Saturday, September 04, 2004


Over the years I have tried a plethora of different advertising/marketing ideas. I'm always interested in broadcasting the news that the business exists without spending mega bucks to do it. So here are a few of my adventures in advertising.

Flyers - Myself and family members hand delivered flyers I made all over the neighbourhood. Excellent rate of return on these items. Every time some went out, usually in batches of 20 - 30 I got one or two people into the store in the next week mentioning the flyer. Very time consuming and takes loads of walking.

Newspaper - I've tried the local newspaper every years and every year not a single soul reports finding out about me through the paper. Very expensive, lousy response, complete waste of time and money.

Yellow Pages - I've had this type of advertising recommended as the best but I don't agree. Too expensive and time wasting. People just call all the time asking questions that make me run around only to have them not buy the book. 99% of people calling never show up in the store to buy a book even if I have told them it is in stock. I'd rather have them visit to try and find it. More often than not they buy something else instead.

TV, radio, magazine I can't afford these so I can't comment.

Sign on Van - This was the very best investment I ever made. I swear, every time I drive somewhere someone comments that they saw the van. I even got customers who saw the van in Florida and came shopping in the store! The down side is that everybody knows where you live and they make sure they tell you. It's kind of freaky to have total strangers saying, "I know where you live". I was out one day and this guy was pointing at the van talking about how he knew the lady who owned the van and the store. I was standing right in front of him and I don't know him. He didn't seem to recognize me in the flesh!

Other things I have tried.

I went to the other 5 bookstores in town and asked them to do couple joint advertising spots.
1) joint christmas ads in the newspaper, we shared the cost ($100 each for 2 ads)
2) I made postcards, with info and map to our stores, to handout in our stores ($5 for 100)
All but one of the other stores has backed out of doing these again.

I have advertised in the local college newspaper.

I dropped off some books at the local laundromats. The books had the business stamped inside them and I asked to post a notice in the laundromat in return for the free books.

I run a book club at the library and they refer people to me at the store.

I went to Chapters and Indigo and told the clerks about the store. They refer people to me all the time.

I left books in my doctor's and my dentist's waiting rooms with information about the store plastered inside.

The book drives are great advertising.

I went to local elementary schools and asked if I could post notices in the teachers lunchroom. I figured they would want to find somewhere to get books for their classroom libraries. I was right.

I mailed flyers to the literacy guild and the local community centres.

These are the bulk of my attempts to advertise the business by spending almost no money. They have had a variety of success rates. Anybody got any ideas?

Monday, August 30, 2004

On the side - Memorybooks

Sales trends show that used-book sales slow down prior to Christmas and almost die out between January and February. I have brought a sideline product into the store to counter this, Memorybook Supplies. Memorybooks or Scrapbooks have become immensly popular throughout the US. They have been a little slower to catch on here in Canada but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. The hope is to suppliment sales during the slower periods by carrying these items which should sell at any time. My plan had been to hold classes during these times and generate customers this way. So far I have not been able to organize the business into a smooth running machine on the Memorybook side of things.

Memorybooks are a type of photoalbum that uses materials that are considered safe for long term storage of the pictures and other memorabilia. This essentially means they are acid free. There are a few other chemicals that can damage your stuff when stored for years. You know how a newspaper clipping turns yellow and disintegrates over time. Well, Memorybooks prevent that from happening.

Memorybooks are also full of pages that you design yourself to present your pictures with the story that is happening. They are fun to create. It is something like your designing your own magazine. The difference is that you are using patterns, colour, words and so much more to communicate interesting information about your chosen subject. That subject for most of us is our children/family.

This winter 2004/05 my plan is to focus on increasing the Memorybook side of the business.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Book Club

To promote reading I have been leading a book club at the local library. We meet once a month to discuss the book we have all read since the last meeting. Typically, I locate and provide the books to the group each month. We all read the same book. Although I have offered others an opportunity to pick the books and lead the group we seem to be functioning most of the time with books I have selected. We have read an amazingly diverse collection of books.

My all time favourite book is "Skinny Legs and All" by Tom Robbins.

My all time hated book is "In the Skin of a Lion" by Michael Ondaatje.

The book that generated the most fascinating opinions and discussion is
"The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sister hood" by Rebecca Wells.

Other interesting books that provoked conversation were:

The Red Tent by Anita Diament
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

It's just so much fun to share a book!

Monday, August 23, 2004

We don't buy

One of the things that sets this used-book store apart from many others is the fact I do not buy books from customers. I can't stand the idea of giving money away or having people bring 10 books to walk away with 1 book and no money came into the store. My landlord won't accept books in payment of my rent. Credit is another scary scenario. I currently have over 100 dollars in credit at a paperback exchange. So if 100 customers have $100 in credit does that mean we can all demand our money on the same day and drive the guy out of business? WHat happens when the credit value equals more than the value of the inventory?

I get the books from a variety of sources. Most books come from groups that are trying to raise money. They arrange to have a book drive with me. After their drive is finished I pay them for the books they collected. Then I try to sell the books. Secondary sources include garage sales, local junk shops and a small amount come from remainder houses. I'm very pleased with the selection on offer in the store. I have a very good ratio of purchases to customers. Approximately, 90% of the people who come in the store buy something.

The reasons I don't buy from customers are many.

  1. I set high standards for the condition of books in the store and find that many books that are offered to me are not up to par. Rejecting books that people have brought in to sell to me creates a negative feeling that may stop the customer from returning.
  2. 90% of the people who ask me to buy their books have never been in the store before, have never bought a book from me and are likely to never buy a book from me in the future. I get many phone calls from people who are moving away, are cleaning out a dead relatives book collection, have boxes of books in the basement or garage that they haven't read in years and don't have time to read now. So, why would I want to give them my money?
  3. During my research of the business I discovered that many people who sell their books to used-book stores stop using that book store. They believe that the books they see in the store are books they have already read. They can't see past the titles that they know they had and think the inventory in that store isn't very fresh or new. They stop buying.
  4. I discovered that in paperback exchange stores the inventories are often very battered and old. Just how many times can you read a paperback?
  5. I get way too many copies of the same book in the store. My space is limited.
The up side of the book drives is that it creates a positive impression on people. It advertises the business to the people who are in contact with the group. I have complete control over when they take place and how much the book drive can make. I set time and money limits. Most groups are so happy to find a way to raise money without begging for money or asking people to buy things. It is a nice neat parcel of advertising, good will and inventory!

I suggest anyone intersted in rasing some money for a small group should approach their local paperback exchange and ask to set up a book drive. Have the seller be very specific about what they want and the maximum they have to spend. The most I have paid to one group is $3,000.00. Usually I spend between $200 to $500 on a drive. This is definitely for small groups. Small groups often have the hardest time raising the money.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Fresh Windows

We are moving into a new cycle for purchasing. Customers tend to focus on school preparation over the next three weeks and this typically spells slow sales for me. After the first week in September and reading lists have been obtained my sales return to normal. To welcome those customers back to the store and hopefully draw in some new ones I have redecorated the window displays . I have decorated the windows many times with some success and some failure. One customer commented that they thought I was a furniture store after looking at one of my window displays.

I took the time this year to participate in a couple free seminars on creating displays. This mighty boost of ideas and enthusiasm has paid off. The end results are a sight worth seeing. (In my un-biased opinion) I'll run you through the window and divulge some of the neat and cheap tricks I learned at the free seminar. I also learned the window decorating errors I'm making: never display product on the floor, always have signage, add area lighting. (Oops)

Some of the things I learned. Try to display product around eye level or just below. Gather it in groupings to create individual areas of interest. Hang something in the window to stop the eye and make it look at the product in front of it. Unify the window with a theme (colour, subject, activity, etc). Wash the windows inside. Signage, signage, signage. (nothing hand written please) Hang a backdrop from floor to ceiling to make a bold impression about your display.

The hardware store is a fantastic place to get cheap things to make windows great. Sono tubes with large tiles are excellent display tables. Cut the sono tube into lengths (try for pairs the same height). Paint them and put the large cermaic tiles on top. Presto-magiko, a display table. Use two tubes with a larger piece of glass on top and it's a table. The ceramic chimney tops also make great table legs (for really short tables). Wall-paper from the discount bin is excellent for the backdrop. One roll at $3-$4 is a bargain when you can use it in the window for months. Discounted fabric from the fabric store is also an excellent addition to the window. Use this for the back drop also or cover the floor with it all bunched up to create mounds or cover a table top with it.

Apparently, the hot new colours are a light, wedgewood blue with white or silver. This I used in the north window and have promoted my sideline product, Memorybook Supplies. I'm supposed to communicate a message in the window. The message is "On a scrapbook cloud". I had some leftover snow fencing at home. I painted a section of it a creamy white and have hung it vertically from the ceiling against the back wall. Over this I hung a strip of wallpaper the correct colours. I purchased something called "Cool Tule" or "Mesh" in the same creamy white (22in x 10ft). This is bunched, twisted, draped and swagged from the ceiling to floor zig-zagged over the snow fence and wall-paper. Wrapped around this is a narrow strip of wall-paper border in a slightly darker wedgewood blue, cream and a hint of tan. I painted my sono tube lengths the same creamy white, wrapped the tiles in the wall-paper to create the tops. In front of the vertical wall hanging I have placed a white table. So now I have several surfaces to display product and the whole thing is pulled together by colour. I've thrown in a few accessories: blue birdhouse, cream and silver table lamp/silver candle lantern. Shaped glass jar with blue and white beads inside. The sign is hung. Product in matching colours is added.

Window two (South) didn't come together as easily but the end result is eye catching. (humble opinion, again) The other hot new colour combo is dull earthtones accented with a splash of a jewel tone. I'm using purple and gold to jazz up a window with green walls and carpeting. There are two giant (two feet across) flowers made from the same "mesh"/"cool tule", one in purple the other purple and gold hung on the back wall. Three gold baskets in the shapes of stars are hung from the ceiling in the middle of the window and the same sono tube/tile top display stands are being used. A short art easel presents a poster of fields of lavander in Provence and I spray painted a bouquet of large thistles purple and added to the window. The base of the window is lined in greenery garland. This window is filled up with books all in the purple and gold colours and voila!

Window two was more difficult because I got jumbled on the theme. It started as "Pick your own". Making a play on the pick your own farms. I'm not exactly sure what the theme is now! It's still something about gardening, growing. I'm still making mistakes but at least things look different and interesting.

I've had a couple positive comments on the windows already. Keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Business as Usual

I own a small used-book store in a town of over 300,000 people. I know that it is customary to call it a used bookstore but somehow that seems so gramatically incorrect. Would that make me a used bookseller? Yikes! I do hope that this is a used used-book store. A very well used one indeed.

I carry over 10,000 paperback and 5,000 hardcover titles with several more boxes of books to be put on the shelves when the space appears. I find it quite funny that people walk into the store and claim to have just as many books in their homes as I have in the store. That must be a cramped home! I have 1,200 square feet and I don't have space for beds, couches or a kitchen table. I spend so many hours here it feels like home.

The store opened in November of 1996. Since then I have moved it twice. Each move has increased the size, quantity of books and hopefully the number of customers. I found it very interesting that all the research I did about expanding the business talked about figuring sales by square foot. No one was relating sales to traffic counts, local population or number of customers. It has me baffeled.

So I'm nearing my last year on the lease and I've got to make some decisions before my time runs out. My blogging experience will contain my bookselling experience and hopefully it will help me to decide the direction I'm going to go with the business.

The options: keep it, sell it, close it!