Innovative Ideas From Bookseller Brainstorming at Wi10

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Here is an array of great ideas to help foster bookstores as hubs of creativity, community, and activity, all gleaned from the bookseller discussion groups at Winter Institute 10.

The brainstorming sessions took place following science and technology writer Steven Johnson’s plenary talk, “How We Got to Now,” where he told booksellers their stores act as engines of curiosity for readers and book buyers.

Each discussion group was led by a member of the American Booksellers Association’s Board of Directors with help from members of the Booksellers Advisory Council, who were tasked with recording booksellers’ ideas.

Here are some of booksellers’ suggestions:

Take Inspiration From Your Community

  • Establish pop-up stores in office buildings, junior high schools, and community theaters
  • Ask a sommelier from a local wine shop to choose wines to pair with specific books and do a wine/book display in both stores
  • Ask local educators to recommend books in their area of expertise to help booksellers become better curators for the store’s student customers
  • Try collaborations with producers and sellers of local food, who tend to make purchasing decisions on the basis of localism and quality, not solely over price
  • Get book recommendation lists from local experts (therapists for the self-help section, business owners for business, animal service providers for pet books, chefs from local restaurants for cookbook recommendations) and post the lists in relevant store sections
  • Give local business mavens, public figures, and topical experts their own shelves
  • Partner with schools that receive grant money to purchase books or to promote literacy
  • Build relationships with other local businesses through shop local initiatives and projects such as Find Waldo Local and Small Business Saturday
  • Offer education programs, summer and/or seasonal camps, and travel programs; partner with movie theaters, drama circles or theater groups, libraries or teachers, and other retailers such as restaurants, yoga studios, and greenhouses
  • Maintain a theater section, especially if your town has a thriving local theater community or popular school theater program

Use Technology

  • Use Square Readers and smart phones to ring up a customer’s books in place without the customer having to go to a register and wait in line
  • Use smart phones or tablets on the sales floor to do research or locate books instead of guiding everyone to an information desk
  • Do a book giveaway through Facebook each week and post the winner each Friday morning, which will increase awareness for a particular book
  • Partner with schools by providing links on their websites for students to order books required for AP classes, which can be either picked up in store or delivered to the school
  • Don’t let technological innovation overwhelm your sense of priorities and let it take advantage of you; adapt to it and adapt it to you, and use it wisely
  • Explore restaurant-style scheduling systems that are “employee-driven,” as well as other employee management technology to create a wiki-style handbook/talking book for employees
  • Look into e-mail marketing services that send out invitations to customers for author events
  • Consider offering gift registries on your website
  • Consider offering low-cost shipping (for example, 99-cent shipping offered for online orders)

Make the Most of Social Media

  • Establish your store’s personality via multiple social media channels
  • Always remain interactive with your audience and listen to responses from users and friends to deepen connections
  • Solicit content from the demographic you are trying to target. Want millennials? Find some to write book reviews or take over your store’s Twitter account for a day
  • Start a weekly podcast to promote your store and its events to publishers and readers (use author events and other store-generated content for material)
  • Post videos of author events on YouTube
  • Post teen reviews on social media
  • Pursue creative use of social media to engage with customers and to help them identify with your store and what it stands for (not just for keeping them informed of upcoming events and promotions)
  • Use social media to ask customers what they want more of and what they like
  • Share content with other online partners
  • Post photos of cats on social media — whether you have a bookstore cat or not!

Brainstorm and Perform Market Research With Staff

  • Brainstorm with key staff on a biweekly basis
  • Let all staff members know that new ideas are welcome
  • Use Survey Monkey as a tool for staff to offer ideas or give feedback
  • Visit other stores for business ideas (not only bookstores)
  • Watch for developments in other geographical or book-related markets that may be at the forefront of new trends
  • Poke your head in other stores, take pictures, figure out what they are doing right or wrong; send employees to other stores to ask questions
  • Delegate specific responsibilities to staff to implement your store’s new innovative ideas

Build on “Slow Hunches”  

  • Gather information from peers, other retailers, and listen to anyone who might have information on an initiative your store is trying to launch
  • Be prepared for questions before introducing a new idea to staff and customers
  • Do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) on any new idea
  • Think about specific questions to pose to colleagues before attending any bookseller gatherings such as Winter Institute, BookExpo America, spring meetings and regional trade shows

Monetize the Bookstore Experience

  • Be creative in the different types of events you host (for example, book tastings — pairing books with food and wine; grown-up pajama party with a local distillery; men’s book group that meets at a local pizzeria or microbrewery)
  • Solicit city financial support: suggest a city-supported literary festival or get involved in city-supported library events
  • Seek out grants for events programming
  • Make the most of your real estate: create co-working space; rent out your store or portions of it as a meeting space; let schools rent your space for university classes; let your store serve as the box office for other venues; become a village post office by installing a kiosk for UPS
  • Provide babysitting services in store for $15 per hour but give babysitters a $15 voucher as part of a neighborhood shopping night
  • Offer your store as a concierge for book clubs; provide video trailers; host a movie night for book clubs to pick titles and serve wine
  • Consider developing a subscription program like Cratejoy

Ensure Your Store’s Big Changes Stick

  • Tell your customers about the changes you plan; they will hold you accountable
  • Keep your uniqueness intact, whether it’s the kinds of book clubs you run, your store pets, your displays, your community giveback projects, your leadership on censorship issues, your inventory itself, your staff, and/or your business practices
  • Every display must tell a story so always try to look at your store’s signage with fresh eyes
  • Keep book selection diverse and dynamic

Other Ways to Think Outside the Box

  • Help drive community conversation on race/multiculturalism by holding events and inviting local leaders
  • Start a Teen Advisory Group (send teen feedback to publishers and other customers; connect with other stores in your region; host YA author events)
  • Shop Swap: Offer bus service to customers (like senior citizen groups) between your shop and other businesses
  • Capitalize on the value of books by marketing them as an affordable luxury
  • Keep the physical book top-of-mind in a deliberate way by marketing some books as sidelines
  • Hire from the restaurant and hospitality industries (if, for example, you are opening a café)
  • Use local business resources such as MBA groups that might be interested in researching your business as a case study and then listen to their suggestions

If you have more ideas to add to this list, please share them with us.