Experienced Booksellers Offer Proven Marketing Advice

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Amidst the hustle and bustle of the trade floor at this year's BEA, independent booksellers made time to attend panels on May 4 that were aimed at helping them market themselves better within their communities.

Peter Knapp, senior marketing manager for business books at John Wiley & Sons, moderated "How to Leverage Your Publisher Partners for Maximizing In-Store Visual Merchandising." He encouraged booksellers to take advantage of all that publishers have to offer to enhance promotions and displays as well as other point-of-purchase items. "Whatever publishers are offering to you, take it and ask for more," he said, pointing out one area that booksellers should definitely tap into is publishers’ knowledge of their own lists.

Another panelist, Angie Coleman Shuck, senior marketing manager/director of promotions and advertising at the Lexington, Kentucky, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, informed attendees that originality is the key to successful promotions and visuals on many levels. "Publishers are anxious to work with us when we have creative ideas," she noted. She added that booksellers don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a successful event. A crock-pot, which was purchased for $30, served as a giveaway that led to the sale of $400 worth of cookbooks. Making sure the staff is reading is another important point that Shuck mentioned. Each summer the staff picks 30-35 "great summer reads." This not only gets the staff involved, but the books also serve as a display.

Working with local businesses in the area is also a crucial. "There’s nothing in your community that you don’t have something for in your store," echoed Elizabeth Rowson, head buyer of Books & Co. in Dayton, Ohio, another panel member. Charity auctions, home-schooling nights, wine tastings, and corporate sales are just some of the ways this store stays in touch with its surroundings.

"An event is not just a single happening, it’s an opportunity to connect your customers with everything else your store is doing," Rowson added. The visual presentation of titles is an important factor in drawing attention to a store. She noted that a simple sign reading "Exciting New Author" gets the attention of customers while offering the retailers a low-cost, effective marketing tool.

A spirited panel of successful independent booksellers shared their ideas for creating, planning, and executing better in-store events at "Making Your Everyday In-Store Events More Irresistible and Profitable." Moderator P.J. Campbell, director of events at John Wiley & Sons, told the group that booksellers must have a pulse not only on what’s going on in their stores, but in their communities as well.

For Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, events are just about an everyday occurrence. The store hosts hundreds per year. "Events are a commitment, not just an aside," she stated. She believes her store is a community center, which makes the store a consumer destination. "We try to make people feel like they are part of [our] events. It makes the store an exciting place to be," she added.

Book Passage has partnered with businesses and organizations that range from restaurants to local banks. In fact, each month Petrocelli provides her picks to the Bank of Marin, which, in turn, displays them at all branches of the bank. In addition, when bank customers open a new account or deposit $1,000 or more into an existing account, they receive a coupon for 10 percent off their total purchase at Book Passage.

A key in-store event for Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store is a literary series. Margaret Maupin, buyer and events director, noted that one series on spirituality books, which was held Sundays at 3:00 p.m. "was like church for some people." The store enlisted the help of priests, rabbis, Buddhists, and wiccans, to name a few.

Other series have included a Monday poetry series and a Rocky Mountain land series, which focuses on everything from bird watching and nature to dinosaur sculpting. For the most recent "Authors Respond to Readers" series, where four authors visit Tattered for the entire day, all 150 tickets sold in two hours. "If the author and the audience are happy, we’re successful," Maupin noted.

Get the word out about events any way you can advised Annette Muir, marketing manager at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati. Teaming with radio and television stations is one aspect of in-store events that she believes should not be overlooked. The store averages three to four book signings per week as well as other nonbook events.

"Form a partnership with anyone in your community who can help you promote books," noted Nancy Olsson, owner of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina. One successful partnership involved local book clubs. Two times a year the store invites the clubs to choose their books at the store for next year’s reading lists. She also involves the store staff by asking them to make some recommendations and to share their picks with the clubs.

Olsson characterized it as a win-win situation since the store gains visibility and sales, while the invitation make the clubs feel special. Another successful marketing tool is Quail Ridge’s e-mail newsletter, which Olsson calls, "the most effective thing we’ve done." One item noted in that newsletter was a wine tasting event centered around Wiley’s Exploring Wine, for which all the wine was paid for by the publisher. "Use your resources and be creative," Olsson said, "and you don’t always need an author."

A full-service restaurant provides the backdrop for several author events at Book Mark Café in Oyster Bay, New York. Owner Daria Lamb said that she believed booksellers have to establish a relationship with their customers. Once that is in place, build events around them, she advised.

Lamb, too, relies on local book clubs for sales and looks to her publishers to help fulfill this need. She advises calling for advance copies for book groups. Distributing them to book club members can create a buzz about a particular book while making the members feel like insiders. "It costs you nothing, and people in the group are impressed," she added.

Author Martin Goldsmith (The Inextinguishable Symphony, Wiley) rounded out the panel and provided a unique perspective. The only bad events he had been involved in were the ones that lacked preparation. Happily, he noted that it’s always nice to be the focus of an event and to be welcomed by booksellers. -- Stephanie Shea