Monday, April 28, 2014

Sourcing Your Sources

I wish I could be your only source for bargain books. I send you lists of tens of thousands of titles, indicating which titles you have ordered from me in the past, which are new arrivals received since your last order or within the last month or week, which are hot sellers at the moment, or if you have told me you prefer short, targeted lists, I send you those. If you bought certain authors more than others I will find books by them in the warehouse and send lists of those to you, or tell you about them one at a time. I send you lists based on your strongest categories, or search criteria you send me, or your location, or events you have coming up in the future. I try to make myself your go-to guy for all your bargain book needs. 

I also want you to be the best bookseller with the best bookstore for your customers. Do you know how many sources for bargain books there are out there? I don't. I guess, all told, it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000. It seems that whenever I am out visiting bookstores, there is a carton in one of their receiving areas from some bargain book company that I have never heard of. I ask and am told that, of course, it's so-and-so, she used to own xyz, then she went off and started this company. The tone is such that of course I would also remember xyz, which I don't. 

Different sources have different strengths and weaknesses. Some might have wonderful niche material, some might be all-mint all the time, some might carry the best publishers for literary fiction. Some have terrific customer service while they suffer on selection, but you buy from them anyway because they have really low minimums and make themselves easy to work with. Some have horrible customer service and agonizingly slow ship times, but such amazing inventory that you can't afford to skip them. Some have great web sites, while others seem to hide their best stuff from everybody in the business other than gas stations and shoe stores. Some hold your feet to the fire unless you buy their "best" stuff, which is super-annoying until you realize they were right all along, their "best" stuff is actually the best stuff, and you start listening to them on every recommendation. Some are located in far away places and the orders take months to arrive and you have to convert the currency before paying the bill, but your favorite customer, which happens to be the cooking school down the street, just can't get enough of that one cookbook they always have in stock, so you can't stop ordering from them. It's endless.

You probably don't have time to order from 1000 bargain vendors. You might not have time to order from 20. The point is, you should try to mix it up as much as you can and put the best and greatest variety possible into your bargain selections. As I have repeated many times in this blog, one of bargain's biggest strengths is how it widens your selection and appeal. New arrivals keep your customers interested and coming back for more, and the more varied the sources the better.

All those nice things I said in the first paragraph of this post, about how I can tailor my lists to fit your needs, are true, I do these things for customers that ask for it. I can keep lists of your search terms, titles, subjects or authors you are always looking for. When they show up on any of my lists, or even if I see them elsewhere, I will let you know. 

Yes, this is yet another shameless plug for my business, but also a plug for every source in the bargain wholesale industry. They can all be a resource if you just know how to work with them and make them work for you. In order for me to stay in business I need you to stay in business, and to be a happy buyer of bargain books, and for that to happen you really should be buying far and wide.*

*(But mostly from me.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Value Beyond Bargain

I recently visited a bookstore that, while not a bargain bookstore, buys bargain very widely and does an amazing job of merchandising it. I noticed that they had one of the best and largest cookbook sections I had seen anywhere, and it looked to me to be mostly remainders and bargain books. The owner told me that it is usually his best selling section. He told me about a couple of customers that drive from their home two hours away, at least twice a year, just to buy cookbooks from him, and that they will spend up to $500 on some of those binges.

In previous posts and in my hints page I have mentioned that a good way to use bargain is to build a section that you either don't have a lot of experience with, or you're not sure how your customers will respond to, or you just want to give it more real estate without committing the front list dollars. The section I usually have in mind is poetry since I have seen this done in more than one bookstore with the result that there are suddenly way more poetry customers shopping those stores, and that the buyers now know to look out for poets in their front and back list buys that they might not have known to look for in the past. My friend with the impressive cookbook section also does something like this with poetry and with music. I talked to one event manager, at another bookstore, who told me that authors often will happily sign remainders, as long as the actual event is based on their new book. His advice had sort of a "don't try this at home" flavor to it, however, as he said "you'd better know your authors pretty well before asking them to do that."

The point, again, is the value that remainders and bargain books bring to your bookstore and your customers goes well beyond low price. A lot has to do with differentiation, setting your bookstore apart from other sources for books.

Buy right and dramatically increase your selection, bringing more categories and authors to your customers. You are telling your customers you care about them enough to offer them something different, something special, out of the ordinary, and at a low price. Remainders and bargain books are one area where you can make your selection unique in ways that new books and even used cannot quite do. 

Your customers may not remember where they got the newest bestseller, as they can buy them anywhere, but they will always remember where they got that interesting book they didn't quite know they wanted until they saw it, and at such a great price. Buying bargain expands your creativity. You can create new bookstores within your bookstore. You can be flexible in how you merchandise the books.

If you don't yet have bargain in your bookstore and you're wondering how to get started, make two lists. On your first list write down the titles, authors, and subject categories you are asked most for that you don't have or don't have enough of. These are the customers that most often go to buy the books elsewhere. The second list, and probably the better one, is a list of your best selling categories and authors. Then start looking at the bargain and remainder wholesalers. Once you find one that carries the most of what fits your lists, place an initial order. Buy 3s of enough titles to fill a couple of tables and see how it goes. 

There will be a learning curve as you discover how some books that did not sell well new become bestsellers at bargain prices, and how some authors sell well new and not in bargain, but if you start off with your proven winners, you will soon have a great bargain section. Your customers will thank you for it.