On Thursday, July 2, the American Booksellers Association hosted a Marketing Meetup that featured six guest speakers from small bookstores, who shared what works for their stores in a variety of marketing areas, including social media, newsletters, events, and general marketing.
Guest speakers included:
- Bob Lingle, Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, Lakewood, New York
- E. Jean Pemberton Jones, Enda’s Booktique, Duncanville, Texas
- Meghan Hayden, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, Connecticut
- Chelsea Elward, Booked, Evanston, Illinois
- Lexi Walters, High Five Books, Florence, Massachusetts
Here are some of the key points from the session:
Off the Beaten Path
- Lingle’s background is in marketing, so the first thing that he did when he took over the store was change its logo. He also changed the store’s tone of voice to one that was more sarcastic and transparent, in addition to emphasizing customer service and accessibility.
- Lingle increased the use of social media, pushed for stronger public relations, and began sending frequent email campaigns.
- For store branding, Lingle created a consistent, recognizable appearance for the store. For example, the URL and social media handles for the store all include “obpbooks.” He uses a select number of fonts and colors, and makes sure the store’s logo is on all marketing materials.
- For public relations, Lingle created a contact list for local news outlets. He built relationships by finding contacts (for example, booksellers can follow up with reporters that have covered the store in the past) and buying ads.
Hosting events helps in gaining news coverage, as can finding other ways to be newsworthy. Lingle noted that every time Off the Beaten Path is featured in an article, someone new finds out about the store.
- Lingle worked with a local interest reporter who includes family recipes with all articles in the food section of a newspaper. For his article, Lingle crowdsourced recipes from an indie bookstore Facebook group.
- Lingle prioritizes open and honest communication. At the end of every year, Lingle makes a budget so he’s aware of what he needs every month for the next year. He shares these goals on social media with his community, which helps boost sales. He posts a sales recap at the end of every year.
- Lingle recommended reaching out to other booksellers for social media tips; he’s done that and found success.
River Bend Bookstore
- River Bend is about 900 square feet and has been in business for about 18 months.
- Hayden has a background in human resources, and she noted her one superpower as an entrepreneur is a tolerance for bureaucracy. She doesn’t get intimidated by paperwork, process, or things like cold calling.
- The voice of her store is earnest and kind. Communications are only sent out when the store is clear on what the purpose of that communication is.
- River Bend has a brief newsletter that’s only sent out when the store has something to share or there’s an action customers should take. It starts with a short introduction to the shop (no more than two paragraphs) and then a short newsletter. It is hosted through Constant Contact.
- River Bend tracks the newsletter’s open rate (41 percent), in addition to the unsubscribe rate.
- For events, River Bend works with community spaces they have a partnership with, whether it’s a church or a synagogue, school, local gardening club, etc. This helps increase audience and exposure for the event, and avoid awkward situations where no one shows up.
- Booked, a primarily children’s bookstore, is 750 square feet and has been open for three years.
- Booked’s tone is happy.
- Elward hired a designer for the logo, who also designed store bookmarks, which are used to market the store. She recommends paying extra for special bookmarks, as they can make a store more memorable to customers. She puts stickers with her store’s logo on all books that are shipped, and the logo appears on gift cards, business cards, and bags.
- Elward said that her best marketing tool is the store’s “small door,” an idea she got from Wild Rumpus bookstore. Customers always mention it. Elward partnered with a local illustrator who drew on the door.
- For community events, Booked has branded tablecloths so customers can recognize the store.
- Booked sends out a newsletter and utilizes social media. Elward has found she gets more engagement with personal posts than if she posts a book by itself.
- Elward promotes shops in her local community. This encourages people from all over to visit as well as other businesses to promote her store.
- Booked has a strong return policy, and Elward hasn’t experienced any customers abusing it.
- Enda’s Booktique opened on June 1. It’s about 750 square feet.
- Jones has a background in education, both in teaching and in being a “career student.” She teaches GED prep for math and has set up a reading room in her school to help students develop skills in core subjects. After visiting Square Books, she fell in love with the bookselling industry and resolved to start a bookstore that primarily features women writers and women in STEM.
- She calls her store the “woman cave,” and noted that it’s eccentric, colorful, and cozy. She decided to focus on women because she found in her research that women writers are often not the focus or the emphasis in bookstores.
- To market her store, she’s focused on the “three R’s,” which are reach, readiness, and relationships.
- When she started the bookstore, she reached out to local librarians for book recommendations. These recommendations will be posted as a social media campaign along with the librarian’s picture.
- Jones noted that reaching the right customers is always possible if booksellers have the right relationships.
- She requests that friends and family repost her store’s posts once a week to increase her audience. This has resulted in her store being covered by news outlets nearly every day since her opening.
- Jones partners with book clubs, and will create marketing materials to increase engagement.
High Five Books
- High Five is a 300-square-foot children’s bookstore that has been open for six months. It shares its overall 600-square-foot space with an in-house art school that has been in business for 18 years. The store will be moving around the corner to a place that’s twice as large, as its small space is not sustainable for two businesses.
- In addition to offering kids’ art classes, the store’s art space offers a “drop-in art experience.” Walters noted that pre-coronavirus, the store’s art partner would debut a new art project every Saturday morning that allowed caretakers and children to stop by and make art for $5.
- The store partners with illustrators for in-store projects and social media posts. The store has a wall with frames where illustrators can draw characters in the frames.
- High Five has appeared on podcasts to discuss children’s books and bookselling.
- Being part of the local community is extremely important to High Five. The store hasn’t spent any money yet on advertising, and has instead worked to get its feet on the ground in its community through sponsoring community theater and high school programs.
- High Five works directly with public and private educational institutions to source books. When Smith College Campus School received a grant specifically for new fiction by BIPOC authors, the store worked with the school to curate a collection of books; this list was also posted to High Five’s Bookshop page.
- High Five offers a text option for customers who might not feel comfortable requesting books in-store.
- On social media, High Five focuses on “delighting” families by posting humorous content.
- Partnering with other businesses is helpful. High Five worked with a local popsicle company for Pride Month, which featured a book/popsicle bundle for families.
A recording of the session can be found on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org.