“I know I’m biased, but [GLiBA’s] children’s programming just rocked this year,” said Great Lakes independent Booksellers Association president Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Indianapolis and Fishers, Ind. “I am continually encouraged by the amount of programming, conversation, and buzz that children’s lit creates at our bookseller events. It’s fun to be part of the in crowd as children’s books continue to show growth and profitability in our stores.”
Children’s books were fully integrated this year’s GLiBA trade show, which was held from October 8-10 at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Mich. The opening book and author lunch kicked off with Blue Balliett’s slide presentation of her latest book, The Danger Box (Scholastic). The show ended with a children’s book and author brunch at which Mem Fox commented on the last week’s New York Times story on the demise of picture books. “As long as babies live, the picture book lives,” she said. Fox even got the room counting along with her as she read her new book aloud, Let’s Count Goats! (Simon & Schuster).
Jennifer Holm, author of Turtle in Paradise (Random House); Laurie Keller, author of Birdy’s Smile Book (Holt), and Richard Peck, author of Three-Quarters Dead (Dial) also spoke at the brunch, which contributed to GLiBA’s strong finish. “To me the highlight was the brunch with children’s authors,” said Robert McDonald, a bookseller in the children’s department at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill. "In terms of inspiration it was great."
Suzy Takacs, owner of the Book Cellar in Chicago, said, “I thought it was a great show. There was a lot of positive energy, and bookseller attendance was up.” As Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., noted, it was a real reversal of trends in recent years. Not only was bookseller registration up 12%, but there were a number of first-timers like Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Café, a new and used genre bookstore scheduled to open at the end of this month in Farmington, Mich.
Although change was obviously in the air with the formal changeover in leadership from founding member Jim Dana to new executive director Deborah Leonard, much of the programming emphasized bookselling tips. At a workshop on Best Marketing Ideas for the Buck, Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville and Downers Grove, Ill., offered an easy way to encourage being green: BYOB (or Bring Your Own Bag). Every time a person uses their own bag, the store places a marble in a glass bowl and then donates 10 cents to charity for each marble.
Additional marketing suggestions focused on using customer loyalty programs to boost sales. Terry Whittaker, owner of Viewpoint Books in Indianapolis, sends thank-you notes to customers who spend a certain dollar level over the course of a year. He also pens a we-miss-you letter to those whose purchasing has dropped off. To get customers to sign up for email lists and to participate in loyalty programs, Compton recommended getting customers to share information indirectly. For example, she asks customers if she can send them a coupon and what e-mail address to use. Kelli Gleiner, events and party coordinator for Blue Manatee Books in Cincinnati, said that as a result of the panel, the store is contemplating revamping its frequent shopper program.
Another standout educational session for Gleiner was the kids' buzz panel, where she looks for books she might have missed. One of the big picks was Rob Buyea’s newly released Because of Mr. Terupt (Delacorte). All five panelists—Compton, McDonald, Camile DeBoer of Pooh’s Corner in Grand Rapids, Mich., Rose Joseph of Magic Tree Book Store in Oak Park, Ill., and Dave Richardson of Blue Marble in Ft. Thomas, Ky.—vied beforehand over who would get to present it.
For those looking to dive into sidelines for the first time or add more, three panelists (Compton; Tom Lowry of Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers and Sturgis, Mich.; and Karyn Stetz of Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor) offered suggestions on what to carry based on what’s selling now. Lowry, who has the equivalent of a small toy store inside his bookstores, said that in today’s shopping environment the one thing that gets customers to come back is an experience or a memory. For him, that’s what toys like Rubber Bandz and Sea Monkeys are all about. He also sells thousands of mood rings and mood bracelets to children and grown-ups, and models to fathers and grandfathers determined to keep model-making alive.
Because Nicola’s customers are strong supporters of the Shop Local movement, Stetz said that she tries to choose locally made sidelines, which have the added value of alleviating shipping costs. Among her top sellers are scented pens, chocolate, especially truffles, and a retro 1951 rollerball pen. Compton, who does 48% of her business in toys, 52% in books, will only carry toys that turn 6.2 times. “Do not let sidelines get stale,” Compton said. “People want to know what’s different, what’s fresh. They’re like fish in the refrigerator; it’s bad.” To help get those kinds of turns, Compton has trained her staff to suggest that people who come in for a birthday present buy a book and a toy or a book and a treat. Among the sidelines she displayed was one straight from the manufacturer, a charm that fits on a Rubber Bandz. She also does a Rubber Bandz swap day once a week.
Even with the show’s can-do spirit and upbeat vibe, GLiBA is not without many of the same downward pressures that affected other regionals this year. Overall attendance at the show was 429, which represented a drop of 5%, and membership decreased for the year ending March 31, from 392 to 320. The association lost $40,000 last year and projects a loss of $67,600 for the current fiscal year; it is in the midst of restructuring to reduce its budget, staff, and board. Some GLiBA members have also seen their businesses decline. Viewpoint had a difficult year, said Whittaker, who terms his drop in sales “not insignificant. The e-book situation is troubling and it too has an impact.” By contrast, Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor has benefited from the closing of Shaman Drum in the summer of 2009. It’s doing especially well, according to head adult book buyer Bill Cusumano.
Next year the GLiBA trade show will return to Dearborn.