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
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:
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
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.