Disaster Preparedness: What Booksellers Should Know, Part II

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Preparing for a disaster is an essential part of good business practice; in the second of a two-part story, Bookselling This Week discusses best practices with bookseller Jill Hendrix of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina.

While Fiction Addiction hasn’t experienced a big disaster yet, owner Jill Hendrix has taken the time to make preparations and thoroughly understand her insurance policies in case one does occur.

The best way for a store that hasn’t experienced an emergency to start is by doing some scenario planning, she recommended. Booksellers should consider what kinds of disasters could affect their communities, anything from the power going out to a destructive fire. “Having all sorts of different scenarios brainstormed out can really help you think about disaster preparedness,” said Hendrix.

From there, booksellers may want to start planning for the more likely scenarios first, then move on to the larger ones. Once they’ve identified a few scenarios for their store, Hendrix said, booksellers should:

Understand their insurance. If booksellers haven’t done the planning first, they might be paying too much for insurance, or paying for things they don’t need or not having important things covered, said Hendrix, noting that she uses an insurance broker to purchase and understand her insurance.

“I use insurance for catastrophic things,” she added. “I tend to have a fairly high deductible for normal things, but I want to make sure I’m covered in case of an absolute disaster.

Ask questions, Hendrix said; people can get intimidated by insurance policies and might not ask a lot of questions, but doing so is important. “I’m not an expert, but I ask my insurance agent a lot of questions,” she said. “Find out everything that you’re paying for and ask, if this happens, am I covered for that?”

Hendrix said she also purchases disability insurance. “I have that on myself as the owner…and it’s a lot cheaper the earlier you get it,” she noted, adding that she uses it because she still works about 80 percent of her time in the store. “If it was the case that I was an owner where the store ran completely without me, and maybe I did a little bookkeeping and I wasn’t really working the store all the time, then you probably wouldn’t need it.”

Owners who aren’t in the store often but have a manager or other employee who is should consider key employee insurance as well, she said, to provide a safety net in case something were to happen to that person. 

Additionally, owners who have employees that drive for the company need to be sure that they have insurance that covers them. “If you don’t have that, then you should probably not let any of your employees do errands for you,” she said.

Booksellers should also revisit their insurance every year, she added, and shop it around to see if they can get better coverage elsewhere. LIBRIS offers insurance tailor-made for bookstores, she said, and can be a good option for those in areas that are affected by hurricanes.

“I also think it’s important to know what you’re paying for and what you can afford,” she said. “Some insurance is required — my lease requires me to have a certain amount of insurance — and if I employ four more people, I have to have worker’s compensation insurance, but sometimes it’s really up to you what you decide to buy.”

That’s where the scenarios that booksellers have brainstormed come into play, she said, as it helps them see what they need to be covered for and what they can afford. “And make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples,” she added, “because a lot of times the policies don’t quite match up.”

Hendrix also noted that when filing a claim, insurance companies typically like to see photos and other forms of documentation in advance. “That can be part of your preparation,” she said. “Take pictures that are pretty high-resolution that you can zoom in on or take a video.”

Understand point-of-sale systems and software used in-store. Data backup is important because everything these days is data-based, Hendrix said, and emergencies regarding technology are one of those more common scenarios. “You want to make sure your point-of-sale system is backed up and that you know how to reinstall it,” she noted. “This happens all the time, where you have a server or a computer die and you have to reinstall things.” Other data can be moved to the Cloud or Google Drive, she noted.

Establish systems and procedures. Booksellers should start with the things that happen all the time that they know how to fix, said Hendrix. For Fiction Addiction, this meant figuring out what to do in situations where the internet wasn’t working or where the power went out. Then, booksellers should move on to the things that are more complicated, she said, like reinstalling a server.

“At a certain point, we decided that some of the stuff was too hard for an employee to be responsible for,” she said, noting that a bookseller who typically runs the checkout desk shouldn’t be responsible for reinstalling a server. Hendrix said she’s established points of contact for different situations, which ensures that booksellers have backup in case something happens in the store.

For documentation, Fiction Addiction uses list-making app Trello; in cases where the internet is down or the power is out, there is also a printed reference sheet in-store. Additionally, Hendrix said, it’s important to make sure that all employees have contact numbers for the store pre-programmed into their phones in case of an emergency.

Distribute knowledge across employees. Make sure that more than one person knows how to do things, Hendrix said, adding that this is the kind of step that is helpful in day-to-day business as well.

“Someone’s going to be on vacation…and they shouldn’t be the only one who knows how to do something,” she said. “Documenting your systems and procedures and cross-training people is good for a store owner anyway — you shouldn’t be on call 24 hours a day. Your staff needs to have some information about what to do in the case of different things happening, and the authority to do them.”

Do test-runs. Don’t just have the owner or the manager do test runs, Hendrix said. “Once you’re satisfied with the procedures and the instructions, have your most junior person on the staff do it.”

Booksellers can read the first part of this story, which has information provided from John Cavalier of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana, here