Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Store is Getting Giftier. Is that a Good Thing. Well, Yes, but Only if you Like the Gifts

I think you folks know I wasn't going to be a pure book play. Not with 8000 square feet, an established gift business at Schwartz, and a book biz in flux that demands I have several irons in the fire. However, starting off, we decided to focus our initial capital on books to establish our identity, and worry about the other stufff later.

Now we've got some other things, enough that we actually matched the previous store's numbers for the adult and kids sidelines for August last year. We'd like those numbers to get better still. But how do I do this without overwhelming the books? I'm particularly sensitive about going over the line, so to make sure it wasn't crossed, I appointed myself the lead gift buyer, at least to start. Plus, it's something different to do. And if opening a bookstore isn't hard enough, why not take on a new challenge?

Oh, and I feel like I have big shoes to fill. I thought our gift buyers at Schwartz did a great job. But they were buying for multiple stores, and I have just one. Some things might work for me that were overlooked, whereas other things we carried before that worked better in Mequon and Brookfield, rather than my trading area.

Some of my customers want more sidelines than others. And there are many categories of sidelines that are simply not represented in my trading area (which, as you should know, I see as bigger than the Downer Avenue of Milwaukee). And even folks who complain about too much gift never get upset when they find something they really like.

As you can see, we've made two strategic decisions so far. Fill the front and information counters, leaving enough space for customers to do their business checking out or ordering books. (More on this in another post). And place some sideline tables in the second quarter of the store. Towards the front, yes, but not the first thing you see. The first thing you should be books, lots of books, and not only bargain books (sorry, David). (OK, you see calendars, but Amie knows that this was a practical solution, not the desired effect).

You should be able to come in the store and see hot titles and staff recs, and new paperbacks and hardcovers. You shouldn't have to twist your head much to see a hard core intense section that is mostly spined. And maybe start with one obvious core section (that's our regional Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Chicago books) and one non-obvious section (that's our Europa and New York Review of Books titles) to throw folks off. That's when I think folks make the decision--this is a real bookstore, but not a chain. What crazy chain would make that kind of placement decision?

And I don't want the stuff (sidelines) too far to the back (except in the kids section, which is more to the side) because there is an impulse component, the theft rate is a bit higher, and we move tables a lot in the back for events. Not that we treat books badly, but other things we bring in often have greater potential for breakage, or at least dingage.

Step in a little deeper, perhaps past our front desk (not my favorite placement, but I'm not spending the money on something that works just fine), and you'll catch our old maps display, with journals, water bottles, luggage tasks, paperweights, an insexpensive globe, and yes, some flasks. Oh, and some atlases and travel lit. We're a bookstore. And I do love that Oxford Pocket World Atlas. It goes in one pocket; the flask goes in the other.

It's not packed with stuff, but you can package a couple of things together for a gift; a book + something else, or perhaps two something elses; I just bought the map-themed stainless steel water bottle and a flask (yes, that flask again) for my nephew's graduation from law school. (Sorry Adam, but by being my only nephew of drinking age, you have lost a tiny degree of anonymity. Hope you like them.)

And here's the thing that we're working on, but not always perfect at. If you don't see that display now, we're going to make sure that in a few weeks it goes somewhere else. Right now it's a bit off to the side. Every time we move a display, we sell a little more. Often the pop is in the first couple of days and then sort of dies. But that pop is exciting.

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