Picture a bookseller with a light bulb over his or her head--the universal symbol for having an idea. Now picture a banquet room full of booksellers with light bulbs over their heads. O.K., O.K., if you insist, you can picture energy-efficient light bulbs.
How many booksellers does it take to change a light bulb? Maybe the better question would be: How many ideas can a room full of indie booksellers share in less than an hour? At the "Ideas That Work" session during the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Cleveland recently, symbolic light bulbs were ubiquitous, as were great ideas.
The Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson, Ohio, puts its name "on everything"--T-shirts, mugs, etc.--and recently held a haiku contest where the winner's entry was printed on the front of a T-shirt, with other poems in smaller print on the back.
CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, Ky., creates gift baskets featuring regional books and products and has handled businesses orders for as many as 50 at a time.
At Forever Books, St. Joseph, Mich, about 100 people attended a book club symposium featuring sales reps presenting new titles. In addition, one of the bookshop's key staff members is Trevor, a golden retriever who oversees the animal book section where his recommend tags are posted. Last year, for Trevor's birthday party, guests were asked to bring donations for the Humane Society.
Jill Miner of Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, Mich., asked her staff to pay close attention to the reasons people said they were drawn to the store, so she could react accordingly in terms of inventory range and display focus. "The idea is to make it a one-stop shop."
Holding a Chamber of Commerce "after hours" event was suggested by a bookseller who noted that "even though our store is in a small town, there are people who have never been in it."
Bill Cusumano of Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, Mich., said his shop displays faced-out books at the same level, so when customers move from section to section, their eyes are drawn to the titles displayed in a line "at a reasonable height. No matter what alcove, it stands out."
Bookstores are constantly being asked for donations. McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, Mich., generates sales and good will by offering specific days on which customers can request that 10% of their purchases be contributed to a designated nonprofit.
Dealing with the ongoing flood of advance reader copies is a common challenge for booksellers, and some creative solutions were offered.
"This summer, we made them part of our summer reading club," said Sally Bulthuis of Pooh's Corner, Grand Rapids, Mich. And Becky Anderson Wilkins of Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville and Downers Grove, Ill., said the stores use old ARCs, especially children's books, as part of a donation program connected with asking kids to also bring in their old books. "To this day, we've probably distributed over 400,000 books."
Other great suggestions:
- One bookstore holds what amounts to a community Secret Santa promotion each year. Customers pick a name from a hat and purchase a book for that person. Only the bookstore knows the names and chooses appropriate titles for participants, then hosts a holiday party at which people open their gifts together (with 10% of the proceeds donated to a local charity).
- Another bookseller has the store's logo on her car, though she cautioned: "You do have to be a nicer driver."
- Distributing free bumper stickers with your bookstore's name and/or logo was recommended.
- Another bookstore sometimes pays staff members ($20 gift certificate, $10 for children's books) to read and review certain ARCs they might not otherwise be inclined to read, but which are going to be of interest to customers when published.
- In anticipation of the release of the film version of Where the Wild Things Are, a bookstore purchased advertising space on the local movie theater's screen saying that it was the place "where the wild books are." Also suggested was putting up book-themed movie posters in bookstores and displaying books at theaters.
- Co-sponsor a community promotion where, if children get their "passports" stamped at the library and bookstore they get into the movie for half price.
- Where the Wild Things Are has also inspired costume parties, where individual photos are taken and posted on the bookshop's website.
How many booksellers does it take to change a light bulb? If those light bulbs are ideas, then a room full of booksellers seems to do the job quite well.--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1032