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.

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