Letting the Shelves Do the Talking

Meghan Dietsche Goel - March 3, 2017

Handselling is the heart of bookselling, and nothing takes the place of engaging our customers in conversation and helping them find just the right thing. But sometimes the way we present our books can speak volumes even when we’re not talking.

Whether it’s to raise the profile of books that are being overlooked, to engage readers with a specific idea, to address a specific customer need, or to simply mix things up in a fun way, I think creative sections add energy and discoverability to the store (when they work!) in a more permanent, structural way than our rotating monthly displays.
Sometimes new sections come out of conversations with other booksellers. One of our newer sections was inspired by a panel discussion I attended last year. The conversation, which included Margaret Brennan Neville from The King’s English, among others, made me think about how to make our large middle grade section less daunting to emerging or reluctant readers. What came out of it was our “Irresistible Reads” section right at the front of BookKids, pulling together books that heavily incorporate illustrated elements, short story collections, or really exciting topics like those tackled in the I Survived series. We’ve seen a great response and increased sales on a number of books kids weren’t finding before, which hopefully means it’s resonating.
Other sections simply come out of insane demand. I don’t think I need to explain why we have a whole Rick Riordan section! But we also try to add our own flair, building in a shelf of “next reads.” It’s been super helpful, both building audiences for some terrific series and helping readers on their quest for the next great adventure.
And sometimes we create sections to explore ideas or philosophies we find topical and relevant. The “Being Me” section in our picture book room showcases books promoting individuality and tolerance, while “Love Your World” tries to inspire curiosity and engagement with the world we live in, bringing together books about nature, conservation, and activism into one. And, of course, we champion the spirit of Austin’s Independent Business Alliance with a proudly off-kilter collection devoted to “Keeping Austin Weird, One Strange Book at a Time!”
I’m thinking about this today because I spent the morning yesterday pulling together a new section. Years ago we built a section around “Global Stories” that features tales and experiences from around the globe (including here in the U.S.), and it’s been one of our most successful additions, creating a focal point for parents and educators looking to build readers ready to join the diverse, global society of the 21st century. To build off that concept, we just merged nearby sections about travel, architecture, geography, and exploration into a celebration of the “Wonders of the World.” Right now, highlighting how much can be gained by broadening our horizons and learning from each other just feels important, don’t you think?
I’d love to hear what statements you all are building into the fabric of your stores — or even just ways you’re keeping it weird!


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