Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Great Barrier Beef of Bargain Books

I paint a rosy picture of bargain book buying throughout this blog, but there are some barriers to getting in, much as I hate to say it. 

Here are the barriers I hear about, some more than others: 

Barrier 1. The stock is finite in a way that new books are not. 

Barrier 1.1. The best titles sell out maddeningly fast, and even if the book is listed in good quantity, it seems to pop up at one wholesaler, sells out before you can order it, then pops up at another wholesaler, and so forth and so on. (Yes, they sell to each other -- a lot.)

Fickle stock is just something you have to weather. After you get into the rhythm of order, merchandise, sell, order, merchandise, sell for a few cycles, you realize you get a big portion of what you order and eventually get everything, just not necessarily on every order. The stock also becomes more reliable as you show yourself to be reliable. One more little thing: If you make offers you are less likely to get what you want. Sorry, that's the nature of the beast. You can negotiate until you're blue in the face, if another buyer orders at full asking price before your order is packed, you're not getting it. And never try that on short quantities if you want to be shipped, at least when you are new to the game.

Barrier 2. Quality concerns. 

Remainder wholesalers almost never quibble over damage claims, at least until you prove yourself to be a grifter (you know who you are), but this is an area that scares off potential buyers. I receive so few damage claims that this issue seems inconsequential to me, until I hear from a prospect that never answers my mailings and this is the reason. If, on the other hand, you really will only accept truly mint stock, there are a very few sources you should buy from and no others. 

Barrier 3 and 3.1. Credit, credit cards, and pit bulls.

The credit you have with publishers does not mean much to remainder wholesalers. The publishers have credit departments trained to never, ever, under any and all circumstances, answer phone calls, return phone calls, or answer emails or faxes, if there is even a hint of asking for a reference. If you don't have references among their fellow credit managers working in the remainder trade, they don't mean much. And freight or other references are considered a sign that you don't have credit, so don't use those. Regarding those remainder wholesaler credit managers, I don't know why I put pit bulls in my subject line. Pit bulls are actually very sweet dogs if not trained otherwise.

To get past this barrier you need to use a credit card, and this is yet another barrier for some folks. This transaction isn't ever going to be warm and fuzzy, but if you're careful in communications and supply the right info, you will be fine. The card is not charged until shipping so that all charges are known when invoicing occurs, and you won't be charged for things that didn't ship and need to be credited back later. 

Exception: There are occasionally sales where your card is "hit" when the order is received. This may be because you supplied partial data, or got the name on your card slightly wrong, or your first order is super sized. Another possible flag is if you seem to be exporting: your order looks to be placed by a retail store in the USA, but your ship-to location is a dockside fulfillment center. The remainder wholesaler, in such cases, might want to make sure you're good for it and freeze funds on your card to make sure, similar to what some hotels do when you book a long stay. I have seen this happen maybe 3 times in 3 years, but figured I'd better say so.

Barrier 4. The great barrier beef of bargain books: Freight costs.

Everybody has a beef with the freight costs of bargain books. There's no way around the math: The same book at $5.00 costs a higher percentage in freight than it did when it was a $35.00 book. Among experienced buyers, this barrier no longer exists. They work the cost into prices in their store, and/or they get the best deal they can with one or two carriers or freight brokers and ship only with them. The good news is that remainder wholesalers have some of the best freight rates on the planet and, usually, if you allow them to ship with their carriers, you will get the lowest rates possible. This is not to say that percentage of cost ever looks delightful. Figure on between 10% and 25% of invoice, depending on size of order (larger orders have a smaller percentage of freight cost) and distance shipped. 

Exception: There are odd zones where shipments from point A seem too high only when shipped to point B. I have one wholesaler client who always ships smaller orders via UPS since they have worked out an amazing rate based on overall volume. There is one area, however, that always seems too high to ship to. I have three customers in those zip codes, and they have all complained, at one time or another, about the UPS charges from this one wholesaler. I've never received a complaint from anybody else about that wholesaler, and some of those are thousands of miles away, while these three customers are less than 200 miles away. I'm working on this, but for now don't have an answer. 

One more word about freight costs: Always feel free to ask. I'd rather hear from you than ship once and never again. If freight cost, or anything else, is a problem, there is almost always a solution.

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