The independent buyer, frequently the owner, can buy very short quantities, focused on what they know of their customers. They mix up the bargain in their stores so that they might have a bargain section, or bargain displays in one or more points throughout the store, but also mix them into the main category sections. Used bookstores put them everywhere, treating them as just another product stream. The bottom line is that you, without thinking about it too much, can have an amazing selection, the likes of which the aforementioned behemoths can't imagine and could never put together.
Most bargain buyers have databases that they access while they work, determining how many of a particular book they bought in the past, how often, if there are still any in inventory, at what cost. Some buyers still just buy what they see and want for their stores.
Selling to these buyers, I often hear a running commentary about why a title is good or, more often, why it's impossible to sell. "We can't sell this." My favorite: "Nobody can sell this." Guess what the next buyer buys. Routinely cited as the reason for not buying a title in bargain: It did not sell well as a new book. Yet they will also routinely buy books in bargain that they know very well did not sell as new, and they know the reason they do this is because they now have a track record of it selling as bargain.
I have buyers who will only buy mint condition. These are the hardest to please, for me, as most of my lines are marked. The interesting thing here, though, is that these buyers tend to buy very different titles than other buyers. They buy bigger books, more hardcovers, more of the full color, gardening-cooking-home-decorating coffee table books. Some of my other buyers buy this material, but very few. They say these "never sell." Again, as I've said elsewhere, these buyers can be in the same town. They probably have many of the same customers.
I have internet marketplace resellers who use elaborate formulas or purpose-built software to figure out what to buy, and others who just focus on the rankings. Either way, these buyers feel very strongly that the books they reject on every list have zero value and the ones they buy had better ship immediately to keep the competition from buying them. This is a perfect illustration of what I am trying to get at here, since both buyers sell in exactly the same place and they buy completely different books.
One aspect of my service is that I highlight sellers, books which my customers are buying consistently over time, or those which one or a few buy in big quantities. This annoys my suppliers. They feel the highlights skew the lists against the titles without highlights. If only they knew the most common reaction I get from my customers is "who would buy that?" My customers buy what they will, highlights or none. There is neither rhyme nor reason to my sellers; they are all over the place.
All of this is to say, please broaden your buys. I'm not laboring under the mistaken impression that I could do what my customers do. Running a bookstore or any kind of retail book business is extremely challenging. I can't tell you what to do and never for a moment suppose that I could do it better. But just this one bit, this one little angle of perspective, does seem so clear to those of us on this side of the table, and so obscured on the other. In the difficult market in which we work, sales reps do not tend to talk business with each other much, but this buyers-who-do-not-buy thing does get into the conversation.
Take a look at the titles you are passing and try a few. You might go on the recommendation of other buyers, customers, other staff, nearby children, or, dare I say, a sales rep. Don't do too much damage. If you order 100 titles at a time, try 5 you might not have tried. Order in small enough quantities to be able to mix in with shelf stock, but enough to display face up on a table and get some idea of track record before it (hopefully) sells out. Keep doing this. Your sales will increase.
Independent booksellers are businesses, but the buyers that work for them or own them are individual, idiosyncratic people. Otherwise why be in this profession? They order based on what they perceive as the needs and wants of their customers, and no doubt about it, they are right in this. Still, they cannot help but show their true colors through their selections. The differentiation is noticeable in front and back list buying, and starkly stands out in bargain.
A buyer emailed me this feedback, June 27, 2013:
I would point out that large format pictorial books sell, but only in mint condition. Why would an interior designer who is concerned about things being in their proper place want a ratty book with a mark on the bottom to put on their fancy coffee table? Thus your customers who are extra picky about condition are right. But they often don’t understand the power of price. A book becomes something completely different when it’s $19.98 instead of $49.98. Those who primarily buy hurts believe of pictorial books that“they don’t sell” because they always get slightly flawed copies with marks on the bottom. In this case they are right.