In the words of Mike McIntyre of McIntyre & Moore Booksellers in Somerville, Mass., "The first hour is always like the Oklahoma land rush." That comparison was borne out October 25 when the doors opened with, as another bookseller observed, "a tremendous whoosh of traffic" at the 12th Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Exposition (CIROBE). The bustling event was held, as usual, in the Chicago Hilton and Towers and ran through Sunday, October 27. Also as usual, the aisles and booths were jammed, with an unmistakable buzz of business filling the exhibit halls. The opening salvo was a rush in more ways than one; as Chronicle Publishing's Drew Montgomery told PW, "This first hour just gets better every year."
Enthusiasm was running so high that, five minutes into the show, Robert Wilkie of the Texas Bookman declared it "by far the best CIROBE we've ever had." Clearly, he wasn't far off the mark: eyeing the opening-day throng, Stina Forsell, president of Kudzu Book Traders, observed, "They're looking for it, they're finding it, they're buying it." By early Friday afternoon, CIROBE cofounder Marshall Smith commented, "I've never seen it this busy this early."
At the AOL Time Warner Books booth, Mike Galvin was able to quantify all the optimism: "We've just sold 200,000 copies of James Patterson's Roses Are Red to two national chains whose names begin with B." On Sunday, Sterling senior account executive Tom Rupolo reported that he'd run out of order forms. "I should have brought more," he said, "but I've done great business with existing buyers and made some terrific new connections." (Rupolo's wasn't the only "outage" at the show: Bonnie Kaufman of I-Deal Books in Hallandale, Fla., ran out of business cards—"and I even brought extras this year.")
While at last year's CIROBE there was a little caution and a lot of business, this year's proceedings saw caution practically disappear and business jump. As Gordon Pruett of Southern Illinois University Press put it, "The apprehension about the economy has evaporated, and people are eager to buy new material. I find both the attendance and the activity very encouraging overall." And Don Sturtz, president of Chicago's Fujii Associates, remarked, "It doesn't seem that a strong economy or a weak economy affects this part of the book business—there's the same enthusiasm for what everybody's bringing to the table."
Indeed, the enthusiasm this year was practically palpable. "Everybody's purring," said Scott Proffitt of Main Bookshop in Sarasota, Fla. "It's the best CIROBE ever. The selection, price and quality are just stupendous." Show attendees were clearly recognizing this, with aggressive buying the order of the day. "People are writing larger quantities than ever before," observed Don McGee, publisher of Running Press. "Evidently they're planning a great fall and holiday season." Dean Winegardner, CEO of American Book Company, crowed, "This is a record CIROBE. We did more at this show than we did in our first year of business."
Though orders are key at CIROBE, so too is making new connections. According to co-founder Brad Jonas, "A lot of new accounts were opened this year, which is especially heartening considering the show's maturity." Noting that the atmosphere at this CIROBE was "much more relaxed than last year," Jay De Vries of Skid Row Overstocks in Lawrenceville, Ga., told PW, "We're seeing lots more smaller retailers, which is excellent." Kaufman of I-Deal Books was "very impressed with the influx of new faces, and with the amount of business we did on Friday—almost as much as we do in a typical CIROBE."
Katie Parker of the Joseph Beth Book Group said, "I found three new vendors—that's the main reason I come." Parker spoke for virtually all of her colleagues when she said, "This is truly an excellent show. It's a brilliant concept and it keeps getting better." Pruett of SIU Press sounded a philosophical note about another key benefit of the show—"If we are to learn from our mistakes, CIROBE must be the greatest learning experience of all."
Tamara Stock of Daedalus Books echoed many exhibitors when she told PW, "This is always the best fair in terms of cost and profitability. And people here buy with the most intensity." In sum, she said, it's "all order writing, all the time." At Book Club of America, Jim Soule reported, "This is definitely the highest-volume show for us." After all, as he added, "There aren't too many people who don't like a bargain."
Certainly not Roberta Rubin, owner of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court in suburban Winnetka, Ill. "I only wish," she told PW, "that we had a bigger store after seeing all of these spectacular bargains. I've been carrying remainders for only a few years, and they've had a significant impact on our bottom line." The store's general manager, Mary Joyce DiCola, gave high marks to the books' quality: "The color and the overall reproductions in the art books here are generally outstanding."
"Outstanding" was a word also used by CIROBE veteran Mel Shapiro of Book Sales Inc. He added an interesting fillip, too, to Soule's comment about bargains. "Unlike trade book retailing," Shapiro observed, "a lot of our major retailers tell us that, for the most part, remainder prices haven't gone up—they're holding even, which these days makes them an even better bargain."
Practically from the beginning, said Marshall Smith, the presence of foreign attendees has been an important aspect of CIROBE, "and it's continued to grow each year." Stock of Daedalus Books spoke to that part of the CIROBE acronym: "The fact that this fair has truly become international is remarkable when you consider it's less than two weeks after Frankfurt." The first person she encountered at this show, Stock noted, was "a new customer from the Philippines who was interested in buying 3,000 copies of one title." Jeff Press of World Publications also reported outstanding business at CIROBE despite its proximity to both the Frankfurt and Ciana (London) fairs.
Adam Bloom, managing director of London's Roy Bloom Ltd., told PW one of the reasons his company's been attending CIROBE since its inception. "England suffers from a lack of good quality bargain books. Publishers here are far more aggressive about unloading their inventory." In England, he added, "We're slaves of the marketplace. It's whatever we can buy, which is not a great deal."
The marketplace per se is not the issue for CIROBE newcomer Assouline Publishing, the Paris-based publisher that has been in the U.S. market for two years. Said sales and marketing director Ausbert de Arce, "The market has shifted to perceived value, which is one reason CIROBE is so important. Value has become the main watermark, whether people are paying full price or a promotional price—just publishing beautiful books doesn't cut it any more."
Of the show's 154 exhibiting companies, 27 were brand-new this year. (Other impressive stats include, for the overall head count, 1,180 buyers and just over 400 exhibitors.) Among the first-timers was Tuttle Publishing, whose special sales manager Roseann Vitagliano reported that CIROBE "certainly exceeded our expectations. The reception we've gotten has been amazing—people recognize our product and are delighted to have the opportunity to buy from a new vendor."
Another newcomer, Virginia Lee Taylor of Taylor Marketing in Houston, said, "We may not have had the quantity, but we surely had the quality. We've sold 10,000 copies of this, 5,000 copies of that, and wound up doing over $300,000 in orders. We made so many good contacts it was un-buh-lievable." CIROBE newbie Gabriel Myers of Howard Publishing in West Monroe, La., said, "I knew it was going to be different from other shows I'd been to, but I wasn't expecting anything quite this sensational. It's so well organized, there's absolutely no chaos, and there's a very steady traffic flow."
One of the many new store buyers in attendance was Sydne Walker, remainder buyer for the 13-store Chapter 11 chain in Atlanta. She tried, she said, "to plan ahead, but found I needed to just jump in. You just have to put on blinders and go, because if you stood back and looked you'd be terrified." Walker was looking primarily for kids' books and fiction but realized, "there are a lot of gorgeous coffee-table books here that are calling my name." She was also checking out inspirational remainders, because "several of our stores are getting inquiries, and they're realizing you'll never sell it if you don't have it."
Two of CIROBE's buzzwords continue to be congeniality and cooperation. As Lynn Bond of Random House Value put it, "Not only is it a real buying show, but you get to see a lot of old friends and there's a tremendous amount of cooperation." The congenial spirit was so pervasive, in fact, that Stock of Daedalus Books told PW, "You need to talk with Marcy Garrard at the University of Washington booth—she's just had the CIROBE of her life." Garrard happily confirmed Stock's statement; chiefly because "we had some gorgeous overstock titles from the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History that drew a number of very competitive bids. I was extremely busy every day and we sold out a number of titles on our white sale."
At the show's end, Jonas summed up the three-day high: "From both sides of the aisle people were more excited than ever. The only problem was that by Sunday, so many books had been bought and sold that the people, and the stock, were exhausted—that's the sort of problem we should face every year."
And from an exhibitor's viewpoint, Forsell at Kudzu had this to say. "The positive response to this show has been a wonderful example of the resilience of the American spirit. Sales overall are flat, the economy is flat, our country may be going to war, yet customers are exuberant, thorough and stretching their budgets to buy great books."