A Versatile Staff

Josie Leavitt - February 17, 2011

Every year during the slow months of January and February I crunch numbers about our bestselling books for the previous year. I was surprised to see that adult paperback fiction was right up there with Mockingjay and When You Reach Me. I was very curious about this, so I delved deeper.
A good small to mid-sized general bookstore, with a great children’s department, requires a staff that can jump in and be able to converse knowledgeably about every section of the store. And that is clearly reflected in the books that did well during the year. Yes, some of the paperbacks were bestsellers, but others were the direct result of my dedicated staff handselling books they love. Who would expect to see Modoc or The Thirteenth Tale to be among the top sellers for the year?
Our store does not have specialists. We do not have section managers. We all wear the same hat of bookseller. We are trained to help any customer who walks in the door. Since our move from Charlotte four years ago, we expanded our staff and doubled the size of the adult department. This year was the first year that adult book sales eclipsed the kids’ department in money earned. The staff here has to be able to switch gears quickly from helping a parent find the perfect book for their five-year-old to picking just the right book for the next book group.
Passion is what sells books. One staffer read and adored Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. That passion translated to more than 100 copies of what could have been a small hardcover selling in the store last year. The beauty of one staffer’s passion is you can say, “Darrilyn just loved this.” And that vote of confidence from someone else on staff is often enough for customers to feel good about buying a particular book.
It’s interesting to me that some folks won’t buy a hardcover kids’ book, but they’ll buy an adult paperback that costs the same. While money is a huge factor in any purchase, so is the bookseller saying the book is good. We often have customers who won’t buy a bestseller unless someone on staff has read and liked it. While this is a lovely vote of confidence, it requires all staffers to be up on their reading.
One way we showcase the versatility of the staff is by our shelf talkers and our staff picks. Each staffer has her (we only have women working here at the moment) shelf on the staff picks case and there are shelf talkers scattered throughout the store. Each shelf talker is a representation of that person’s handselling. There’s nothing like seeing a customer read a shelf talker and then buy the book.
A versatile staff can make your year by selling outside the box. And this year really proved that to me. I’m thinking that on Friday I’ll buy everyone lunch.

6 thoughts on “A Versatile Staff

  1. leda

    Modoc: Kevin Costner announced a few years ago that he was making a movie of this book. There’s no release date or info out yet, so I have no idea if it’s still in process.
    When I wrote BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS, I did a lot of research on the various famous Modocs and concluded that Helfer’s book can’t possibly be true–and there is absolutely no supporting source info. Interesting. But Helfer’s Modoc is definitely not the Modoc who starred in the ballet.
    Of course, Helfer’s book is still a good read, one way or the other.

  2. Stephanie

    I love reading the shelf talkers at my local bookstore. Even if I’ve already read the book, I like to see what the staff person says. It actually works, too, I’ve bought several books on recommendations by staff. It helps to have that additional personal touch beyond what the book jacket says.

  3. Carol B. Chittenden

    When does your staff accomplish that much reading? I worry that I can’t pay people to spend time reading, yet I rely so heavily on them to know more of the books than they can possibly cram in between customers and other assignments. We do all report on at least one book at our (more-or-less weekly) staff meetings, but of course that only scratches the surface.

  4. Joan Kindig

    Flying Pig is absolutely awesome. I visit the store whenever I am in Vermont and read their columns in this newsletter regularly. Oddly enough, I often share their insights on selling and sharing books with my students who will be in the classroom soon. It’s all about matching readers with good books and no one does it better than Flying Pig!

  5. Sandy First

    As a member of the Flying Pig staff, I can say we would never expect to be paid for the time we spend reading. We do it because we adore books, our store and Josie and Elizabeth. We feel it is our responsibility and privilege to be prepared to fully serve our customers. We gather knowledge not only from reading books but also from sharing with each other and listening to friends, family and especially our customers; adults of all ages, teachers, authors, students and a wonderful and diverse group of children.


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