Here’s What You Should Do…

Cynthia Compton -- July 10th, 2019

There are a few things that the world does NOT need any more of, in my opinion:

  1. Gift books for the bathroom, the coffee table, or any other specific location. If they are worth reading, books can travel anywhere. (If they are not, they can be sold online.)
  2. Stuffed animals that are not unicorns with unicorn horns. There is no such thing as a Cat-icorn, and llamas are quite cute enough, thank you very much.
  3. The Seven-Word-Phrase-of-Doom from Customers:  “Do you know what you should do?”

Every shopkeeper has been the recipient of this kind of unsolicited advice. It happens multiple times on a busy Saturday, as new-to-you customers visit the store, and as they wait for their purchase to be gift wrapped, look around the store with an executive gaze, and utter those words that make you swallow hard and smile like a beauty pageant contestant with Vaseline coating her teeth…..  “Do you know what you should do?”

There’s really only one polite response to this question. “What’s that?” you ask expectantly, silently switching from THREE strands of curling ribbon for their gift package to TWO, and not really paying attention to whether the colors complement the paper. And then you look at the customer, eyebrows slightly raised, lips smiling around invisibly clenched teeth, as you wait for their wisdom.

“You should……”

Oh, we’ve all got a list of these recommendations, don’t we? The collected wisdom of first-time customers, the pontification of retail “experts” who spent their last $500 of disposable income online, those totally salaried, 9-to-5 on WEEKDAYS ONLY workers, benefits-covered, nobody’s-payroll-to-meet, clueless-about-rent-costs, never-heard-of-freight-charges, self-appointed consultants-of-the- moment who feel empowered to tell you how to run your business.

Oh, maybe I’m sounding a little bit bitter. That’s not my intent, and I apologize. Really, I just thought that I would use my post this week to share all the good advice I have gotten in the last month or so… for the good of the cause. In case you haven’t been visited by a ” indie-bookseller-customer- consultant” lately, here’s our latest list of expert recommendations, and we invite you to contribute your own.

So, do you know what you should do?

Advertise More. “Really, I didn’t know you were here. When did you open?”

Carry More Books. Less sidelines, because “I can’t bring my kids here. They would go nuts.”

Carry More Toys – less books, because “No one reads anymore.” Kids like video games, evidently. 

Be an Amazon pick-up point. “It will bring traffic into your store.” (This, right here, is why I keep wine in our stock room.)

Price match with online sellers. Because “you know, the volume will make up the difference.”

Run a Book-of-the-Month Club. “Do I belong to one? NO! I just think it’s a good idea, you know, for those people who do. I read on my Kindle, mostly. Actually, the kids own Kindles too, but they’re just too busy to read.” 

Offer a book-buyback program, “you know, like college stores do.”

Carry more electronics. “People download everything, you know.”

Don’t carry anything with batteries. “Really, there’s nowhere to go for educational things for kids anymore.”

Have “personalized books” that read to your kid. (This is a whole ‘nuther category of parenting wisdom, right here.)

Stock more religious titles. (That entire section of “World Religions” titles that you carefully curated and displayed doesn’t count.)

Don’t have anything offensive. (This list is so long that it will require another blog post, but suffice to say, dear fellow shopkeeper, you will need to purge a LOT OF STUFF to comply with this bit of consulting wisdom.)

Arrange your books by gender and age. (I really didn’t intend to comment on any of this…. but can you even START with this one?)

Have more farts. (OK, this is from a six-year-old customer and friend of mine, and I think this suggestion actually has some merit, and we will consider it in upcoming buying appointments.)

Be open later, for people who shop online. “Did you know we have a website? We’d be happy to process your order anytime, and ship it to you or hold it here in the store for you to pick up!”  “No, I just like to go to bookstores late, like after a movie or something. It’s a good place to hang out cheap, because you don’t have to spend any money, you know?” 

Open earlier. “We’re open at 9 a.m. every day, but we answer our phone earlier in case you need to pick up something after carpool or before work. Would you like our owner’s mobile number to text?”  “No, I don’t leave the house until noon.”

Deliver. “Actually, we DO. Here’s a card, and you can call or email your order, and we’ll have it to your doorstep by 4 p.m.”  I’m from out of town.”

Arrange our books by age. “Where’s your four-year-old boy section?”

Arrange our books by subject. “Where’s your ‘don’t hit your sister’ section?”

Arrange our books by color. “My daughter is decorating her nursery in grey and white. Where are your baby books for that?”

Arrange our books by AR (accelerated reader) points. I can’t even. I just can’t even.

Arrange our books by content. “My 4th grader reads at the 10th grade level. Are there AR levels marked on the shelves? And I don’t want anything inappropriate.”

Arrange our books by (happy) endings: “My son likes animals. Where are your books where the dog doesn’t die?”

Have local authors. “We do! I’m so sorry you missed that section! Let me show you!”
“No, my sister is thinking of writing a book. You should talk to her.”

Have a lending library. Be like a Little Free Library — do you know about those? Offer coupons. Have a clearance section. Make it bigger. Have it include books that haven’t been published yet. Offer more events. Offer fewer events, because you’re too crowded. Have more birthday party times available. Offer more story times. Have fewer things on your calendar, because it’s too confusing. Be open longer. Close earlier, because kids don’t need to be out that late, and there is a restaurant with a bar next door. Hire more staff. Your staff is amazing — don’t ever change. Offer more free stuff. Tell us what to buy that’s good. Books are too expensive… you should just charge less. And from today: “You know what you guys need? Goats. Everyone likes baby goats. “

It’s hard to argue with that, even with Vaseline on my teeth.










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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the mom of 4 kids, a rescuer of English Bulldogs, and the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana. The 2600 sq. ft. childrens store was founded in 2003, and hosts daily story times and events, birthday parties, book clubs and a large summer reading program. She just completed her term on the board of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assn, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and her store was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013.

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