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Small Orders Are Escalating

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The received wisdom in our
industry is that the small accounts hardly matter any more because they can no
longer compete with the big-box stores and Internet retailers. From this, it
should follow that the ability to process the small orders that small customers
typically generate is becoming less important.

 

And this was indeed true for some
years.

 

Not any more.

 

IPG has just installed new
software in the warehouse to improve our ability to handle large numbers of
small orders. The fact that this new software was necessary reveals a change
not only in our distribution business but also in the wide world of
bookselling.

 

When we revamped our
picking-and-packing systems last year—computers and scanners everywhere,
bar codes on everything—the emphasis was on handling large truck
shipments to the major accounts. Now, while the volume of shipments to the
majors continues to grow, the volume of small orders is also growing, and at a
much faster rate

 

The explanation for this surge in
small orders has four components:

 

1.
The terrible attrition among small retail booksellers has dramatically slowed.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> The stores that remain are run by battle-hardened
veterans with the savvy to succeed in a very difficult business. As IPG
continues to field reps to service these customers (20 reps in the United
States, 13 in Canada), our share of this market is increasing.

 

2.
The book trade isn’t the only source of sales.
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> IPG exhibits at a long and growing list of shows. This
list includes the major book trade events, of course—BEA, Frankfurt Book
Fair, and ALA, among others. But it also includes a good many shows oriented to
other arenas, such as those run by the Museum Store Association, the
Association of Partners for Public Lands (think concessions in state and
national parks and at historic sites), the National School Supply and Equipment
Association, the National Association for Gifted Children, the American Academy
of Religion, and the Middle East Studies Association.

 

IPG staffers at the booths at
these shows always succeed in opening new accounts, sometimes dozens of them.
While the orders written do not usually cover our costs, finding new customers
and maintaining strong relations with existing customers make attending well
worth the expense.

 

3.
Information has improved.
Along
with some other publishers (including a few of the very largest houses and MIT
Press), we are disseminating title information electronically—and that
means complete and accurate information on every title we sell. A few months
ago, we were sending this title information to 50 customers every two weeks.
Now we are sending it to 65 customers every single week. As a result, any book
customer can easily find any book we offer and place an order with no confusion
or uncertainty. When books are easy to find, we get orders.

 

4.
Special-sales staff generates sales.

A year ago our special-sales staff consisted of one and one-half people. Now we
have three full timers and additional staff when needed. This gives us the
ability to prospect for new accounts, follow up on leads developed at shows,
and service our existing special-sales accounts intensively.

 

For all these reasons, the volume
of small-order shipments we handled about doubled in 2005. This year, we expect
it to double again.

 

Curt Matthews is CEO of
Independent Publishers Group and of Chicago Review Press. Visit www.ipgbook.com
to learn more.

 

 

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