Syracuse Booksellers Forum 'Energizing'

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On Wednesday, April 25, booksellers gathered at the Holiday Inn Carrier Circle in Syracuse, New York, for an American Booksellers Association Booksellers Forum and education program in conjunction with the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA).

"[The day] went really well," said Rob Stahl, the general book manager for Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton, New York. "There were 13 people there, it was a small, but dedicated group. There was great interaction between booksellers."

The program kicked off with a NAIBA update from Stahl, who reminded attendees about upcoming events, such as the NAIBA Trunk Show on June 20 and Booksellers Sales Conference in October, among other things.

Following Stahl's update, ABA CEO Avin Mark Domnitz presented "Participating in the Digital Revolution," an examination of the ways in which technology is changing how consumers gather information that was countered by practical ways in which independent bookstores can make the most of these new developments to reach out to their customers.

Patty Kutz of Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport, New York, told BTW that her bookstore recently celebrated its 35th year and the information provided by ABA over the years has been instrumental in helping the store reach that milestone. "I always listen to everything Avin has to say," she explained. "He spoke about how this is the age of information, and booksellers need to think about how they are going to participate in the digital revolution and how they are going to be affected."

"We aren't necessarily the 'early adopters,'" said Bill Reilly of the River's End Bookstore in Oswego, New York. "In the business world, obviously, there are some booksellers that are, but generally, booksellers come from a conservative, traditional background as far as business practices go. I've been hearing this from our younger booksellers at the store, 'You've got to do this, you've got to do that.'" Reilly said the digital session was "energizing. I added this to my list of things that have to be done."

Though the show earned thumbs up from attendees, Stahl noted that halfway through the digital session there was a power outage, but, he added, "Avin did a really good job and fortunately his laptop had batteries."

Reilly concurred. "Avin did a marvelous job of presenting the session to us [after the power went out]."

Following the digital session, booksellers gathered for lunch, where eventually, the power came back on. After the lunch, Domnitz led the Booksellers Forum & Strategic Planning session. Here, he provided information about the association's program and initiatives and gathered input from booksellers to help ABA formulate its next five-year strategic plan. Topics discussed at the forum included how to define core membership, publisher order minimums, and the importance of the Book Sense brand.

"Avin asked us if we thought [what constitutes ABA's] core membership group should be modified," Reilly said.

Stahl reported that there was some disagreement over what should constitute the core membership. "There was one online bookseller there," said Stahl, "and I said that 'independent' is the most important part. Some said ... it should be the storefronts. It was a good discussion, and there was no animosity. It was a matter of different perspectives."

Some attendees also brought up the issue of order minimums for certain titles. Stahl noted that he ordered a frontlist title from a major publisher that ended up "landing on a bestseller list." When the book failed to arrive, he called the publisher and found out the title "didn't show up because his order did not meet the minimum ...ordering two copies of a book doesn't guarantee you'll get the book."

Lift Bridge's Kutz said, as a bookseller with a smaller store, the minimum order issue is important to her, which is why she is glad to be a part of ABA. "When these issues are presented by our parent organization, it carries more clout with vendors."

After the forum, Domnitz and Erika Davis of Creekside Books in Skaneateles, New York, presented "Handselling: Customer Service With Results," which focused on attracting and training good handsellers, integrating handselling into marketing efforts, and ensuring that customers walk away with a unique and positive shopping experience.

"It's good to be reminded of the basics and handselling is just that," said Reilly. "If we're not brushing up on those skills, we'll lose our way. [Handselling] sets us apart. It's that passion."

"I think of all the many wonderful things that ABA does for us, and getting booksellers a chance to get together is very helpful," said Kutz, "because when you are running a business by yourself, you don't have any feedback." --David Grogan