All of us booksellers rely on our sales reps for far more than helping us with frontlist orders. They often lobby for us with the publicity department about why a certain author should come to our store; they can help get our credit limit raised and make sure our event books aren’t being held up; they are invaluable to me and my store would not run as well without them.
Nicole Davies is my Penguin rep for kids’ books. I see her three times a year and I’ve enjoyed getting to know her over the years. I like that she comes to every morning meeting with still wet hair, like me. She knows her books and she really helped us make our 15th anniversary celebration more fun. But, this week, she went above and beyond and saved our bacon with a customer.
Last week, while Elizabeth and I were toiling away at Book Expo, a customer called the store on Monday and asked if we had Re-Zoom, by Istvan Banyai. Our staffer found the book and the customer, a teacher, explained that she was going to come in right away to pick it up and that she was using it as a very important team building exercise for the following Tuesday. The book was put on the back counter for her. Books that folks say they’re going to pick up immediately don’t often make it to the special order shelf, they just wait in the back to get picked up. Thursday rolled around and the book was still on the counter when another customer saw the book and wanted to buy it.
The book was sold. I should say, we hadn’t sold that particular book in six months, so it was strange to have so much interest in one week. Then, on Friday, the teacher, Beth, came in to pick up the book. Except it wasn’t there. Because we’d sold it out from under her. And she needed it by Monday. Frantic calls were made to every bookstore in our region. No one had the book. We even reached out, via the listserv, to every children’s bookstore in New England and nothing. Elizabeth suggested I call Nicole on the off chance she had the book at home.
So, last Friday at 5, too late for the post office or Fed Ex pick-up, I called Nicole and asked about the book. She said she thought she had the book and was going to call me back. I waited patiently, and not five minutes later, she called back that she had the book. I asked if she wouldn’t mind overnighting it to us for a Monday morning delivery. This meant she had to go to the post office on her time off, but she cheerfully said she’d be happy to do it. Really? I was thrilled.
We called the customer, who at this point was none too happy with us, and told her what was going on. I’ll believe it when I see it, was pretty much what she said. Everything was riding on this little paperback arriving in time. First thing Monday morning a slender mailer arrived at our door containing one paperback of Re-Zoom. All was not lost. We learned a valuable lesson: put all requested books on the special order shelf, away from other customers’ eyes (nothing gets folks more interested in a book than finding out that someone else wants it), and don’t ever sell a book that’s been promised to someone else, even if they’re days late picking it up. Nicole saved us from losing a customer for good and also made our mistake a teachable moment with a really happy ending.
We will be sending Nicole a replacement copy of the book as well as some Vermont goodies as a way of saying thanks for saving our bacon. It’s reps like her that continue to make us look good, even when we’ve made a mistake, who help make this business a little more bearable and fun. Here’s hoping we won’t ever again need her to raid her personal library on our behalf!