Bookseller Cynthia Compton, owner of Indianapolis’s 4 Kids Books & Toys, told a room of approximately 75 booksellers and librarians during the BEA Day of Education that organizing in-store events is a lot like going on a field trip to the zoo in first grade: “You need a buddy.” Children’s bookstores are expected to hold a full roster of in-store events, she explained, which takes a lot of physical energy, as well as emotional energy. That’s why it’s important to strategize when organizing events. “Find partners, find friends. Don’t do it by yourself,” she counseled.

Compton urged her audience to contact local nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies and ask them to co-sponsor specific store events. Also, she advised, make sure the co-sponsoring group, school, or corporation is in some way related to the topic or theme of the event. “It provides a designated audience for every event you do,” she said.

Throughout the session, Compton emphasized that nothing must be left to chance when planning an in-store event. Mapping out an event begins with deciding whether or not it will be a fundraising or a “funraising” event. “What is your goal?,” she asked, explaining that a fundraising event is obviously meant to raise money, while a “funraising” event should generate sales, but its true success is measured by how many people attend, how many names are added to the store’s database, and how many attendees return to the store. It’s important to maintain a balance between fundraising vs. “funraising” events, as well as essential to mix it up in terms of age-appropriateness, gender, and subject.

“Measure, measure, measure the outcome of everything you do,” Compton insisted, by using spreadsheets and compiling attendance statistics. “It’s helpful in evaluating future events. It’s helpful when talking to publishers. It makes a huge difference to track trends in your store.”

Compton disclosed that she has completely cut her print advertising budget in favor of passing out $5 gift cards to promote events. “Every place I go, I give away $5 gift cards,” she said, “I’m a true believer in gift cards as advertising.” A $500 print advertisement will bring in 16 people on average, she noted, but $500 in gift cards will bring in 50 people, whose names are then added to the database.

It’s not just gift cards that Compton uses to advertise her business. She also uses the events themselves to advertise her business to those who might otherwise not know about it. Instead of donating books to nonprofits the store supports that are holding fundraisers, 4Kids donates their holding offsite events. “It’s much more hands-on than just donating stuff,” she commented, “And everyone gets a gift card.”