The first three months of the year are often slow months for booksellers after the seasonal peak at Christmas – textbook suppliers and hot holiday spots excepted!
And this year, there won’t be NZ Book Month in March to help get people through your doors – that will be in August. So what are you going to do? It’s a good time to get to work on your business and prepare for the year ahead.
Review and analyse your stock
First the analytics: make time to review your stock section by section. You can sometimes be surprised by little gems that have been concealed in the less prominent sections of the store. Maybe by ordering up on that title and stocking it more prominently you can make some quick wins. It’s also a great time to prune the deadwood and do some of the admin and prep that will help create a smoother stock take.
How many book categories do you carry? Go through the same exercise with every one of them.
Keep doing the return on investment with each category. You may be surprised to find some areas where you are under-invested in stock and could improve sales by stocking the section more generously, as well as the reverse!
“It’s a good time to look around the shop with a critical eye, and get rid of what looked great last year but now looks a bit worn,” says Stella Chrysostomou, store manager at Nelson’s Page & Blackmore Booksellers.
So, devote February to working on your business as well as in it. We know many of our owner/operators are very hands hands-on. Making time to chat to bookstore owners in other parts of the country whose stores cater for much the same customer demographic can also be helpful with title selection. Also, have a peek at what is working for other local retailers. Is there an opportunity to cross merchandise or create a local Indiebound partnership? Unity Wellington are part of the Culture Vulture gift card involving fellow Indie stores Slowboat Records and Aro Video. This is the type of gift that keeps giving all year round. Create your own crafty spin on this idea with fellow businesses who have a complementary customer base. Make your local shops the hub and heart of the community.
Update your database and start communicating to customers
Tony Moores of Poppies Group suggests ‘grooming’ your database.
“Look through your existing database and categorise by interest the new names added through the myriad of special orders you took last year.
“Then invite them to join your newsletter e-mail audience… and follow up quick smart with an interesting seasonal update on the books that struck gold at Christmas… have those customers missed out? Also tell them if they mention the newsletter they can receive some sort of reward, which could be extra loyalty points, or a bonus of some kind.”
Not all booksellers have a quiet time after Christmas. Stella at Page & Blackmore says their store has to do all the reviews while continuing a brisk summer trade in the holiday town. “It’s a time when
we keep our local history, New Zealand pictorials, guidebooks and nature guides well stocked, and make sure we have an excellent selection of reading (non-fiction and fiction) for customers heading off for their summer holiday.
“With the benefit of summer staff still on board until early February, these first few weeks of the year give us time to catch our breath, assess our Christmas sales and make some preliminary plans for the year. Our printed Summer Catalogue is a major investment in time and expense so it’s time to look closely at sales. This not only tells us what sold, but gives us an idea of the demands of the market and what our buying should be for the year ahead,” says Stella.
“With regular customers getting back into their routines, we send out first e-newsletter for the year, our February What we Are Reading. It is filled with the best of our staff’s summer reading and some tempting new titles.”
About a S-A-L-E
Take up the slack in March promotions by creating your own particular sale… why not try a revolving sale? That’s where all the books in one category, or a selection of them, feature at sale or discount prices – briefly. Over a week or a fortnight, it can be cookbooks, then fiction, then children’s, next non-fiction, sport, travel and so on. Make each category for a limited time – say one/two days only; tell everyone who comes into the store what’s on offer, and make sure it is apparent outside on a sandwich board, a poster or even whitewash a strip on the window and write the day’s special in black poster paint.
Send a flyer to your good customers, stating which group of titles have specials on which days. Make them aware it is a one off chance and that if they miss the day they miss the deal. The deal might possibly be 10% off all books in that section, but with extra discounts on vintage stock and overstocks.
You dictate, but the offer has to appear to be good enough to get people through the door. Yes, you will give up some margin, but a promotion like this could also see you quit some older stock.
Another idea is putting a book on sale for bulk purchases for local bookclubs, particularly if you live in an area where you are aware there are several operating. It’s very likely the people on your database are the same audience for this type of sale. If you use a book by a local author, you could offer additional value (and probable sales) by hosting an author talk after the book has been discussed and completed.
Market days as a way to move some older stock
A great opportunity for Stella in Nelson is the annual market day, a street market for local retailers coordinated by Uniquely Nelson. “This is a lively and usually hot event – not only the weather but also the sales. The bookshop takes this opportunity to move some older stock and everyone loves the bargains, so a great way to welcome back our regulars with some great deals.”
Many towns run this type of market day at least once a year, and certainly in cities there are often local outside and inside craft markets running in the weekend, which may be an excellent opportunity to offer your hard-to-move stock at bargain prices.
This can also be a great time to try and clear damaged or aged stock that has long since passed its return window. If you can make a margin, great – if it doesn’t work, bite the bullet and consider talking to your accountant about writing it off.
Spring clean in Autumn
If traffic is indeed quiet in your store in February/March, It is a good time for a spruce up.
Get out the paint pot for some of the cubes and plinths you use for display; it doesn’t take long or cost much to add what the decor magazines call ‘a pop of colour’!
“Colourful displays make the shop look fresh and the books seem well-loved, new or interesting at a time when new releases are on the light side after the feast of Christmas,” Stella notes.
Bookselling legend Peter Emanuel once told The Read that if an excellent title wasn’t working in one particular location, to re-merchandise the book in a new display somewhere else in the store. He says it always works. “It looks to the customer like new stock, but they merely haven’t noticed it where you originally displayed it.”
Check your financials and be prepared
When was the last time you looked closely at your rental costs, and compared them with those of other businesses in your area? This is a good opportunity to ask around your friends and see whether you may have some room to bargain with the landlord.
Tony Moores’ advice: “Returns… don’t clear the decks without a plan, don’t make the shelves look too skinny, but do reduce excess quantities, and generate some credits with suppliers that you can apply to refreshing your stock range.”
Ensure you are on a good financial footing with your publishers and suppliers, to ensure if there is a title which starts flying off the shelves like The Luminaries, nothing prevents you from joining in and making some money.
And on a related note, check your terms with suppliers as part of the review process. You might find your trade with one or more publishers has increased to the point where discussion on better terms is warranted.
by Jillian Ewart