No independent business channel has been under more pressure in the last decade than the independent bookseller. Competition from the now defunct Borders, and Barnes and Noble, online discounting and even cheaper e-books from the behemoth Amazon.com has threatened the very existence of the indie bookseller. Nevertheless, last year the American Bookseller Association reported a 7% increase in members, the first in more than a decade. In spite of continued growth in e-reading and online sales, there are signs of life in the independent bookseller channel. Phoenix bookstore Changing Hands is even considering a second location believing the market is underserved after the closing of a number of Borders.
What do the successful independent bookstores do that home appliance dealers can learn from? Here are seven practices that seem to work for them:
- They find their “USP” (Unique Selling Proposition). The Upstart Crow in San Diego has a great location in touristy Seaport Village. The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix sells only mysteries. Successful independent appliance dealers find their raison d’être and own it. It may be catering to high end customers or conversely focusing on scratch and dent sales, but it differentiates them from the home improvement chain. What’s your USP?
- They’re an integral part of the local community. Neighborhood operations need to be part of the neighborhood. It may be joining the Rotary Club, sponsoring the Little League, or just letting the Girl Scouts sell cookies at your front door. If you want your neighbors to buy from you, you need to be a good neighbor yourself. It gives your business a face. The chain store is faceless.
- They host events. Indie bookstores have monthly book discussions, poetry readings. kids clubs, and writers workshops. Your appliance store could have cooking demonstrations, classes in appliance care, and wine tastings.
- They get help from their suppliers. Certain costs of book signings, special book promotions, etc. are born by publishers, distributors, or authors. Similarly, appliance manufacturers and distributors have resources that can be marshalled to help host a lunch and learn event, or mixer at your store.
- They cross-merchandise. An indie bookstore that has monthly Childrens Storytime also has a nice collection of toys and games for sale to go along with their children’s books. Home appliance dealers should know how to sell garbage disposers along with dishwashers, replacement water filters, and stainless steel cleaner. Some even have their own brand of laundry and dishwasher detergents. A dealer’s store in Oregon has a housewares department and sells high end cookware to go with his luxury cooktops, ovens, and ranges.
- They go outside to make sales. Independent booksellers might have a booth at the Home and Garden show featuring the latest gardening and home improvement books. They show up at senior citizen facilities with book collections and requests for homebound customers. The days of just opening the doors and waiting for customers to show up are over. Some appliance dealers solicit local realtors for referrals to home buyers, and supply appliances for refurbs. They may also help banks with appliances for short sales. Go after business rather than wait for business to show up.
- Most importantly, independent booksellers have a strong online presence. Their association, IndieBound.org, has its own app and e-reader and coordinates online sales with their dealer network. Independent appliance dealers must get on board with having a respectable website. If they don’t have a shopping cart, at a minimum customers should be able to communicate online with a simply inquiry form. *Social Media is important. Facebook and a great blog can help foster an online conversation with influencers and prospective customers.
Check your strengths on the above 7 capabilities. Congratulate yourself where appropriate, and set a plan in motion to improve where needed. If a bookstore can succeed in this tough environment, surely you can too.
*For a free consultation and review of your online strategy e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me today at 480 249-4128 – Art Johnson