Monthly Archives: December 2012

Where Does Santa Get Stocking Stuffers?

Josie Leavitt - December 10, 2012

Every year we sell stocking stuffers. Lots and lots of them. Our store is literally overflowing with all manner of doo-dads and trinkets for everyone. From wooden rattles for babies to high-tech accessories for iPods, we’ve got a lot of everything.
We make a sign board that announces the arrival of these lovely items. Currently, it say “Cool Stocking Stuffers for Everyone.” This to me, is a fairly benign sign. Announcing that we sell stocking stuffers seems to be a good way to get people to actually buy them. This signboard has never been a problem before, until Saturday.
A clearly agitated woman came in and asked to speak to the owner or manager. I hopped out of the office with my Santa hat on to speak with her. I had no idea I was about to get lectured about Santa and the nature of stocking stuffers. The woman just started in practically demanding that I take the sign down. I asked why and she counters with, “Santa brings the stocking stuffers.” Um, really? Apparently, her child, who was old enough to read, had seen the sign and started to wonder about Santa’s retail habits. Clearly, our store is not in the North Pole, so there was some explaining to do as they drove away from the signboard.
I tried to counter with a humorous comment about Santa shopping local and supporting stores in as many states as possible, but she was not amused. Other shoppers were laughing a little under their breath and I just tried to keep my cool. I held my ground on not removing the signboard and offered her a sugar plum and suggested that Santa can be anywhere at anytime.

Return of the Parrot Pens

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 7, 2012

Our bestselling stocking stuffer and funny little Chanukah gift is a pen shaped like a parrot that allows people to record a little message. We first discovered this item a few years ago at Kenny Brechner’s bookstore in Maine, DDG Booksellers. We ordered a couple of boxes from PlayVisions, sold out, had to re-order, and sold out again. Each year we’ve upped our initial order to match the total of pens sold the year before, and each year, we still have to order more before the holidays. We were a little late getting our order in this year, and the pens just arrived today. Josie put them out this afternoon, and by closing time, she’d already sold 14 parrots.

While Josie is the undisputed queen of the parrot pens, it must be said that these things do happen to be among the easiest — or at least most fun — handsells on the planet. The pens are nicely made, brightly colored, and have a function (the pen part) as well as a fun extra (the recorder). We keep them by the counter so we can demonstrate how to record the little message. Every staff member has her own default demo recording: Josie croons the first words to “Happy Holidays;” I chirp, “I’m a great stocking stuffer!” in a voice meant to be a human imitating a parrot imitating a human.
We invite customers to try one out, and people are fairly evenly divided–adults and children alike–between grabbing the pen like a microphone and becoming their own instant lounge act, or clamming up like someone with terminal shyness facing a crowded stadium. What’s most adorable is seeing the littler kids hold the recording button down and just stare at the pen, not saying anything; then they are surprised that the parrot is silent when they press Play. (Don’t worry; we give them recording lessons.) Less adorable are the occasional curse words that middle-school kids occasionally amuse themselves by recording. This only happens about once a week, if that, but still, we have to remember to check the demo parrot on really busy days to make sure some lovely grandparent or tender three-year-old doesn’t hear “Rudolph SUCKS!” or some similarly ‘hilarious’ message.
The parrot pens have also provided one of our strangest anecdotes in the history of the Flying Pig. A longtime customer, Carrie, brought in a woman she knew from Boston. “This is my friend, Anna,” she said, introducing her. “She’s got six grandchildren.” I showed her where to find books for various ages, and then left to help other folks. Carrie and her friend browsed for a while and then wandered to the counter to look for stocking stuffers. “Have you seen these parrot pens?” I asked, plucking the demo parrot out of the display. “You can record a little message to your grandchildren.” I held down the tiny recording button, but instead of launching into my usual “I’m the best stocking stuffer!” line, I paused, and then found myself saying, “I love you, Colton.” Now, I had never uttered the name Colton out loud before, but there it was. We chatted a few more moments, and then the Boston friend casually said, “I have a grandson named Colton, but he’s too young for the pen.” Our jaws dropped. I asked if maybe they had been talking about the children by name in the store’s other sections as they browsed, thinking I’d subliminally absorbed the name, but they said they hadn’t mentioned any of the children individually. I submit to you, people, that Colton may have been too young for the pen, but that if there were ever a sign from beyond that someone was meant to have that pen, this was it.
If Josie had been the one behind the counter, the woman would totally have bought it. I may need to start crooning, “Happy Holidays” as my parrot mantra, and wearing a Santa hat.

How to Survive the Holidays

Josie Leavitt - December 6, 2012

We all know that the holidays can be enormously stressful for customers and bookstore employees. After being in business for 16 years, I have some insights to share that might make the holidays go a little more smoothly for everyone involved.
– First, and foremost, do not take things personally. Emotions can run high during the holidays. There is inherent stress in shopping for everyone in the family. Sometimes customers are buying books for nieces and nephews they only see once a year and they feel bad about that. This feeling can come out at the bookseller in the form of irritation when books are recommended. The customers are not mad at you, they just can’t answer the question because they don’t know the kids. Roll with it and state with confidence that the books you’re recommending are great for that age child.
– Feeding people is always a good idea. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, having candy around is generally helpful for shopper’s moods. It still amazes me how happy a little nibble can make shoppers at the end of the day.
– Booksellers should remember to actually have lunch around lunchtime. Too many holiday workdays find us eating lunch after three. This is a recipe for disaster for the poor customers who shop between noon and the 10 minutes we allow ourselves to inhale protein. We keep a massive jar of peanuts in the back room and we just zip back and down some quickly before we hit the floor from hunger. But not getting too hungry is always a good idea.
– Patience with overwhelmed customers is essential. I come from a tiny family and am often stunned by the sheer number of people some folks have in their families. Often the overwhelmed person is often the one in the family known for getting the perfect gifts. That kind of pressure can be very hard to live with and it’s our job to help them maintain their track record.
– Patience with the bookseller is also helpful. We are running flat-out all day and sometimes our brains can’t keep up, especially at the end of the day. We are not stupid, we are exhausted and doing our very best. Our goal is to match all the gift recipients in your life with the perfect book and occasionally we falter, but we always regroup well.
– Listen, listen and listen some more. A good bookseller should be able to start handing out recommendations within seconds of the customer explaining who the gift is for. Resist the urge to think your job is done if you’ve handed someone a stack of books. Often the first pass misses the mark and it’s the clarification chat that can really be instrumental in getting the right books.
– If you’re not connecting with a customer for whatever reason, ask for help from a colleague. Usually a fresh set of eyes and ears can make all the difference.
– Take breaks. This goes for shoppers as well as store staff. You’re no good to anyone if you haven’t gotten some fresh air all day. Take a quick walk around the building. Run to the post office. Offer to go on a coffee run to refuel everyone.
– This ties in to the above: don’t drink too much coffee. While you might feel more alert with two cups of coffee, four cups can render you unintelligible to customers who are not operating at your speed level.
– Be kind to everyone, even if they are making you crazy. This goes hand in hand with the first list item. A little extra kindness during the height of the holiday shopping can go a long way to help someone’s mood. Offer to help take books to someone’s car or read a story to a toddler while a parent shops for the kid.
– We have a staffer here who zips out to the Shelburne Country Store to get “vitamins” which are really penny candies. I know it’s been a rough day if the back counter is littered with little bags of candy.
– Don’t forget to bond with your co-workers. Work is stressful and I think we need to resist the urge to fly out of the store when the day is over. Sometimes it’s great to share a meal or a drink with folks who’ve had the same tough day you’ve just endured.
– Finally, I find that wearing a Santa hat really helps the day go better.

Catalog Success

Josie Leavitt - December 5, 2012

As booksellers we all strive to have promotional material that customers will use. Much thought is given to how things are produced and where customers can access these materials in the store. This year, for the first year in 15 years, we have not had our in-store newsletter. Technology foiled us and it just didn’t happen. However, we were not left without anything.
This year we inserted the NEIBA catalog in two of our local papers in November. This effort reached almost 10,000 people, far more than we could reach on our own. The catalog is produced by several regional trade associations which helps to reduce costs. Each store received several hundred free and if your store choose to insert the catalog in any papers, NEIBA would reimburse you up to $300. This seemed like a winning idea.
We set up a special display of the books in the front of the store so the books are easy to find. I will say that so far in the season, the books are doing quite well. The hardest part about this catalog is guessing which books will be asked for. There are almost 150 titles in the brochure, and it’s impossible to stock quantity of each title. Every week there are adjustments to the restock order of the books.
The catalog has been a favorite among customers, including this young boy, who actually read through the catalog and picked out two books. Now, that’s what I call effective marketing.

Final Hours! ABFFE Children’s Book Art Auction

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 4, 2012

Just a quick post to alert you to your last chance to add lovely art to a lucky someone’s holiday.
Suzanna Hermans from Oblong Books just emailed this reminder to booksellers, and I’m passing it along to you.
“ABFFE’s Children’s Art Auction closes tomorrow, Tuesday, at noon. There are some incredible pieces at affordable prices, so don’t miss your chance to get someone (or yourself!) a truly special gift for the holidays.
If you don’t already know ABFFE’s work, this organization is The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the bookseller’s voice in the fight against censorship.
Just don’t outbid me on the pieces I want! Or, if you do, send them to a good home.
Happy bidding.

The Return of Sugar Plums

Josie Leavitt - December 3, 2012

This past Saturday was the first time we put out our sugar plum candies. This has become a great holiday tradition that staff and customers all look forward to.
Three years ago we were given a small box of sugar plums and we put them out for customers. They loved them. We bought the candies two pounds at a time and had to constantly run back to the Shelburne Country Store to restock our candy dish. There is something so lovely about this candy. It makes people happy. They evoke the holidays and they are a darned tasty sweet bite. People can easily, and often do, have more than two while they’re waiting at the register. We don’t cut folks off, but we try to make sure parents have signed off on their consumption.
Last year, we ordered 10 pounds of sugar plums and found that it was not enough to make it through the season. Often we would find little kids just camped out at the candy bowl, literally stuffing their faces. Some kids were sneaky about it and others were just happy to hang out at the bowl until a grown up noticed that they were covered in sugar and their tongue was purple. A lot of kids approach the candy dish with suspicion. There must be something about plum in the candy name that makes them think it might be a fruit. Some kids take the tiniest nibbles and others just inhale them. And kids seem to love these little treats.
I set up the sugar plum dish and PJ, our 21-year-old staffer, walked by, stopped, and exclaimed while smiling broadly, “Ooooh. The sugar plums are back.” That pretty much sums it up.

It’s Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day!

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 1, 2012

Writer Jenny Milchman used to take her children to bookstores every week and loved how her kids were drawn into the magical world of reading. She also saw how bookstores served communities. She valued the experience so much she began to wonder if other children had that opportunity, and decided to do something to bring awareness to bookstores so that young readers in the future would still get to have that magical experience that meant so much to Jenny and her own children.

So she set up a website and started getting the word out. Now people all over the world are participating in Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day. Grab your kids and head on out to, let’s face it, one of the best places on earth you can take your family: a cozy, inviting shop full of worlds and wonders. There is more life, knowledge, adventure, richness, and entertainment contained per square inch in a bookstore than there is in any other kind of retail establishment. Well, that’s our belief, at any rate. And it’s Jenny Milchman’s, too.

“Bookstores hold a place in the hearts and times of our community. They are places to discover an author, a story, a life. Nothing affords the conversation and interaction among books and book lovers that a bookstore does. In the future, whether you download your story or pluck a volume off a shelf, a bookstore will be able to accommodate. But in order for bookstores to flourish and thrive, we must expose future generations to the unique pleasures they offer. On December 1st, 2012, take the child in your life to a bookstore. Watch his face light up as you give him free access, not just to a new book, but to tomorrow.” —Jenny Milchman

Visit the Take Your Child to a Bookstore website, share their buttons and banners on Facebook or your website, and encourage friends and family who may not be as familiar with the joys of bookstores to get out there with the kids!

P.S. If you’ve got a child who doesn’t like reading and looks at a trip to the bookstore like you’re handing him a bucket and a mop to clean the bathroom, make sure you head to a shop where the staffers understand that even so-called reluctant readers just need help finding the right book at the right time.

P.P.S. If you can’t make it on December 1, we won’t kick you out on December 2. Any day can be Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day! But how delightful that Ms. Milchman has dedicated a special day to us. We thank her — and her children.