Last week I had the pleasure of being on a panel with Karen Rosenthal, children’s events coordinator for RJ Julia Booksellers, about working with schools. The panel should have had four of us but because of illness it was just me and Karen. I have to say, I couldn’t take notes fast enough when Karen was talking how RJ Julia plans, organizes, and runs it two very successful yearly teacher nights.
Teacher nights are a wonderful way to bring educators into a store. But often it can be a hit or miss propositions that require a lot of effort. Karen made it all seem not only doable, but very profitable and a great a way to build good will. She starts by saving all the publisher promotional items – bookmarks, pens, posters, doodads and whatnot – throughout the year. Then she contacts reps and asks for tote bags to put the swag in, and reps are all too happy to help out. Every attendee gets a bag. They have an ongoing raffle during the night that seems to generate a lot of buzz with the teachers.
RJ Julia has two teacher nights a year. The autumn one, usually in November, is a general night. Teachers are invited for an evening that starts at 5:00. Promoting them is done largely through the existing teacher email lists, the store website and in-store promo. They serve wine and cheese (wine is vital) and do their best to make it feel like a night out for the teachers. Timing of teacher night was something we’ve all struggled with. Four is too early, seven is too late, etc. Karen hit on 5 p.m. as a good time because it gives the teachers time to finish up at school and still get home by seven for their family dinner. Teachers are encouraged to sign up in advance, but it’s not required. The staff takes a quick poll of grade levels among attendees and then quickly booktalks new books, both in hardcover and paperback, for those levels. Then they let the teachers browse while they pull the raffles. All purchases made by teachers that evening, for themselves, or their classrooms, are discounted 20%. This makes the evening all the more fun and teachers tend to buy more for themselves, Karen said, than their classrooms.
The spring teacher night is one where they bring in publisher reps who talk about their books; last spring’s topic was the Common Core and it was packed. Karen asked two or three reps to come in and speak about their books and how they can be used to fulfill various requirements. Kate Sullivan from Random House was at the panel and said for her schedule it’s best to plan four to six months ahead. All the reps in attendance said that they were more than happy to come to a store a do a teacher night with enough notice.
Teacher nights are such a good way to work with all the local schools, public and private, that all stores should really do them. Karen’s very practical tips make it seem easy. And, to bring educators into the bookstore, rather than only having them order via email or phone, is an easy way to build community. The teachers get to see the whole store as they shop in all the sections and they make connections with other teachers they might not know. It’s a win-win for all involved, plus it’s a great way to give away all of the promo items that bookstores are fairly drowning in.
Bookstore staffers, how do you organize your teacher nights? and teachers, what kind of teacher night works best for you?