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
1. What activities would you attend at Novel Places? Choose all that apply
author book signing
time for young readers
activities – live music, wine tasting, singles night, etc.
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
starting at 6pm
starting at 7pm
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
3. What media do you use, or prefer, to find out what’s
going on at the bookstore?
Newsletter and periodic announcements
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?
event at least 2 weeks in advance in the newsletter
a reminder the week of the event in the newsletter
announcements in neighborhood newsletters (HOA’s)
ads in the Gazette
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
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?
every 3 months
– 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?
or special sale days
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?
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
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?
discount to Teachers, Police, Fire & Rescue, and CERT
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
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
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
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
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.