The Competitive Season Has Begun

Josie Leavitt -- November 29th, 2010

I’m not a competitive person, normally. But something about the holidays brings it out in me. I see it as my personal challenge when someone comes in the store with a list of folks they have to get presents for, to recommend books they will love. I want everyone to leave my store happy and surprised.

Customers often come in with a particular book in mind, say a movie-tie fairy/princess book for a niece they don’t know that well. Immediately I have a problem — we don’t carry movie tie-in books. We carry the real thing.  So my challenge is two-fold. First I must get them away from thinking about the brand of the book, and then once I’ve hopefully done that, I must get them as in love with The Barefoot Book of Dance Stories as I am. Convincing someone that your book choice is really good takes skill. Pure enthusiasm and knowledge of the book usually wins the day for me. I’ve noticed, even though I’m 46, I seem to hop a lot when I’m excited about a book, plus I tend to wear a floppy Santa hat during the holidays, so I make for an interesting sight while exclaiming over a book.

I want folks to leave the Flying Pig thrilled with their purchases. This is the one time of year I have to get folks who are new to my store to see why shopping at an indie is a more satisfying experience. Every customer should leave happy and be making a note to shop with us for their everyday purchases as well.  For all indie bookstores the holidays are a chance to make and keep new customers, and to keep thrilling your regulars who’ve come to count on you for that book for Aunt Betty and the surprise book for their spouse.

We used to have an employee who would spend a lot of time just looking at the books, slowly moving from case to case. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was taking them all in. Later I discovered he had a somewhat photographic memory, so he knew where everything was. All booksellers need this skill. Handselling only works if you can actually put a book in the customer’s hands. While we’re thrilled to order books for folks, it’s also really important that people leave satisfied with a book in their hands.

I find the biggest challenge is thinking outside the box when it comes to book recommendations. Oftentimes someone will come to me and say, “My Uncle likes woodworking. And I want a paperback.” We don’t have a woodworking section, plus it’s always a danger to get someone a specific craft book because you don’t want to duplicate a book in his collection, so now I’ve got to ponder. I don’t have all day to ponder, I have about 10 seconds and then I must produce a book. I remember that a staffer loved Shop Class as Soulcraft. I booktalk it, the customer is pleasantly surprised. And it goes on like this all day.

By the end of the day, I’m tired and probably hoarse, but I’m hopping around because I think I did okay.

2 thoughts on “The Competitive Season Has Begun

  1. Kathy

    Funny – I love reading about your bookstore because so much of what you say is just like my high school library. I have a very short time to get a kid excited about a book too. I also have to put one in his hands – not just talk about it and then NOT find it on the shelf… I have to get creative about books when they say, “Yes, I’ve read all of your woodworking books – is there anything else?” when I didn’t know they had even checked all of them out. That’s also my challenge – to get the kid to read – and the most fun part of my job is finding the right book for the right person. I admit I have an advantage – I’m talking to the person who will read the book, so I have a little easier time!

  2. Kate

    I too wear my Santa hat around the store; I find it helps me stay in the mood when things get crazy.
    One of my tricks for people buying for kids they don’t know well is to suggest choosing a book the adult loved as a kid – it gives them a memory to share when giving the gift, and often makes the adult happy just remembering.

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