I’m hoping that holiday sales were record-setting for all my indie bookselling friends, and that all of that gift buying is now being followed by happy first-time customers visiting your stores with newly unwrapped gift cards in hand, fully prepared to overspend the generosity of their present, join all your book clubs, and sign up for every author event you have scheduled this quarter.
For some of us, though, the crowded floorspace of December and the never-ending pages of daily restock reports will be followed by a case of January loneliness, with few visitors and sad sales numbers. It’s difficult to adjust to the slower pace of the first quarter, especially after the adrenaline rush of holiday sales, in which every day was packed full of commerce. Happily, all those bills for inventory are now paid, and while we are certainly feeling a bit more flush, the rent, payroll and utilities expenses march on, and we can quickly deplete those reserves in this low spot of the roller coaster ride that is retail.
We have developed a short list of “cash generators” in our business, events that are easy to host in January and February and keep new customers flowing into the shop during our slowest season. Here are our “down and dirty” techniques for January revenue production, and I’m hoping that you’ll share yours, too, in the comments below. In the first 8 to 10 weeks of the year, we pepper our store calendar with the following:
The Big Sample Sale: Usually the first full weekend after the New Year holiday, we sell all our toy and sideline samples at cost, including our train table, cardboard standees with popular characters (those we price at $5 and market as gifts for school libraries) and any game demos. All of those items are a bit shopworn, but this sale is marked annually in the calendar of preschool and after-school care program directors, and we sell all of those items quickly. (Note: all of those manufacturers will replace those demos on our first order of the year, and we prefer to have new looking samples on the floor.)
In-Store Bookfairs: We try to book an in-store event over as many weekends as we can in the first few months of the year, when Midwestern weather makes author tours treacherous, and offsite events require a bag of road salt in the trunk of the car, just in case. Local preschools, non-profits, and private schools are invited to do an instore event, to which we donate a portion of our sales on a sliding scale (the larger the revenue, the bigger the percentage we give back). The publicity and recruitment of customers for these events falls squarely on the outside organization, although we cross-promote their cause or group on our own social media and in-store signage. Many of the attendees at these events are first-time visitors, who are valuable additions to our store newsletter list, and pay dividends in next year’s holiday marketing plans. Some schools even take their “cut” in product — so we pay them in books, making the event even more profitable for us, and filling the shelves of their classrooms and libraries with current titles.
Cause-Related Shopping: Book fairs also are effective as fundraisers for organizations that support victims of crisis, disease-related causes. or local charities of any type. Many times, these events are accompanied by special displays of titles that relate to the cause-at-hand, which can be purchased by customers not only to donate a percentage of sales back to the sponsoring organization, but customers may choose to donate the books back as gifts, too.
Critters, creepers, and claws: Animal rescue groups are the single most popular events in our shop. We give them a table for their literature and a donation jar, and perhaps allow them to sell a few pieces of merchandise (who wouldn’t want an “I love bulldogs” sticker for their laptop?) and a furry ambassador or two to greet our customers. Most animal adoption groups are looking for public venues in order to introduce their fosters to potential adopters, and our store on a Sunday afternoon is just the ticket. Again, many of their supporters are first-time visitors to our store, and I rarely struggle to find part-time staff coverage on the days when “the puppies” are here.
Community Lectures: New to us, this year, is the scheduling of some local “experts” on a variety of topics for our customers’ edification and entertainment. One of the neighbors in our shopping center is an allergist in private practice, and she is hosting an evening in our shop for parents to discuss common childhood allergies and their treatment. Similarly, we have asked the owner of our local yarn store to bring her weekly “knitting clinic” on site, and we will share all the customers that attend.
My final suggestion is a bit silly, but it has been the source of much customer conversation so far this month, and I offer it to you as a way to re-engage those holiday shoppers who visited in December. We are planning to paint the interior of the store this quarter, and I have been really struggling with the color palette for the project. So I taped all the accumulated paint swatches on the wall, posted my quandary on social media, and invited everyone on our email list to come in and vote for their favorites in person. (We are accepting write-ins, but I’m telling you right now that I will rig the vote before the walls get painted pink with unicorns. There’s a limit to my sense of democracy.) So, if you are pondering a change to color, flooring, or design, you might use that question to draw traffic and opinions.
What do YOU do to keep the traffic flowing this month?