Holiday Sidelines 2000
Cynthia Clark -- 1/29/01
Beyond calendars and boxed cards, booksellers found holiday treats in new product lines

By mid-January, booksellers' annual struggle to display and sell the ever-increasing number of gift books, along with scores of calendar titles and seasonal stationery items, segued from front-table frenzy to clearance-rack fatigue. Was it a success? Most respondents to PW's post-holiday survey found the sideline season to indeed be jolly. While calendars and boxed cards were cited universally as favored holiday staples that continued to sell well, booksellers also found other sidelines to entice festive shoppers. Overall, several trends emerged from beyond TheFar Side: for many (but not all), Harry Potter tie-ins did not do as well as anticipated and, in the world of calendars, the Ladies of Rylstone are popular lasses indeed.

At McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, Mich., owner Julie Norcross attributes 12% of sales to sidelines and has "added new companies in old categories. We carry journals from companies like Exaclair and Michael Rogers Press; writing papers from such manufacturers as Depsey and Carroll; correspondence kits and journals from Circle Journey and Pomegranate; calligraphy sets and ink; and a line of pens from Retro, which write beautifully--and their price is right." Among the standards, wall calendars did best of all categories in the store, and specific top sellers this season were The Far Side Gallery (page-a-day) calendar, Harry Potter and The Ladies of Rylstone.

Kathy Simoneaux, owner of Chester County Book and Music Co., in West Chester, Pa., has sweetened her store's sidelines mix (20% of sales) with Godiva chocolates; high-quality plush toys from companies such as Gund; boxed Christmas and greeting cards, primarily from Marcel Schurman; and, of course, calendars. Best of breed were TheFar Side, Dilbert, Harry Potter and Sierra Club Wilderness offerings.

Although Bookends Bookstore in Bay St. Louis, Miss., d s a scant 1% of its business in sidelines, owner Susan Daigre was pleased with the increase in sales of book lights and journals
Calendar lovers sought veterans, in both
artists and cheesecake models.
over the previous year, "even with so many gift stores in town." Stocking stuffers, notably gel pens, also sold very well, as did cards from such companies as Avanti. Calendar offerings from publishers were a disappointment, particularly art calendars, Daigre found, but the sell-through of those she did order was "definitely better" than 1999, with Far Side selections remaining the bestselling calendars in the store.
At Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, Calif., inventory director Karen Pennington has plans to expand the store's sidelines beyond the present 1.5% of total business and to diversify products carried as well. Currently, cards, blank books and calendars from vendors such as Nobleworks, Palm Press and Graphique de France, plus handmade cards from local companies and things like magnets and Freudian slippers vie for space with books. Local popularity of electronic planners has reduced sales of engagement calendars, but wall calendars on subjects of roses and gardening, dogs and cats, travel and things or places exotic remain steadfast bestsellers. Among the top for 2000: Edward Gorey Cats 2001 from Pomegranate.

In Edmond, Okla., Best of Books' co-owner Kathy Kinasewitz noted that horrible winter weather put a dent in seasonal sales this year. When people could get out and shop, however, they went to Best of Books for plush toys by Crocodile Creek, Gund and Merrymaker, puzzles from Lights! Camera! Interaction!, and bookmarks by Antioch and Moonmambo, as well as book-related children's toys, science kits and Klutz products. Regarding the calendar sales, Kinasewitz remarked, "People just love those page-a-day trivia, sports trivia, dog trivia, etc.--the popularity of different formats is shifting." Mary Engelbreit and Far Side products sold best of all.

Apple Book Center, in Detroit, Mich., also suffered from terrible weather conditions during holiday shopping. Owner Sherry McGee added some new sidelines items to the store's African-American focus, including artist Annie Lee's figurines and an entire line of stationery, cards and calendars. Bestselling calendars were African American Quilts (Good Books) and African Ceremonies (Abrams). "We don't do well with stuff like Dilbert," noted McGee, who is developing a line of multicultural characters called The Apple Kids, who will appear in books and related products (a school curriculum program will accompany the line).

Ariel Booksellers, in New Paltz, N.Y., had a good holiday season. Among its successes were plush toys, journals, cards, calendars and miniature books. "We took the minibooks off the counter and put them onto a rack," said co-owner Susan Avery, "which really paid off--we sold a lot of them." Boxed cards did especially well, as did calendars ("no bombs this year"), particularly TheLadies of Rylstone and TheWorst-Case Scenario Survival calendars in various formats.

In Aberdeen, S.D., Peggy Bieber, owner of the Little Professor Book Center, believes that bad weather may have boosted store sales the week before Christmas: "People couldn't travel during the severe weather, and then time ran out--everyone was buying." Sidelines sales account for about 3% of total business, and most of that comes during the holidays, although Bieber noted that puzzles (from Lights! Camera! Interaction!) sell all year long. Additional offerings include games (especially those from BePuzzled), book lights (Itty Bitty Booklight), diaries and blank books, stationery, "literary" key chains (Novelties) and plush animals. Among the new sidelines product Bieber bought this season, Bookbuttons, a magnetic pewter bookmark from California Bookbutton Co., sold remarkably well.