To walk into the 5,000-square-foot book room of the Stephen Young showroom in Los Angeles’s Gift Mart is to feel the atmosphere of an old-fashioned library decorated with vintage globes and bird cages, where tables and chairs are arranged to give browsers a chance to sit and relax while deciding what to buy for their stores.
None of these customers, however, own bookstores. Rather, their businesses are specialty stores, and thanks to the efforts and creativity of Young’s 24 sales reps, all of whom live in their territories on the West Coast, they are now stocking and selling books that complement the theme of their stores. Young’s reps call on “thousands” of specialty stores that range from gift and stationery to housewares and art supplies. “We’re also doing very well now with our corporate customers, especially the hotels and resorts we provide books to,” says Kay West, who has been Young’s Los Angeles rep for 20 years. “We’re now in both the Bel Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel, and they’re always shocked by how well they do with books.” A typical book assortment for hotel accounts might include What I Know Now, A Gift from the Sea, The Art of the Handwritten Note, F in Exams, and The Gratitude Journal.
Founder Stephen Young has been in the wholesale gift business for more than 45 years and began carrying books in 1989; his first two lines were Rizzoli and Chronicle. Today the company represents 19 major publishers and all of their corresponding imprints and distributed lines as well as such paper products as Moleskine. The book room is arranged by publisher and within that by category, with most titles faced out and easy to see. The minimum order on a title is between six and 12 copies, depending on the book. Young says that two of his hottest categories are children’s books, which account for 18% of sales, and food and cooking. “Our other big categories are pop culture, humor, quotations, art, and trivia. Farts Around the World, Name That Movie, and Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves are a few of our bestselling titles,” West adds.
Those who work at Stephen Young describe themselves as “book junkies.” “There is a validity to books,” says Lisa Elliot, visual merchandiser for the showroom. “They’re impulse gift purchases, an intelligent shopping choice. Books say a lot about both the giver and the recipient. They have intrinsic value.”
The gift side of Young’s showroom is another 8,500 square feet and features a warren of rooms that display classic and contemporary design items, jewelry, personal care products, and much more. Traditional bookstores are allowed to buy gift merchandise from Young; many of these purchases are made at the semiannual Gift Show in Los Angeles, where the company has a large presence.
Greg Salmeri, who owns the gardening and home decor shop Rolling Greens, now also sells books. “When we were in the planning stages of our new store in Los Angeles, Kay insisted that books needed to be a large component,” Salmeri says. “She recommended that a book table would be a warm and inviting addition to the store, and personally selected the entire book collection. It has been an overwhelming success. We now have three book tables with titles that are constantly in rotation.”
Young’s book sales have increased nearly 15% in the past year, due in part to sluggish sales of other product lines sold in the specialty market, with stores compensating for those declines by adding books to their inventory. The concentrated sales coverage provided by Young’s reps to the seven western states the company sells to has also helped. Where a large trade publisher may now have only two or three book reps calling on accounts in California, for instance, Young sends 20 reps out to see specialty stores up and down the state.
In choosing books, West looks for either a great title or a visually outstanding cover on a book, both of which, for instance, she finds in Naughty Little People Postcards, which contains 21 detachable cards. “But we don’t get enough titles for our specialty stores, and publishers should realize the huge market for books there—non-Kindle books in particular—and return to the old concepts. We can sell a lot of nonreligious inspirational titles, but it seems that category has drifted away and there are more trendy, edgy books. The market still needs the other, like The Art of Being a Woman. Gift books can also create emotions.”