Sideline Snapshot: Fall Trends and Prepping for the Holidays

"I am absolutely astonished at how well cards are doing for us," said Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Ill., which she opened in 2014 with her husband, Jeff Garrett. Around the time the store opened, Barrett recalled, she read an article proclaiming that the traditional greeting card was dead, but it's not unusual for Bookends & Beginnings to sell "hundreds of dollars' worth" of cards on a given day.

Bower Studio plantable card

Barrett has carried cards by Sacredbee and Fresh Frances for years, and after attending the Stationery Show in New York City this year, she added two more lines of cards: UWP Luxe, which she described as "gorgeous sculptural pop-cards," and Bower Studio plantable seed cards, which have wildflower seeds embedded in the paper and will grow if planted.

Bookends & Beginnings also does well with products by Unemployed Philosophers Guild, which Barrett described as a "perfect sideline match" for her store. She recently brought in its Ruth Bader Ginsburg finger puppets and Impeachmints, which sold so fast that Barrett "barely saw them" in store. Some other perennial favorites include Folkmanis puppets, jigsaw puzzles, handmade jewelry that the store imports from Germany, soaps and a variety of journals. Looking ahead to the holidays, Barrett she doesn't typically bring in anything exclusively for that season, but she does definitely increase the volume of orders. Added Barrett: "I am a huge believer in sidelines. I think they really make the store much more interesting to browse in."

At Givens Books & Little Dickens in Lynchburg, Va., the store's nonbook items are generally split into two categories: gifts, which include cards, journals and more traditional bookstore sidelines; and toys, which make up around 30% of the 16,000-square-foot store's total inventory. Toy buyer Danny Givens reported that in the gifts category, Blue Q socks, potholders and hand towels do very well, as do cards made by the company Graphique. For toys, Givens reported that games are far and away the store's hottest category and just keep "growing and growing." Perhaps the store's bestselling game is Codenames, published by Czech Games, which Givens described as "very literary" and perfect for a book and toy store. He added that Braintopia, published by Asmodee, is another game that performs consistently well, and puzzles made by the company Ravensburger are extremely popular.

When asked about noteworthy trends, Givens said he continued to be surprised by how many unicorn horn headbands, made by the company Brooklyn Owl, the store has sold. He recalled that when he first brought in the unicorn horns, he thought, "Who is going to buy these?" Since then, the store has reordered them several times. On the subject of ordering for the holidays, Givens said that he orders "much deeper," and given that store traffic triples and sometimes quadruples, he uses the holidays to try out new games and toys, particularly syndicated or licensed products that he otherwise does not usually stock. If something hits, Givens can then respond to customer demand and order more rapidly than a big box store can. Said Givens: "The beauty of being a small business is we're nimble and flexible."

In Phoenix, Ariz., Kim Saltzstein, sidelines buyer at Changing Hands Bookstore, reported that the store is seeing great sales of state and local merchandise. Anything that has to do with Arizona is selling, which has surprised Saltzstein as the store is not a tourist destination. Merchandise featuring cacti and succulents, especially prints, water bottles, journals, cards and home decor, have been strong sellers all year, while other notable trends include fidget toys--though they have slowed down a bit since the summer--tea towels and wooden box signs, anything to do with mermaids and unicorns, Trump-related merchandise such as the "Dump Trump" countdown clock, and "socks, socks and more socks." Saltzstein added that she does not expect the sock craze to slow down any time soon; Blue Q is the store's best sock line, while Sock it to me, Freaker, Hot Sox and Noelle socks also do well.

Saltzstein explained that because sidelines can account for more than 50% of the store's December sales, she begins buying for the holidays as early as January and "likes to stay organized." There are some items that she carries only during the holidays, including Frasier Fir candles by Thymes, and each year Changing Hands sets up a stocking-stuffer table featuring gift items all under $20, perfect for teacher, office and white elephant gifts. Saltzstein said that last holiday season, one of the items that the store couldn't keep in stock was 3D holiday specs by American Optical. She said she expects to sell around 600 this season.

For Robert Moore, owner of Oregon Books & Games in Grants Pass, Ore., some of his bestselling sidelines are bookmarks, Melissa & Doug educational toys and book lights, of which he stocks a variety, ranging from $10-$30. He added that cards do well, and he's experimenting with carrying a wider array of greeting cards. In terms of holiday sidelines, Moore said that Elf on the Shelf toys are always strong sellers, though they are usually gone by Thanksgiving, as the Elf on the Shelf program begins right around that time. They sell so well, in fact, that on the first day they go on sale Moore typically moves around $500 or $600 worth.

During the holidays, Moore increases his inventory of Melissa & Doug items from about 3,000 to nearly 7,000, while sales of book lights "increase out of all proportion." He explained that during the end of the year shopping season, one typically expects an item's sales to be around 2.5 times its normal sales. Sales of book lights, however, increase by around six or seven times. Said Moore: "They make a really super-nice gift item when you don't know what that person wants to read." --Alex Mutter

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