Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bookstore Advice: Hire Right

Kirk Kazanjian wrote an article/essay for the February 25, 2013 issue of Publisher's Weekly called, "Building Loyalty: Four Tips for Booksellers to create die-hard fans." You can read about his new book, releasing in April here.

Second on his list was "Hire right." I saw this in action a week ago while shopping in my favorite store, Barnes and Noble.

When my son was a toddler, there was one bookseller who seemed to always be working in the children's section. She was delightful. She related well to the children, and she was always ready with a recommendation or help in finding things. While I know several of the booksellers in this store on sight (we are there at least once a month), I don't see that sort of consistency  in the children's section any more. I know I am biased by my job and my personal passion for children's literature, but lately books for children and teens are the ones selling, showing growth in sales over last year rather than slowing down, so it seems like "hiring right" for the children's section would be an important consideration.

As I was browsing shelves in the children's section, a mother and her daughter approached the bookseller in the department. They explained that they had seen a Babymouse book through Scholastic, maybe in a classroom flyer, and they were looking for the book. The bookseller (a) wasn't familiar with Babymouse, (b) couldn't find it on the computer, and (c) suggested the mother look for the book from Scholastic.

It took all my restraint not to jump into the conversation.

(a) I know there's no way for one person to know about every book that comes out for kids. My students tell me about books all the time that are unfamiliar to me. To me, Babymouse is fairly well known, but I can see where a bookseller might not be familiar with that line of books. So this issue can be excused.

(b) When the bookseller said they weren't in the computer, I assumed she meant they were out of stock in the store. But ten minutes later I come across a set of twelve or fifteen books from the series. They weren't where they were supposed to be, but they were obviously in stock. Even if they were mis-shelved, they would have still been in the computer. I don't know what happened on the computer searching side that failed so badly.

(c) Because the bookseller couldn't sort out the computer/searching issue for finding information on the books she hadn't heard of, she sent business AWAY from the store. She didn't offer to order the book from the online store (something other booksellers have done for me time and time again when they don't have something I want in stock). Because she had no idea what she was looking for and didn't know her department enough to know what or where the books were, she suggested her customers go somewhere else rather than offer a way to get them what they wanted while keeping the business at her company.

Once I saw the big display, I tracked down the mom and showed her where the books were. I didn't hang around to see what book they wanted or if it was there. But I couldn't get over the whole interaction.

Kazajian recommends asking potential booksellers to describe the last three books they read and gauge their passion and excitement for the business. I think this is a sound recommendation. I think it is also important to make sure you adequately train your staff  (especially those working in specialty departments) and get them to buy into your business so they want to see it succeed and will think outside the box to take care of the customer and keep her business with your company.

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