At a time when e-books and e-tailers are capturing a greater portion of the bricks-and-mortar book market, sidelines have become essential for filling the void formerly occupied by books—and keeping cash registers ringing. So much so that when Eileen McGervey opened One More Page in Arlington, Va., in January, she knew that she wanted to have not just books but also wine and chocolate. “That was for people to have multiple reasons to come into the store,” she explains. So far, it’s paying off. Her book sales have been strong, and she’s bringing in more bottles of wine than some restaurants.
Established bookstores have long been attuned to the value of offering more than books. At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., gifts account for one quarter of sales, according to buyer Autumn Orndorff. The ratio is even higher at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., which has a 70/30 book and gift split. “We give our sidelines a lot of room because they have been very profitable for us,” says Vroman’s head gift and stationery buyer, Natalie Esser, for whom price point is not a factor as long as the quality is there. Even children’s stores like Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in LaVerne, Calif., which has sold toys from the start, have begun expanding their inventory to include clothing and other sidelines for adults.
To find out what nonbook items are working best, PW spoke with a baker’s dozen of booksellers. They discussed both the tried and true as well as new sidelines that could become modern classics like Bananagrams, which launched at the London Toy Fair five years ago.
Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, Mass.
According to manager and co-owner Dana Brigham, sidelines have continued to grow since they got their own “wing” in 1997. They now make up more than 20% of sales. “The original tagline was, From the Sublime to the Ridiculous,” says Brigham, who is willing to try just about everything but wind chimes. On the sublime side, Booksmith stocks laptop bags, scarves, and home accessories. But one of her favorites is the store’s first sideline, Squirting Goldfish from Accoutrements. “We like to surprise and have a sense of humor,” says Brigham, who has gotten photos from customers on vacation with their goldfish. One local blogger posted a photo of hers swimming in her washing machine/mini-koi pond.
Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Ariz.
“We definitely try to have a lot of things for lots of different people,” says gift buyer Autumn Orndorff. Among the store’s favorites are goofy hats that customers like to try on and snap photos of each other wearing. But this fall, after attending the Dallas Gift Show, Orndorff’s trying some new kitchen items. Two display units carry rollup Vapur Anti-Bottles, SlipperGenie cleaning slippers from Evriholder for adults and kids, and other household products. Many of the sidelines are up front in the store. For Orndorff they soften the “hard lines of books.” To identify bestselling gifts and make sure they are available, she restocks daily.
Copperfield’s Books, Sebastopol, Calif.
“I have a different challenge in that we have six stores in small towns, and I’m the only buyer. We try to make it varied so people get everyday things and gifts,” says Sharon Rompelman, sidelines buyer, who tries to keep prices low. “Having grown up here, I know what people will pay.” She changes sidelines displays every month. “More often is more work,” says Rompelman. “Too long, and the customer gets tired of it.” There are several sideline vendors who she says are her equivalent of Random House and Simon & Schuster: Pomegranate Communications, Seltzer Goods, Galison, Buckyballs, Palm Press, Mudlark, University Games, Green Toys, and Chronicle Books (gift division).
Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.
Jill Hendrix founded Fiction Addiction as a used bookstore 10 years ago and added new books and sidelines in 2006. At the SIBA fall show, she discovered All Things Small pendants with images of books. “We tried them for a Nicholas Sparks offsite event. He doesn’t sign any of his backlist, so we thought we’d sell them,” says Hendrix. It worked so well that she’s planning to order a mix of necklaces featuring classic titles to stock regularly.
The Globe Corner Bookstore, www.globecorner.com
Since Pat and Harriet Carrier closed their store in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., earlier this year, they continue to sell travel books and products online. Wall maps have always been an important part of their inventory, both for travelers and for immigrants who want a map of their home country. Pat recommends that booksellers, even small ones, consider carrying wall maps. “A small opening order of a dozen maps could put you into the business,” he says. “You don’t need a lot of space. The ideal is if you have some space to put the maps up.” Plus, he notes, it’s Kindle-, Nook-, and iPad-proof.
Ingram Book Company, LaVergne, Tenn.
Mary McCarthy, director of merchandising at Ingram Content, says that sidelines pay off when booksellers give them the same attention that they give a favorite novel, and price them well. Her recommendation: “a penny less than insulting.” Ingram has a bookstore and at a recent open house more than 300 associates voted on their favorite sideline. The winner was SmartLab’s Recon 6.0 Programmable Rover ($69.99), winner of a 2011 Parents magazine Best Toy Award. Kids can program it to deliver a soda or yell at their brother or sister to stay out of their room. “All the SmartLab items are terrific,” says McCarthy.
Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Bookshop, La Verne, Calif.
“To me, a sideline is the extra thing,” says general manager Andrea Vuleta, who tries to have “a little something” to add to every sale. For her, quirkiness, price, size, and staff love are all considerations, particularly the last. She’s found that the staff won’t push the items they don’t like. Since she’s begun soliciting staff comments, Vuleta has found that she has to mark down items less frequently. Of all the new products she’s added this year—including men’s T-shirts with book themes, tote bags, and chocolates—the one that’s done the best is Squishables, $40 oversize plush that appeal to kids ages 7–14 and college students. Although they take up a lot of shelf space, Vuleta can’t keep them in stock. Since October, she’s had to reorder four times.
The Next Page Bookstore & Tea Bar, Frisco, Colo.
When the Next Page expanded to 2,000 sq. ft. two years ago, it put in a tea bar and added lots of gifts. “We have unique sidelines and a lot of locally sourced sidelines like candles,” says co-owner Amy Yundt-Gibson, who displays bath salts and teas with craft books and locally made placemats in the cookbook section. “It’s been very profitable.” The one sideline that’s done the best since the store opened in 2006 is Solmate Sox. To date, the Next Page has sold more than 4,000 pairs.
Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vt.
“Sidelines definitely support what we do here,” says children’s books and gift buyer Jessica Wood, who stocks items that range from $1.99 to a $600 polar bear and even has a boutique of Zootano baby clothes in the children’s section. “It runs the gamut from serious gift items to the $300 Keith Haring: Double Retrospect puzzle with 32,000 pieces from Ravensburger,” Woods says. She sees the more expensive items as “talking points.” People come to the store and speculate on how the Haring puzzle can ever be put together.
One More Page, Arlington, Va.
Wine and chocolate account for 15% of the floor space, but closer to 25% of sales for Eileen McGervey’s store, which turns one year old in mid-January. Initially she tried experimenting with toys, crackers, and nuts until she found the right complement to wine and books. Because the store is in a mixed usage building, wine sales worked out “exactly as I thought it would,” says McGervey. “We get a lot of young people from the condos above. They’ll be in here twice a week to get wine.” They also drop by for upscale chocolates like Lake Champlain Chocolates from Vermont and Vosges Chocolate from Chicago, which has exotic flavors like Blood Orange and Black Salt Caramel—and books.
The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Ariz.
“We’ve done extremely well doing our own mugs, tote bags, T-shirts, poisoned pens, and notecards,” says store founder and owner Barbara Peters. “We’re really a global bookstore. I think all bookstores should think about developing their own brand.” She’s found that visitors like to take back a souvenir of the store as an add-on gift. And she uses the store’s tote bag to wrap gifts.
R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn.
“Sidelines are a healthy 20% of sales and growing,” says head buyer and merchandise manager Kathryn Fabiani. She looks at sidelines as “very synergistic.” They attract customers who wouldn’t come in to a bookstore and are good add-ons for customers who thought they only wanted a book. The store does well with basic reading glasses, book lights, journals, and candles and recently added sustainable products from Bambu. One of the fastest selling items this fall is Corkcicle, which, as its name indicates, is a cross between an icicle and a cork. The Corkcicle can be refrigerated and used to chill wine instead of an ice bucket. “It’s kooky,” says Fabiani. “But it’s selling like crazy.”
Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif.
“We carry everything from purses, perfume, socks, and scarves to toys, games, puzzles, appliances, home decor, mugs, and T-shirts,” says Natalie Esser, head gift and stationery buyer at Vroman’s. Recently, the store added to its jewelry inventory and now includes pieces up to $500. For security, Vroman’s installed locked cases in the second-floor gift department. But as at Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, the new product that Esser’s is doing best with is a line of Squishables, which only began selling into bookstores this year. “They’re adorable and our staff really like them,” says Esser.