While ABA Winter Institute has become renowned for its roster of author appearances, inspiring keynotes, and rooms full of galleys, the annual gathering also provides indie booksellers with workshops and panels designed for stores of different sizes and specialties, including children’s booksellers. Below are some ideas gleaned at this year’s Wi11, held in Denver January 23–26.
Martin Lindstrom’s Sunday breakfast keynote: “Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends”
• The “instant gratification generation” provides indie booksellers with their “biggest opportunities” – such as customers making last-minute purchases before birthday parties their children are attending.
• Build your brand by mining the small data about your customers. Observing customers’ browsing habits yields important information. Take note of generational differences in browsing behavior. “Small data is about correlation.”
• “You are community centers: you should own that conversation.” Keep your customer engaged: inside the store, outside, in the greater community, and via social media.
• Booksellers are curators and the discovery process is “incredibly” important: the fewer books on display, the more you sell.
• “Don’t stay in your store. Get out and understand your customers.” Visit your customers at home, browse their bookshelves, converse with them about books, and also how and why they shop online.
• Consider “adjacencies,” whether it’s in displaying books and complementary sidelines such as plush toys, or taking full advantage of the browsers spilling over into the store from neighboring businesses.
• “You help people transition from their busy lives. That’s what you are selling.” Create an ambiance inside the store that prompts customers to make that transition as soon as they enter the store.
• Make your store accessible to customers so that they feel “empowered” rather than intimidated when entering and browsing inside the store.
Amy Cuddy’s Monday breakfast keynote: “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges”
• It is important to remain present in the face of challenges: believe your story; convey confidence without arrogance; communicate harmoniously. “Be your authentic self.”
• Presence is about power. “It is easier to be present when you feel personally powerful.”
• Your words should align with your body language. “Your body language doesn’t only speak to others: it speaks to you.”
• “Fake it until you become it.”
• Cuddy quoted from Maya Angelou, “Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper at a surprise appearance at Monday’s breakfast at which he proclaimed January 25, 2016 Joyce Meskis Day, in honor of the Tattered Cover Book Store owner
• Good customer service is essential; it is important to “put yourself in the other’s shoes” when providing customer service.
• Do not praise a customer’s purchase when ringing it up: the next customer in line might be offended if his or her purchase also does not receive a compliment from you.
ABC Presents: Partnering for Diversity: Working with School Title 1 Coordinators
Moderated by Angie Tally, manager of The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, N.C., this panel included Missy Matthews, a Title 1 Coordinator in a Denver-area public school system, as well as Anne Menon, school orders coordinator, and Shelly Wilhelm, both with The Bookies in Denver.
• The panelists agree: it’s all about relationships.
• Think bigger than simply Title 1, but also think of Title 1 as opportunities to “put great literature in the hands” of school children, Matthews noted.
• Reach out to teachers, who come into store and to media specialists at schools before contacting Title 1 coordinators. The most important thing is to build relationships with teachers, as they are the most permanent personnel in any school district.
• Get to know school secretaries and principals as well.
• Booksellers in the store should have specialties to better assist teachers, such as geography or readers for the 1st and 2nd grades.
• It is essential to understand the needs of teachers, Matthews noted, “because diversity is such a big thing.” She said that teachers need guidance, because there is so much curriculum writing going on now.” Teachers are rethinking texts used in the classroom.
• Menon and Wilhelm at The Bookies urged booksellers to “deliver what you say you will deliver” to teachers and to designate a staff person as the school ordering person at your store.
• “Catalogs aren’t enough,” Menon and Wilhelm said. Understand teachers’ needs, and put together packages for them that take into account diversity, as well as reading levels and proficiencies.
• Bring teachers into the store. Host open houses for teachers, and teacher nights, at the store.
• The Bookies is considering advertising itself to schools in the area by attending meet & greet events at the schools and attending educational conferences.
• Host book fairs inside the store. Wilhelm said, “It brings children and their parents into the store. It’s amazing how few of them have been to a bookstore before.
• Connect authors to students; facilitate personal visits by authors to schools.
• Partner with media specialists to convince principals to host authors. Convince publishers to send authors into your local schools.
• Tally said that she informs publishers when schools agree to buy copies of books in bulk for distribution to students – to suggest they send the author for an event who will also sign the books.
• Before selling Title 1 books to teachers, confirm the terms with publishers. Bookstores receive discounts from some publishers, if the books are to be donated. Tally passes that discount on to the schools.
• Audience member Jesica DeHart of Bookpeople in Moscow, Idaho, suggested giving f&gs to Title 1 teachers and to school media specialists, as “they have staplers” and can make regular books out of them.
• Fellow bookseller and PW blogger Elizabeth Bluemle’s [booklist on Librarything] http://www.librarything.com/catalog/shelftalker was recommended as a great resource for good books with multicultural characters, but which don’t necessarily fit the criteria for Title 1 selections.
• “Teachers are overwhelmed: if you help them, they will talk you up to other teachers,” said Beth Stroh, a former teacher who is opening Viewpoint Books in Columbus, Ind.
ABC Presents: Inventory Maintenance and Turns for Children’s Series
This panel with Justin Colussy-Estes at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga.; Sara Grochowski at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich.; Sarah Hutton at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash.; and Tegan Tigani (moderator) at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, was packed. Judith Lafitte, co-owner of Octavia Books in New Orleans, called it “the best” workshop she attended at Winter Institute.
• “If we commit to a series,” Grochowski said, “we commit to the entire series.” That commitment is affected by the books in the school library. The store tries not to overlap.
• By contrast, Colussy-Estes said that his store would be overrun by series if they did that. “A good rule of thumb,” he advised, “is to carry books 1, 2, 3, and the latest book.” He alphabetizes the books by series name.
• With rapid replenishment, Hutton noted that booksellers don’t need to keep more than minimal back stock for series titles. She arranges series by their intended age. “It’s almost a rite of passage,” she said, “if you’re reading on the other side [of the section].”
• One bookseller asked how to figure out the titles in a series in order, something that isn’t always easy. The responses varied from Wikipedia to Amazon and Goodreads. The conversation carried over to the Town Hall, where someone in the audience recommended the FantasticFiction.co.uk web site. (A PW favorite is Mid-Continent Public Library’s exhaustive Juvenile Series and Sequels list.)
• As to how to decide when it’s time to remove a series and try something else, Grochowski looks at sales over time and considers why the first book might be selling but not the rest, which can mean it’s time to let the series fade away. At Village Books, Hutton said that if she sees that the first two books in the series have sold, she’ll check the shelf to see if book three was mis-shelved.
• Colussy-Estes warned booksellers not to neglect the standalones in the middle grade section. His rule of thumb about where to shelve is: “What’s going to make that kid excited about finding that book?”
Minimum Wage Update: Advocacy and Implementation
Becky Anderson at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill.; Jarek Steele at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Mo.; Tracy Taylor at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle; Michael Tucker at Books Inc. in San Francisco, and Pete Mulvihill (moderator) at Green Apple Books in San Francisco discussed the issues for booksellers surrounding minimum wage, which is already on a rising trajectory on the West Coast.
• Steele, who would like to see minimum wage tied to the cost of living, said that for his store to pay $15/hour it would have to sell 41 more books a day. The store currently provides free health insurance, which adds $2.85 to wages, and it has raised salaries.
•Tucker said that the jury is still out on what $15/hour will do to small businesses; Berkeley is looking at $19. His biggest concern is how fast it is raised. “It’s a little bit like boiling frogs,” he said, adding that the store is committed to not having anyone losing their job or benefits.
• Christin Evans at Booksmith in San Francisco and Kepler’s in Menlo Park suggested asking a disinterested party who is good with numbers to help go over the books to see what can be cut to get to $15/hour. She also renegotiated Booksmith’s rent to less than the owner had wanted, so that she could meet wage increases.
• Mulvihill said that he’s switched payroll companies and credit card companies to lower expenses. He’s also doubled down on the “shop local” message and tried to get the word out that people who shop at Amazon are voting for $9/hour versus $15 at indies.
• Taylor said that she shares the store’s financial situation with staff at quarterly meetings. After a new hire, who had accepted a starting wage of $9.50/hour, told her that he wouldn’t work there if his wages weren’t increased to $15, she said that she has begun to think more about what a bookseller is worth.
• Unlike the other panelists, who were concerned about how quickly minimum wage hikes are put into effect, Anderson would like to see the minimum wage raised immediately from $8.25, which she regards as too low, even though it is the highest in the Midwest.
Bookselling 101: The When, How & Why of Returns
Jenny Cohen at Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, Ore.; Adrian Newell at Warwick’s in La Jolla, Calif.; Kate Schlademan at The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, Oh.; and Jonathon Welch (moderator) at Talking Leaves...Books in Buffalo, spoke about how their stores handle returns.
• At Warwick’s, returns are pulled before the end of the year and before each buying cycle. Newell recommended taking a page from organizer Marie Kondo: “Is this book bringing you joy?” she asked. “The other side [of that] is: Is it earning money?”
• Cohen, who tries to pull each section once a year,” asks, “Is [the book] paying its rent?” She does the same thing for gifts, which she marks down significantly since they are nonreturnable. She’s found that less inventory really is more. “Whenever we pull a section, sales will increase,” she said.
• “I see returns as an exciting thing,” Schlademan said, “rather than a failure. It means I gave some things a chance.” From her years doing inventory, including seven at Borders, she warned, “Don’t fall in love with your inventory.” And she said that inevitably as soon as you pull a section, someone will request one of the books you pulled.
For more coverage of Winter Institute 11, see Kwame Alexander Becomes the 'Say Yes Guy' at the Show, Winter Institute 11 in Photos, and Winter Institute 11: Children’s Authors, Presses, Books Share the Stage.