Merchandising tips and techniques for children's booksellers


For most booksellers, being socially responsible means recycling boxes and computer printouts and helping with local literacy programs. But for Betsey Detwiler, owner of Buttonwood Books &Toys (Cohasset, Mass.), whose 33-year-old son, Christopher, is mentally retarded, it means a lot more.

When Detwiler was preparing for her store's move to its new location last summer, she cast around for ideas for what to do with her old shelving. Now it is being used by Ocean Village Bookstore in nearby Marshfield, a used bookstore recently opened by Road to Responsibility, a nonprofit organization serving the disabled on Boston's South Shore. The store is staffed entirely by disabled people and the profits from sales go to help the organization's educational and social programs. Thanks to Buttonwood's shelving and donations from area businesses, "the store looked like a new store when it opened, even though everything was donated," said Detwiler. To top it off, she added, "Christopher came home the other day and said, `I have a real job.' " He will be working at Ocean Village one day a week.

In addition to donating to Road to Responsibility, which recently named Detwiler Woman of the Year, she contracts with the organization to handle her store mailings. Detwiler also hires the handicapped to work in her own store. One of them, Bonnie, for instance, helps out twice a week. "The mailing is cost effective, but probably Bonnie is not," Detwiler acknowledged. "Bonnie is quite severely autistic, and she has a job coach who comes with her. She cleans sometimes, and she breaks down boxes. For me having Bonnie here is more of a personal mission, and my store accepts that."

A MONTH OF AUTHORSLast November, Suzanne Segady, children's buyer at the Chinook Bookshop (Colorado Springs, Colo.) decided to try something new for Children's Book Week -- celebrating it for a month. By focusing on children's books and authors for one whole month, Segady found that the store's author series had a much greater impact. "It was very successful," said Segady. "We had a lot of teachers, and we got a lot of local press." Each week brought new events with touring authors and illustrators, such as Alexandra Day and her rotweiler, Carl, who helped out at St. Luke's Hospital in Denver all morning before the signing. There were also local authors, such as Michael Hague, who appears at the store each year. Segady was able to promote all the events together on a single flyer to area schools and in newspaper ads. Although the store holds author events throughout the year, Segady observed that putting together a special program of events gave Chinook much more visibility.

BUSINESS WITH A BYTEWhile many children's bookstores have ceded children's software to computer or edutainment stores, Robert Brown, owner of the five-year-old Books, Bytes &Beyond (Glen Rock, N.J.) is determined to keep software as part of his product mix. It's not just that computers are referred to in the store's name, it's also that software -- along with audio, video, puppets and toys -- is part of Brown's bookselling philosophy.

He tries to stock materials that encourage reading, especially books and CDs that kids and parents can read together. "Children's books and reading are at the core of our business -- getting children excited about reading from early childhood to junior high," Brown explained. He added that "software has been an integral part of our store. I've watched things evolve in the industry, and we have focused on software as something we want to do. We don't try to carry everything, but we do really well with the Jump Start CD-ROMs, for instance."