The American Booksellers Association recently presented a Marketing Meetup focused on best practices for marketing non-book items to customers.
The June 6 Marketing Meetup, hosted by ABA on Zoom.us, was titled “Best Practices for Marketing Sidelines” and featured guest speakers Kim Saltzstein of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona; Nicole Sullivan of BookBar in Denver, Colorado; and Zach Matelski of McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan, with additional information provided on behalf of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California.
Saltzstein said that while Changing Hands does not necessarily do a lot of marketing toward gifts, they are still a large part of the store’s overall sales. “It varies throughout the year,” she said, “but during the holidays it can be up to 50 percent of our sales.”
One of the ways Changing Hands does market gifts is through events. During the holidays, Changing Hands transforms its children’s section into a toy store/Santa’s workshop, she added. The store also holds a succulent planting party for Mother’s Day.
Some of the most popular gift items at Changing Hands are journals, cards, socks, Meriwether mugs, and jewelry. The kids’ toy section continues to grow for the store as well, Saltzstein said, noting, “We’re losing a lot of toy stores and there aren’t a lot of resources as far as places parents can go to buy toys, so we’re really trying to grow that business.”
In the kitchen section of Changing Hands, Saltzstein said the store partners books with gadgets, which drives sales for those non-book items.
To market gifts online, Changing Hands primarily uses social media. “We use Instagram as our social media platform,” Saltzstein said. “Our strongest push is on books, but we do post in regard to new gift items that either speak to an event we’re having or are what we call feel-good purchases, where it goes toward some kind of charity.”
For items that don’t prove to be popular sellers, “Our philosophy is to just mark it down and get rid of that so we can recoup our dollars and get something new in,” Saltzstein said, noting that the store will wait three months to see if a gift sells. If it doesn’t, Changing Hands will move it around the store to find opportunities for sale in different places.
Finding popular gift items sometimes takes creativity, Saltzstein added. “Think outside the box. Use your sales reps,” she said, noting that she was a sales rep for a number of years herself. “They want you to be successful. They want you to have the right mix of merchandise in your stores, so I rely on my sales reps to keep me up to date as to what they’re seeing as a trend in the marketplace. Just have fun and be creative with what you’re doing.”
Like Changing Hands, Sullivan said, BookBar’s biggest focus is books. Recently, the store has recognized that it has more opportunities to grow non-book sales through marketing, which it is now trying to do. “Our sidelines are less than 10 percent of our revenue currently,” Sullivan said, “but that includes bar sales as well.”
Right now, Sullivan said, BookBar primarily focuses on literary or bar items as far as non-book items are concerned. The store stocks tea accessories, mugs, author candles, cards, journals, and novelty pens.
“Most of our marketing is focused on the books, but I see opportunity in marketing our sidelines as well, and doing things that we’re not currently doing,” Sullivan noted. “Like our newsletter — our sidelines don’t currently have a presence in our newsletter yet, but I’m going to play with that this week. They don’t really have a presence on our website either, but this session made me question that.”
BookBar also does a lot of pairings with books to market sidelines, which Sullivan posts to Instagram. She added that Instagram is one of the best ways to market sidelines because it allows people to see a photograph of what the item looks like.
BookBar also does tie-ins by pairing items with glasses of wine, or if they’re showcasing a mug, they’ll put coffee in it. “We like to keep it relevant. We don’t ever want someone to walk in and say, ‘Is this a gift store or a bookstore?’”
“We’ve found that just moving things around tends to sell them faster,” Sullivan added regarding products that might not be moving as expected. “We have a lot of regulars in our store all the time and they get used to seeing the same things. Just moving things around a little bit, changing up the sections, makes it new to them all of a sudden.”
To track sales, Sullivan has started running monthly and quarterly reports. “We’ve been sitting down with our sidelines buyer to see what our best sellers are for that particular month or quarter, and to see what’s not working,” she said.
One of the things that hasn’t been working so well, Sullivan noted, is tech items. BookBar noticed that customers were always asking to borrow a charger or headphones, and the store saw a potential opportunity in stocking those items. “It turns out,” she said, “people only really want to borrow [those items].”
“Looking at those reports,” Sullivan said, “really helps us frame what we’re doing and gives us feedback as to what we’re doing and what’s not working, and then we adjust our sales based on that.”
McLean & Eakin, Matelski said, also focuses on books rather than non-book items, but sidelines are still a successful part of their business. The store asks its staff about items they’re interested in or excited about and chooses what to stock based on their suggestions.
“We sell a variety of different sidelines at the store,” Matelski said, “from greeting cards to board games to vinyl.” Most recently, board games, which the store began carrying about a year ago, have been a big hit, he added.
“We had a hobby shop in town that closed, so I wanted to catch those customers,” Matelski said. “We brought in games from Alliance Games Distributors. They’re the biggest board game supplier in the U.S.”
Since then, sales have grown and the store has developed events programming around the items. Said Matelski, “Now we have a bigger space in-store for board games, and we have monthly game nights where we get a lot of people into the store.”
The game nights, Matelski said, are how McLean & Eakin markets the games themselves. The store posts the events to Facebook and its website to get people in the store. “We’re now selling games like Gloomhaven,” he added, “which costs $150 a game. There’s nowhere else in town for people to get together and play games, so we’re operating as a space in the community and raising awareness that we carry games and we’re excited about them.”
To keep things fresh, Matelski said, McLean & Eakin rotates the games section often. He also noted that the games are really easy to hand-sell if the staff is pumped about them, saying, “I’m trying to get the staff interested and excited in different ways; that way, they can go over and talk to the people in that section.
“We’re also constantly posting about the new games on social media,” Matelski said. “Our strategy is mostly showcasing new things that are coming in and getting everyone excited about the things that we carry.”
Other than board games, another non-book item that does well at McLean & Eakin is Blackwing Pencils, Matelski noted. The store stocks pencils, sharpeners, and journals from that brand’s line.
“We track our success of sideline sales by tracking the sales by vendor. We don’t have a lot of space in-store, so we change things out quite frequently,” Matelski added, noting that popular items usually get moved to the main sales floor, which has more space. “It helps us keep track of what to reorder and when to reorder. If something’s doing well, we’ll keep it around. If something’s not moving, then we’ll get rid of it.”
Vroman’s also provided information about its non-book inventory, which makes up 35 percent of the stores sales. Socks have been the store’s strongest item for the last few years, and they come in a variety of themes, which makes it easy for customers to find something that works for them.
Similar to the three guest speakers, Vroman’s mainly markets non-book items on Instagram, and the store’s holiday catalog is where it makes the biggest push for gift products. The store also markets non-book products on social media around holidays and gift-buying occasions, such as graduation season, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.
Vroman’s also creates themed displays in-store by the cash wrap and on endcaps near bookshelves.
One topic that came up during the meetup was loss prevention. The guest speakers advised that stores keep their gift items near the front of the stores, where booksellers can keep a careful watch, and booksellers should also walk around the store as often as possible. Saltzstein and Matelski added that looking customers in the eye and offering assistance can help booksellers to make their presence in the store known.
Booksellers who would like to participate in the next 30-minute Marketing Meetup, which will be held on June 20 and cover how bookstores can use IngramSpark to offer printing and publishing services to their communities, can sign up on BookWeb.org. All ABA members are invited to join. Meetups are held at 11:00 a.m. ET on two Thursdays a month.
Visit BookWeb.org to learn more about past and upcoming Meetups. ABA’s Marketing Meetups are part of the organization’s educational offerings for member bookstores; visit BookWeb’s Education Resources section for even more educational content.