable
Large-Store Rountable / Buyers Roundtable
Event Planners Roundtable

E-Commerce Roundtable

Since I don't have a store yet, the E-Commerce Roundtable made sense. Topics included using Google Analytics and e-mail lists. Some suggested a weekly newsletter, but my customers have asked for a monthly newsletter with occasional special notices. Some of the booksellers who attended the Winter Institute had to close their stores for the conference. Their customers appreciated the special note of why the store closed and how the conference would benefit them. Posting unique merchandise and local books provides an advantage to the big box websites. Community outreach and partnerships with organizations add to the store loyalty and support. Tips included personal e-mail response and notes in the shipment, online gift wrapping service, and a "How to Buy" FAQ.

I did a quick run through the Galley Room before going to the Author Reception, then had to leave early for a dinner with fellow members of NAIBA, a regional organization of independent booksellers.

Friday's education sessions:

IndieCommerce Overview
Cost of Goods Sold 101
The Indie City Index
Exploring New Partnerships Between Indie Booksellers and Authors

Efficiency 101: Getting Your Act Together

It's more than organizing or delegating. The first topic is to track time spent on each task, including breaks. Write down processes for organization, sales, planning events, etc. Evaluate these reports to determine what can be improved, delegated, or eliminated. Google calendar and docs can make it easier for employees to keep track of ongoing projects and events. Schedule items based on your energy level during the day. The biggest issue is e-mail and how to stay on top of it. The best answer is to get rid of it quickly. Take old e-mail and put it in an archive file. If you don't access the file, delete it. I'll keep customers order e-mails in a folder for a few months in case there's a question or dispute.

Lunch was part 2 of speed dating with sales reps.

Efficiency 201: Accomplish More by Working Less
How to Sell E-Books
How to Buy Your Way to Success
Making Nonfiction Sexy

Consultation Station

This track is set up with a variety of companies that pertain to operating a store, especially for start-ups. I reserved time with Paz Associates and Anthology, but was able to have walk-up discussions with others. Paz Associates is a consulting firm that offers classes on starting a bookstore and provides services for booksellers. I showed them the space I'm planning to lease, the expenses, and current finances. We're concerned about the finances, but optimistic about the community and the store layout. Anthology is a Point-of-Sale system and I've been in talks with them for the past year. I ran through some of my final questions and gave them my latest set up. I had an opportunity to meet with Franklin Fixtures about book specific fixtures. They are the elite of retail fixtures and my investment depends on financing. I briefly talked with NACS about their list of vendors used by college stores. I met with Basil POS software that offers a much lower cost point-of-sale that is internet based. That would allow me to set up a portable, off-site, register as long as I had internet access. New decision to be made.

Free for the Asking: Marketing With PR & Social Media
How to Spend Your Way to Success
Buying, Selling & Merchandising Used Books
Consultation Station, continued

How to Sell E-Books (Repeat)

My ebook sales have been very disappointing, even with the addition of Google ebooks. Marketing consists of social media, newsletters, and in-store. I've used these methods, with no benefit so far. This was an open discussion, so suggestions came from the audience as well as the moderators. The best start is in-store, becoming a resource for customers by pointing out the various devices and compatibility. Conversations in the form of store events with experts, educate the customers to ebooks and downloading on the website. Marketing ebooks can use the same techniques as print books, but it's getting the customer accustomed to using the website.

The closing reception featured authors from small press sponsors, including a signing with Ralph Nader. That wrapped up Winter Institute 6 and next year it will be in New Orleans. It was very exhausting, but I come away full of ideas and excitment over what can be accomplished in bookselling. I was especially happy to see so many people like me who are starting their stores, or planning to open soon. I "extended" the conference by visiting One More Page in Arlington, Va. who opened the same day as the conference. We were supposed to be joined by Janet from Avid Bookshop in Georgia, but she had a last minute change in plans. Janet has a website and is trying to open a store, which is my situation. Bethanne Patrick, aka @thebookmaven on Twitter, met us since she lives near One More Page. It was a fun meeting and we shared notes and experiences. Eileen, One More Page's owner, has fascinating un-conventional display fixtures, sells wine and food items, and has a well curated selection of books. It's a wonderful store, and I look forward to following her progress.

Authors at the Winter Institute

The Winter Institute is a bookseller conference that brings publishers and authors together for a few days to talk about new books. This is similar to other national and regional conferences and trade shows, but the Winter Institute is an intense series of educational sessions for booksellers. There are five tracks of three sessions each, or fifteen sessions each day. Since I can only go to three each day, it means I have to get reviews of the other sessions from other booksellers at the breakfasts and luncheons. I should mention that the meals are also filled with presentations and publisher reps talking about their books. The Winter Institute ended Friday and I'm now coherent enough to report on the author reception after Thursday's sessions.

I had to leave early for a dinner with fellow NAIBA members, but met with a number of authors. These books are previews of releases for 2011. Some titles will display as not yet printed, others will be pre-orders, and many will be available as Google e-books. Remember to buy Google e-books through this website to have the order count for me. There were about 60 authors in attendance, so this is a long list.

David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Penguin

Tom Angleberger, Horton Halfpott, Amulet (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Dean Bakopoulos, My American Unhappiness: A Novel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I read his book before Wi6 and enjoyed it very much. I commented about it on Twitter and he remembered them and thanked me for my early support. It probably helped that I was wearing a button with my Twitter name on it. Dean is a former bookseller and professor at Iowa State University.The link to this title says it's out of print, but it will be released June 7, 2011.

Rye Barcott, It Happened on the Way to War, Bloomsbury

Sophie Blackall, The Crows of Pearblossom, Abrams Books for Young Readers

Sarah Blake, The Postmistress: A Novel, Berkley Trade

Judy Blundell, Strings Attached, Scholastic Press

Noah Boyd, Agent X, Morrow
I didn't meet him at the reception, but picked up this book in the Galley Room. The Galley Room is where booksellers can pick up Advanced Reviewer Copies (ARC's) to preview new releases.

Victoria Brown, Minding Ben, Voice (Hyperion)

Bonnie Jo Campbell, Once Upon a River: A Novel, W. W. Norton

Marcia Clark, Guilt By Association, Mulholland Books (Hachette Book Group)
I wanted to meet her, mostly for the celebrity aspect, but I hear it's a good book. I didn't get an ARC and will try to get a copy from Mulholland.

Jennet Conant, A Covert Affair: The Adventures of Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS, Simon & Schuster

Doreen Cronin, The Trouble with Chickens, Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Michael Crummey, Galore: A Novel, Other Press

Lauren DeStefano, Wither, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
The first book in the Last Chemical Garden Trilogy. Due March 2011. I managed to get a copy from the Galley Room.

Laura Duksta, You Are A Gift to the World, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Glen Duncan, The Last Werewolf, Knopf (Random House)

Carol Edgarian, Three Stages of Amazement: A Novel, Scribner (Simon & Schuster)

Jennifer Natalya Fink, Thirteen Fugues, Dark Coast Press

Alison Fitzgerald, In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took It Down, Wiley
Even though Alison Fitzgerald is an investigation reporter in D.C., I couldn't imagine her getting involved in a story about the scandal. It sounds sexist, but the media appears, with rare exception, to assign the field investigation to men. It turns out nearly all the investigation took place through the large amount of documentation. Alison Fitzgerald won the Polk award for her coverage of the financial crisis and government rescue of the banking industry. Stanley Reed is a specialist on the Middle East and the oil industry. He's covered BP for more than a decade.

Jennifer Fosberry, My Name Is Not Alexander, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Francisco Goldman, Say Her Name: A Novel, Grove Press

Katherine Greider, The Archaeology of Home, PublicAffairs (Perseus Books Group)

Heather Gudenkauf, These Things Hidden, MIRA

Dan Gutman, The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable, HarperCollins Children's Books
I picked this up in the Galley Room, but couldn't get to the author's table. It looks like a book my niece will enjoy. I'm thinking there's going to be some controversy over ad placement and encouraging children to eat fast food. This is a story about Coke McDonald and his twin sister, Pepsi. A new series that should be as good as any of his multiple publications.

Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches: A Novel, Viking
Another Galley Room pick. This is book one of the All Souls trilogy. The second book will be out in 2012. A Discovery of Witches is a contemporary novel with history, magic, romance and suspense.

Rachel Moore Hawkins, Demonglass: A Hex Hall Novel, Hyperion Books for Children
You can tell Rachel Hawkins enjoys writing her stories. All authors do, but I'm trying to get a better understanding of young adult novels. I spent time at the reception asking these authors about age range and details of their books. Rachel had a glint in her eye that may explain why some of her former high school students thought she was a witch.

Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow, Algonquin Books
I really regret missing her at the reception and not getting her book. I recently followed her on Twitter and wanted to talk with her about some of the conversations. She posted a great blog for those who still enjoy the bookstore experience.

Melissa Kantor, The Darlings Are Forever, Hyperion Books For Children
A pre-teen, early teen novel as told to me by Melissa. A story of three high school girls growing up and trying to keep their friendship together. It's a refreshing change from the vampire, witches, zombie stories of late.

Mark Kurlansky, World Without Fish, Workman

Alice LaPlante, Turn of Mind, Atlantic Monthly Press

Janet Lee and Jim McCann, Return of the Dapper Men, Archaia (Diamond Book Distributors)
Jim looked very dapper, and Janet used a special two-nibbed pen to sign the book. I fell in love with the book after discovering Steampunk in 2010 with Cherie Priest's Clementine. This is a beautifully illustrated book by Janet Lee, and a wonderful story for young chiildren. I mention Cherie Priest because I asked Janet and Jim if they knew any distributors of Steampunk merchandise, and they suggested I talk to Cherie. I also spent an inordinate amount of time talking with the Diamond Book rep. We've been talking for a few years about setting up an account and a grahic novel store display, if I ever open a store. That looks like it will happen very, very soon.

Tom Lichtenheld, Cloudette, Holt Books for Young Readers
A delightful story about a small cloud from an author with a big imagination. Similar to the Little Engine That Could, it's a great motivation story for young readers.

Clarence Lusane, Black History of the White House, City Lights Publishers

Kee Malesky, All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge, Wiley
So I ask Kee Malesky what knowledge is inessential, and she says it's the different way people think about facts, faith, and interpretation of history. What is essential to one person, is inessential to someone else. If that's hard to follow, I'm sure Kee will explain it in her book.

Jennifer McMahon, Don't Breathe a Word, Harper Paperbacks
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, having received it a few weeks before the conference. I made a point to meet Jennifer and tell her about it. When I first saw the cover, I thought it was young adult, but started to read it in preparation of Wi6. Jennifer agrees about the cover, but it is not young adult, given the opening pages. It's a story about a missing girl, fairies, mysteries, and suspense. The chapters switch back and forth, between the missing girl's life and fifteen later, when her brother and his girlfriend start to find clues to her disappearance.

Walter Dean Myers, Carmen, Egmont

Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light: A Novel, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Another frustrating miss to meet an author. Joseph O'Connor, an Irish author, writing about Edwardian Dublin, which is one of my favorite settings. It's amazing how time flies when there are so many authors at one time. I did get the book from the Galley Room, but wanted to get it autographed.

Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife: A Novel, Random House

Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor's Guide to Growing Your Business, Wiley
I haven't read his book, but he gave a presentation at one of the Wi6 breakfasts and it was incredible. A lot of common sense that people tend to forget, and some great tips to improve the customer experience at a store. I could blog on this alone. I took a moment to get Bob to sign my book, and told him about a marketing idea of mine, which he loved and wants to hear the results. He was also kind enough to answer a display question I've been mulling over. I'm looking forward to reading his book.

Hannah Pittard, The Fates Will Find Their Way, Ecco Books

Beth Revis, Across the Universe, Razorbill (Penguin Books for Young Readers)
I picked the book up in the Galley Room, and didn't get to the author, but I regret that now. Some of my friends on Twitter were talking about a preview of this book, and I reviewed it for them. It seemed a bit confusing at the beginning about how old Amy, the primary character was, but the general story didn't seem significantly different from other space travel novels. My review turned off a few of my friends, and I forgot about it until I came across the book at Wi6. I wish now I talked with her to get a better feel for the story, but I will read it. If I'm wrong, I'll do a hard handsell and apologize to Beth. This is her first novel.

Nina Revyor, Wingshooters, Akashic Books

Veronica Roth, Divergent, Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Jennifer Sattler, Chick 'n' Pug, Bloomsbury Children's Books

John Sayles, A Moment in the Sun, McSweeney's

Gary D. Schmidt, Okay For Now, Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Daniel Seddiqui, 50 Jobs in 50 States, Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Caitlin Shetterly, Made For You and Me, Voice

Rachel Simon, The Story of a Beautiful Girl, Grand Central Publishing

Maya Soetoro-Ng, Ladder to the Moon, Candlewick

Curt Stager, Deep Future, Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)

John Stephens, Emerald Atlas, Knopf Books for Young Readers

John Milliken Thompson, The Reservoir: A Novel, Other Press

Jon and Pam Voelkel, The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club, Egmont
I had to stop at the table and meet this couple. For one thing, they were dressed in safari clothing. Secondly, they had a pair of authentic pith helmets sitting on top of the books. Jon explained how and why pith helmets were created. These young reader books sound adventurous and fun. I was able to pick up the first book in the series, Middleworld. When they sign their books, Jon stamps it with an Aztec symbol of their names. I might be able to get them from Vermont to D.C. for a signing.

Binyavango Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Graywolf Press

Tim Wynne-Jones, Blink & Caution, Candlewick

Black Friday Mania & Rebate "Scams"

November 26, 2010. This is the first time I ventured out on a Black Friday. My brother saw some great deals at Pep Boys and I needed some of the items for my car. 6:30am and we hit the shopping center that has a WalMart, Target, Home Depot, Borders, etc. It was like those scenes of power outage lootings. We worked our way to Pep Boys to find a crowd there also. The free spotlight (a bonus for me) was already gone, as were the free spark plugs. Bummer. But I did get oil, filters, and wiper blades I needed for the car. Free, almost free, and home by 8am.

I've never liked Black Friday, and now Cyber Monday, because it promotes manic consumerism. Items that people would not normally buy are wisked off the shelves by a mob (non-violent) at ridiculous prices. I realize this is a great marketing tool for retailers looking to make their year on the busiest part of the shopping season. The idea is to present loss-leader items at or below costs, with manufacturers offering rebates to compensate. Stores attract customers with these deals in the hope that you'll buy more profitable merchandise as well. I could compare the type of shoppers, but that's another separate topic. What bothers me about this particular weekend is the rebate "scam".

Rebates are offered year-round, but are an integral part of this madness weekend. It's technically not a scam and all rebates are legal offers, but there's a reality to why it profits manufacturers. Instead of discounting the price, a customer has to pay full price and mail-in a rebate to get their money back. Manufacturers quickly discovered roughly 8% of rebates were redeemed. That means 92% of customers paid full price and never realized the bargain, leaving full profit to the manufacturer.

Recently, the redeem rate has gone up. Now, there are complicated conditions on the rebate coupon in order to reject your submission. Take Pep Boys as an example. A good company and reputable in my opinion. I bought 2 sets of oil and filters, as described in their ad. The rebate coupon states, if you read it carefully, you must have an original coupon AND original receipt for each purchase to qualify for the rebate. The customer and cashier need to be aware that multiple receipts have to be printed. This is possible with computer registers that store recipt information, even after the transaction is complete.

We arrived an hour and a half after Pep Boys opened, and the cashier and manager didn't know about the consitions. Imagine how many customers don't know their rebate won't qualify. If they notice, they can go back and have additional receipts printed. I don't blame Pep Boys completely, but they will have to deal with the customer, not the manufacturer. They printed two receipts for me, and the manager had to go to an unused register to print six receipts for my brother.

If you're out there today, be careful of traffic, be patient and realize you won't get all the items you want, and recognize the sale is based on rebates with varying conditions. The sad part of all is that small businesses are left out. This is big chain marketing. Small Business Saturday has been created this year by American Express. Support your local business this weekend, and especially this Saturday. We're the character and support of your community.

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