There are myriad ways that booksellers connect with customers. Most often we talk about books and why we like them or why we think they might like them. But when little kids come to the store chatting about books, that doesn’t really work. So, how to connect to the little ones? Well, by playing with them.
The fun of a bookstore with an enormous children’s section is the kids. They start shopping at the store soon after birth. We are often baby’s first outing and that sets the tone that bookstore is a fun place to spend some time. The beauty of a children’s store is that all of us on staff love kids. Even my high school senior staffer, David, has a genuine love of small kids, and went so far as to remark his first month working at the store, “Babies are fun.” Babies sense who automatically likes them just because they’re them, and parents pick up on this. If their child is welcomed and greeted at the bookstore, parents tend to think fondly of the store.
Whenever a baby comes in we all, in a polite and quiet way, go over and visit. Each of us tries in turn to get a smile or even a chuckle from the little one. This distraction is two-fold: one, it’s just fun for us, but secondarily, it allows the parent(s) a little time to relax in the store and browse. All of us are equally happy holding a baby while a parent finishes her transaction. I’ve been known to just hold someone’s baby for 10 minutes while she tries to get her book shopping done without distractions. This is not only great fun for me, but parents like it and not all stores welcome tiny people. Babies cry, sometimes incredibly loudly. Rather than acting like our eardrums are puncturing, we will go over and see if we can help get a smile out of the tot or just commiserate with the parents.
When the little ones are more mobile we play peek-a-boo and generally have fun with them. Toddlers love to come explore the back room and behind the counter. We’ll often turn around to find a tiny tot standing in the doorway of the back office just taking it all in. We pack a lot in there and truthfully, most kids have never seen such a busy room. There are kids who come to the store and know that we’ll always play with them and that’s not only fun, it’s good customer service.
We don’t clean up around kids, either. The way to make parents come back, time and again, to the store is by making their kids feel welcome. I have a game I play that Elizabeth taught me. Sometimes, the checkout process can be fraught because the kids have to have give up the books to get them scanned. On a side note, we’ll often teach the kids how to use the scanner and that definitely takes the sadness out of being rung up. Elizabeth’s game is very simple, but really fun. You guess how old the child is, but you guess outrageous numbers. You look right at the child and say, “How old are you?” Sometimes, they’ll answer, but if they don’t Elizabeth tries this fun twist, “Are you 17?” The child will shake his head no and smile. Then you change the number higher and then lower and then higher again. It’s silly and it’s fun. And then before you know it, the books are rung up, paid for and ready for little hands to hold. What we’ve done is now made the bookstore fun for the kids and as they get older this will only grow as they discover the joy of books.
And there’s nothing better than having a little kid ask a parent for a trip to the bookstore.