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.