Observations on Bookselling from the San Francisco Fair
"When the customer comes through the door, say something cordial," Susan continues. “For example, 'Good Morning,' or 'Hello,' or 'May I help you?' or if you are insanely busy, 'Please look around, I'll be right with you.' I could count on the fingers of one hand the vendors who greeted me. Even if the booth was empty and I was the only person present they busied themselves elsewhere, neatening up a pile, chatting with a neighbor, talking on their cell. Customers? Who wants customers?"
This is excellent advice, but a word of caution here before you pounce on people like a used car salesman. Some people want to browse first without being accosted. You can tell by their eyes whether they want help or want to be left alone. If the latter, a quick "hello" will suffice. Their eyes will tell you when they are ready to talk.
"Where were the bargains, the sleepers?" she asks. “In the whole shebang I saw only one dealer with a shelf or two of books at $10-$20 in lesser condition with a sign that said 'SALE.' Almost everybody who ever taught me about face-to-face sales stressed that sometimes you deliberately stick in a few bargains, a great value, a treasure for less than it's really worth because that's what makes the game exciting and most of the time you want the customer more than you want the book."
Some booksellers seem to want the book more than the customer and price accordingly. There's a word for them - "collectors." You need to decide which you are, as the appropriate strategy differs depending on which category applies. Offer something for everyone unless you have deliberately chosen an elitist marketing strategy (which may work when dealing with the ultra wealthy).
"I love ephemera. I brought money to buy and I wanted to buy ephemera, but people brought it by the bushel basket and they displayed it in the same way, so that it was IMPOSSIBLE to look at it, or go through it, or set it aside or compare with other things, so that it felt like an overwhelming GLUT of paper. I bought one piece of ephemera from a person who did not greet me, was utterly uninterested in showing me anything else and had to be asked for a business card, a bag and a receipt."
Two points here. If customers need to search for something like it is buried treasure, it needs to be priced like buried treasure - cheaply enough to be worth the effort. People aren't going to pay Tiffany prices for something in a yard sale display. The second point is if you are rude, unfriendly or indifferent to a customer, he or she will not want to return. Why would s/he?
In fairness to Susan, she had many positive comments about people she met at the fair, but our focus today is on opportunities for improvement. However, we should note that as someone who was considering taking a booth at book fairs in the future, Susan concludes, "After viewing the dynamics, cost, effort, risk - reward ratio, I think it will be a cold day in Hell before I ever entertain that notion again."
Next, we will look at Chris Lowenstein's comments as a seller at the fair, and if it did not make her a millionaire overnight, it was still a good show, and in tough times, a good anything is good news.