Know Your Turns

Josie Leavitt - February 4, 2010

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This famous quote has been attributed to Einstein and many business professionals. Who said it is far less important that what it means to a bookstore. Yes, we all have computerized inventory systems (at least I think we all do), but what does that actually tell us?
Well, I thought I knew my POS (point of sale) system pretty well and could navigate it smoothly. Then they went and upgraded on me and now I’m awash in a numbers fest that I’m loving. In one single report I can see the inventory turns (essentially, the number of times times you sell the dollar amount of your inventor. See this website to learn more about it).
Why are turns so important? Well, for one thing, they give an accurate view of what’s selling in your store. The misleading thing about turns is: unless you can see each section, rather the store as a whole, you don’t really know what’s working. I think we all have a sense of what sections do well, but do we know what sections are really not earning their shelf space? Does reference earn its keep? Are you surprised that the how-to section had six turns last year? These are very important numbers to know during lean business times.
In looking the number of turns per section from last year I can see that I should stop buying so many bath books and spend more time making sure that my board book section is jam-packed with goodies. I was surprised at how well the Vermont section did, the message that regional books sell well was reinforced. The Vermont State award books for kids also did very well last year. What this tells me is this section will continue turn over as many times as I restock it. So, armed with this information, I’ll be better able to monitor stock levels and take advantage of publisher deals when they pop up. Sections with high turns mean you can try more things there. Take a chance on a new author in the mystery section if the turns are good. If sections did poorly last year, was it because your selection was bad, or were you just overstocked, or did a new garden center open up down the road with a great book section?
Some of this might seem elemental to savvy bookstore owners and managers, but it’s always good to look at your store a different way if you’re the owner or manager of a smaller store. I don’t number crunch well or often enough. Now the report that used to be a hassle to produce,  I see in seconds. Consequently, I can better manage my inventory, and hopefully in so doing, can make some more money.
I’ve set myself a challenge this year: increase the turns in several underperforming sections by the summer or consolidate or get rid of them and give higher performing sections more space. It’s always hard to trim a section, but when you see in clear numbers that your travel section is not doing very well, then maybe you don’t need a travel section. Better to have all sections be amazing than have some duds that are taking space away from others.
So, I’m off to Winter Institute armed with the newfound knowledge of my inventory. I’m hopeful that while I’m out in California, I’ll learn even more ways to make the most of all my shelf space.

2 thoughts on “Know Your Turns

  1. EM

    Josie, I love posts like this. I’m an editor who’s also in business school, so I appreciate news from the front lines that matches up with what I’m learning! (P.S. You explained inventory turns way better than my finance prof.)

  2. Diane

    Hi Josie, I enjoyed your column and we do not have a POS system but are installing one now. I own two very large used bookstores and we have been running without really knowing what sells in the way of the new books that we order- other than my impressions. So I will certainly take your advice when we get the system running. Thanks and enjoy Winter Institute. Diane


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