Monday, August 17, 2009

Friend of Boswell vs. the Looky Lou

I was talking to Lanora at Next Chapter about traffic flow and we were both surprised that our weekends are not necessarily our strongest days. To me, this ties into my theory that I have kept more of the core business of the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, and less of the occasional customers. These core folk (or Friends of Boswell, or FOB's) are clearly a key component in what's keeping us going (thank you).

1. FOB customers are more likely to know which stores are still open.

2. FOB customers are more likely to care about the consequences of shopping with us, as opposed to a chain independent or online. (The consequence is that if people don't shop with us, we go out of business, by the way.)

3. FOB customers are more likely to see us as a destination. For the occasional, we're more dependent on what's on the block. And we could still use some more stores leased.

4. Most FOB customers like talking to booksellers (including me), making everyone's day more pleasant. No, it's better than pleasant, at least for the owner (me).

That said, I don't underestimate the importance of the occasionals. I think (and picked this up from David Schwartz) that occasional customers shop more on weekends. Oddly enough, these folks are more noticeable on Sundays than on Saturdays. There are occasionals who are visitors to our fair metroplex. They often make a decent purchase and throw out a nice compliment to the store to boot. These folks make me swoon. Who doesn't want a nice compliment?

There are occasionals that find us convenient, but don't have much need for a bookstore. There are folks who love our store, but are just too far away to shop more often. They come to visit their kid (attending or just out of college) or parent (at one of the senior housing complexes in the area) or sometimes just drive really far for their fix. Many of them I know by sight or even by name and they give you that pleasure you get one you run into someone you know out of context. It's not love (see above paragraph) but there are definitely hormones involved, and it's a nice feeling.

Then there are the folks who stop by, look around for a half hour or so, and leave, usually either without a purchase or with a very minor one (Can we agree that under $5 is minor? But really, mostly it's zero.) One of my booksellers, who shall remain nameless, called them "looky-lou's." (I put in quotes, which I generally don't like, because I'm quoting her, not because I don't think you'd understand the term, or because, and this reason drives me crazy, you think the word would not make sense without them. And of course, it is a word, and people use it all the time, just not me until this point.

It's (and I'm reaching back into my memories here) the person at the bar (ok, or a friend's party, or a religious institution's mixer) who wouldn't respond to your eye contact or your greeting. Or you were introduced and they walked away after two minutes for some more ice. Ice? But just like it's important for those folks to be there, even if they won't talk much to you, these folks are important to our business, especially one of our size.

Looky-lou's may not ring up a lot of sales, but they are often good for the store. They give it life, show that your store is worth browsing, and even, if you watch them carefully, show what displays and sections are most interesting. They also mean there's traffic on the street, and if they like browsing the store, they'll come back to whatever brought them there (dinner, a movie, another store), which will keep the street stronger.

Frankly, without them, the store looks a bit empty. If I had a store that was 1500-2000 square feet (was one of my original plans), just a customer or two fills things up. But for the size of the store I have, I need about ten customers for me to feel like things aren't dead.

As long as they don't do too much harm (coffee stains, tears, rowdiness, and so forth), we should come out ahead.


john eklund said...

don't forget that most FOB's started out as looky lous. It's your talent pool!

Daniel Goldin said...

Good point! I wrote more in response, but then realized it was fodder for another post. Why settle for comment status? This is blogging gold, I tell yuz.

Liz said...

I was guilty of being a looky-lou at Boswell this past weekend. I simply didn't have the cash in the budget to splurge on a book this time, and I felt guilty about it, but also resentful (I saw three titles I want). But it's funny - as my husband I sat and browsed and talked about the books and magazines we would like to have bought, I reassured myself that we were helping with the ambience. Well, we hope so anyway... we try to be quiet and polite.