When it comes to stocking sidelines, Monica Holmes from Hicklebee's in San Jose, Calif., advised booksellers at a Winter Institute 9 panel titled Gifts 101 to make choices about who you are as a store in what you buy. "Books are still our biggest feature and we are trying to keep it that way," she said.
Hicklebee's, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, aims to keep sidelines at about 20% of sales, said Holmes. Jan Hall from Partners Village Store--which will soon celebrate 35 years in Westport, Mass.--has a 60/40 gift-to-book ratio. Even with a larger proportion of gift items, "I try to keep the bookstore looking like a bookstore," she said, noting that the gift and book items are largely kept separate at Partners but converge in the center of the store for displays that are often seasonal.
Linda Marie Barrett from Malaprop's Bookstore & Café shared how the store has increased its sidelines from 7% to about 30% over its 32-year history in Asheville, N.C. As for pricing, Barrett said she adheres to the "golden rule" she learned from Gayle Shanks from Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz.: "Double the cost and add 20% to cover breakage and shrinkage."
Generally, at Malaprop's, said Barrett, the buying rule is if it looks like something the buyers might want, then they get it for the store.
Jan Hall, Linda Marie Barrett, Monica Holmes, Wendy Hudson
All the panelists said they attend gift shows and local craft fairs to buy gifts that help give their stores an identity. Hicklebee's is known for its "Born to Read" baby onesies; Partners customizes historical postcards with the store logo; and Malaprop's customizes the popular Yay! magnets with its logo.
Panel moderator Wendy Hudson, from Nantucket Bookworks, Nantucket, Mass., noted that her store does well with locally produced fair-trade items.
"We tell staff about the sidelines and give them talking points," said Barrett. Frontline booksellers feel better about selling Yay! magnets, knowing it is a family-owned business.
Hicklebee's hosts game nights--with a kids open mic and other attractions--that Holmes said not only gives Silicon Valley families a chance to have fun in the store but also teaches the staff to know and love the games, which they can then sell better. Holmes urged booksellers who want to try game nights to get customer RSVPs so that they know how to staff the events. Hicklebee's keeps a few games on the counter all the time to encourage playfulness and sales. The store always has a rack of party favors on hand as well.
At gift shows, Hall advised "flexible risk taking" in buying gift items. "Allow yourself to take some chances," she said. "And do a [sidelines] sale once or twice a year to at least get your money back."
As with any buying, panelists agreed that good relationships with reps are key. Reps know the merchandise of other retailers in an area and are great partners in stocking things that will work and sell.
Overall, the gift panel advised booksellers to be aware but wary of trendy sidelines and to listen to what their customers want for gifts in their stores. It might sound strange, but Hudson offered, "sometimes the less book-related, the better." --Bridget Kinsella