Editor’s Note: Publishers can learn enormously from the following tips Anderson offers bookstores. Anderson spoke recently at BookExpo America and to the Canadian Booksellers Association.
1. Brand Your Bookstore. Constantly promote and reinforce the main difference between your bookstore and the two other bookstores that your types of customers are most likely to choose. “Bay Area’s Liveliest Bookstore” is a more informative and memorable slogan than “Bay Area’s Best Bookstore.” That first slogan is how one event-filled store in my county characterizes themselves, and they live up to their motto.
In one vivid phrase or sentence, describe your bookstore’s main differentiating benefit. Is it specific, believable, and easy to remember? Does every store employee know it? How many customers would recall it when not at your store? Display the benefit as your motto for staff and customers to see frequently. Use it as your reference point in conversations with customers and to all levels of decision-makers at the store.
2. Prove Your Point of Difference. What are the two most obvious and quantifiable ways your store reinforces your main differentiating benefit in the eyes of your customers (depth of titles and staff knowledge in certain subject area(s), variety of convenient ways to buy, wide-ranging and numerous book reviews made available, convenient location, etc.) Retail is detail and this “detail” is to constantly find new business practices that reinforce the benefits you offer.
3. Know Not Just What Your Customers Buy, But Why They Buy. The most important question you can ask your customers is: “What are the main reasons you buy from our bookstore rather than another?” Ask this question twice a year and reward customers for answering with a drawing for prizes and by informing them how you’ve used their opinions to further improve your bookstore. Design a “Quick Poll” where they can number ten top factors that you list and include two blank spaces where they can fill in their own possible factors.
4. Narrow Your Niches to Widen Your Profits and Deepen Customer Loyalty. Select two to three niche-within-a-niche markets, people for whom you will provide extraordinary, sometimes premium service, sometimes for premium prices. Next, consider the books, related products, service policies, and procedures you will implement to provide high-level service to these customers. A niche might be Korean customers. A niche-within-a-niche would be Korean entrepreneurs. Another niche: computer professionals. The niche-within-a-niche: home office workers with computers. A third niche: women mystery readers. The niche-within-a-niche: women readers of mysteries featuring a female sleuth.
Select a niche by considering your own areas of interest or expertise (based on hobbies or life experiences). As a former stutterer, for example, I always look for books and services for inspiration and information about any kind of speaking disability or skill-building and I know most stutterers do also. The more narrow the niche you target, the more streamlined, “thought full”, and profitable you can be in reaching and serving it
5. Make Buying More Effortless. Reduce the number of motions and amount of time it takes for a customer to buy from you, by literally walking through the steps with a co-staffer and/or customer and discussing alternatives to even the most basic current ways you are doing business.
6. Provide Pleasant Pauses. Make their waiting time at the cash register more pleasant by having various things to read (reviews, upcoming events, coupon offers), to play with (magnetic poetry pieces, small stuffed animals), to fill out (a sign-up for your online newsletter, review forms), to watch (Video Vignettes), to smell (waft an enjoyable scent over this area).
7. Find Quotes Here. Place a container (such as a large, clear-plastic salad bowl) near the entry door and/or by the cash register, and label it with a sign that says, “Quotes Here.” Fill the bowl with at least 200 multi-colored quotes from classic, new, and upcoming books. Or invite customers to contribute their own quotes. Periodically include a collection of the quotes on your Web site, in a newsletter, etc.
8. See Smiles in a Sunshine-Filled Store. Just as many clothing and make-up retailers and restaurant owners have learned the magic of soft lighting, you’ll see an improvement in the mood of your staff and customers when you install “full-spectrum” lights that replicate the range of sunlight. Unless your store is already awash with natural light, these bulbs and tubes are an inexpensive way to encourage customers to linger, especially during the dark winter months. Ask your local lighting specialist what brands he or she carries.
9. Scents of Life. Create a “signature scent” to further reinforce the unique character of your bookstore and to establish a mood from the moment customers walk through the door. Also scent it for special events (chocolate for the week before Valentine’s Day, pine for December holiday time, etc.) AromaSys (612/924-0730) is one company that provides environmental scenting. They can design a scent with you, install their unit in the store’s heating or air conditioning system, or offer a standalone unit. They’ve installed systems in restaurants, casinos, homes, public aquariums, and hotels.
10. Give People Their Three Minutes of Fame. Create “Video Vignettes” of book readings by local notables as well as visiting and area authors who stop by or appear at your store. Ask each reader to pick a passage from a book they’d recommend (not one of their own). The reading time should run about three minutes. Have a video camera (securely kept) in your bookstore for in-store videotaping of celebs.
11. Fame Fosters Fervent Fans. Contact public figures and other people with a constituency or following. If one of your niches is gardening, invite the local garden societies presidents to read. If you specialize in mysteries, ask the police chief. Call the presidents of major locally-based companies, high school honor role members, radio sportscasters, the United Way’s new campaign chair, etc. These speakers can invite their colleagues to drop by so they can see them on the video which you run on a continuous feed loop.
12. Enable Customers and Prospects to See Book Recommendations When in the Store or from the Street. Display the video monitor in a place where people enter the store, wait (by the cash register), converge (cards or magazines displays), and/or walk by (in the store window for 24-hour viewing with sound piped out).
13. Spread the Fame. Offer copies of the video to the readers to be played in waiting areas or cafeterias at their workplaces and/or their events.
14. Recommendations Featured Here. Near each video monitor that shows the Video Vignettes, display a sign that reads: “Celebrities and Books Featured in August’s Video Vignettes.” List the celebrity readers along with the title of the book they selected. If space is available, have a nearby bookshelf of the books, in the sequence they are discussed.
15. Offer Bragging Rights. Give all Video Vignette book recommenders/readers a “Celebrity Appearance at (bookstore’s name)” certificates, a souvenir (such as a mug with your store’s name), or a framed photo of them reading, so they can display these and further your bookstore’s visibility.
16. Picture This Scene. Send a copy of a photo “action shot” of local book readers at your store to your local “shopper newspaper” editor. Include an accompanying news release that quotes the readers and their book recommendations. Suggest a whimsical or newsworthy caption. Also send the photo and release to local publications of importance to the readers in the photo (their civic, in-house corporate, professional, or other organization publication) as each reader represents a constituency for your bookstore.
17. We Coddle Avid Readers. Offer $250 and $500 “Avid Reader” coupons whereby those who spend a certain amount of money, get a free product. They can pick up this product from your nearby cross-promoting partner who makes a similar offer to his customers. You provide a comparably-priced set of books.
18. Foster Forget-Me-Not Giving. Help customers avoid the guilt of forgetting several special occasions. Show them how they can give gifts to several people without showing favoritism and how gift certificates will keep them in the minds of the recipients each time they use the certificates.
Encourage book certificate giving by providing forms where givers can write in their name, the recipient, where the certificate is to be sent, and when. Show the convenience of their listing several recipients at once who may receive a certificate at different times. Offer a free gift certificate to the giver when that person registers a minimum number of intended recipients at one time. This option may be especially attractive to forgetful or time-pressed people. Later, send a note suggesting that the giver may want to send gift certificates again the following year and/or to others, and put their gift-giving pattern in your computer.
Instead of a free gift certificate, you can offer a free product from one of your cross-promoting partners as an incentive. They can make a similar offer, of a comparably priced product from you, for their customers who buy gift certificates. Thus all participating retailers gain credible, attention-getting access to each other’s big spending customers and can exchange what you can least expensively provide-your own products.
19. Stick With Your Customers. Offer your customers free and elegantly-designed gift stickers and book owner’s name stickers. These stickers can discretely include your store name and contact information.
20. Help, I Need a Book Right Now! Get customers accustomed to buying your books (and more) as last minute buys, even when they can’t visit the store, such as when they forgot a birthday or an unexpected opportunity to celebrate arises. They might want to send a book and card, or (with even less thinking needed on their part) a gift certificate inscribed with their message. Offer a card (including their message) and a gift bag delivered fast for a fee. Your cross-promoting partner might be the messenger service you use.
21. Be a Great Business Neighbor. Display a sign in your store for a nearby outlet’s limited-time offer for a specific product or service, using writing on the sign that gets progressively smaller as it continues. Use descriptive language that is appropriate for your kind of customer and your type of bookstore. For example, “In just three minutes, you can walk around the corner and pick up a bouquet to go with that gift book you’re buying. Tell Lily Hills at Flowers Forever on 385 Sausalito Blvd. that we suggested it and get a free gardenia to go with your book. What an easy way to brighten someone’s day!” Or, in cross-promoting with a bike shop, ask them to superimpose a sign on one of their bike posters, “For those adventuresome enough to take bike tours elsewhere, see three great bike touring books we recommend at Bellamy’s Books just down the street. Tell them that we suggested it and get a free greeting card with your purchase.”
22. Where Do You Run Your Errands? Ask customers what other places they often visit before or after your bookstore so you can recognize what organizations would be the most valuable allies for cross-promotions. Make it easy for them to answer by providing a form at the counter, listing 30 or so organizations, and leaving blank spaces for them to fill in other names.
23. Give Them Another Reason to Buy. Most bookstores, like many other stores, display products and signage within certain categories (mystery, cookbooks, etc.), however their customers’ needs or interests don’t always correspond to those categories. Create displays and signage that relates to their special interests based on the time of year or period of their life, special human conditions or situations, passionate causes, hot current topics or celebrations, newsmaking events, local leaders’ pronouncements, etc. Don’t rely on customers seeking out a title they may want (but don’t know exists) or buying for a reason they would value (but haven’t yet considered). Sample messages might be: “Graduation Presents Here,””Plan Summer Trips Now,””Most Widely Read Mysteries This Month,””Stay Fit This Winter,””Books Made into Movies,” etc.
Kare Anderson is the author of “Pocket Cross Promotions” (MasterMedia Publishing).