Like all indie bookstores, we operate as close to the wire as possible. The key to success in all of our operations is our staff. Hiring and training is a priority; it’s so much easier to hire a great employee in the beginning than to have to start over (and over). We’ve been Zing-trained as well as Avin- and Oren-trained (which is to say ABA- trained), and we have taken ABA’s education seriously as the industry has changed at lightning speed. We send at least one non-management bookseller to Winter Institute each year to give them a chance to take part in the training sessions and be involved in the bookselling world at large, and we send as many as possible to our regional meetings. We firmly believe this creates strong loyalty as well as helping them to become better booksellers.
We are members of the Independent Booksellers Consortium (IBC) and believe that the time and money spent with the bookstores in this organization has helped us save enormous amounts of money and energy. Trading best practices alone has made joining more than worthwhile.
Using Above the Treeline (ATT) provides much valued information about buying books; more importantly, we think ATT has helped us be more strategic about returning books. We all know how hard it can be for a book lover to let go of good books; ATT helps us do just that. We use Edelweiss extensively, as well, thus eliminating at least 70% of our paper catalogs and at least one half of an FTE doing data entry. And upgrading to IBIDie has allowed us to keep up with technology and take advantage of enhanced customer service features.
ABA’s Indiebound website provides us with the online tools we need to remain competitive, and their links to Constant Contact allow us to easily manage our mailing list, ensuring that we’re reaching those customers who most want to hear from us. With the arrival of Google e-books we feel confident that our bookstore can enter the hi-tech game, and, more importantly, having access to e-books gives us an opportunity to engage customers in conversations, casual and otherwise. If the conversation leads to a discussion of state sales tax fairness all the better!
While we continue to meet with reps personally to buy frontlist (and always will), we take advantage of our location in Salt Lake City to get books quickly from Partners West, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. We use Ingram’s Direct-to-Home program extensively for our customers that can’t wait (and isn’t that all of them?) We’re too small to stock everything, but fortunately, with today’s distribution channels we can rest assured that anything from We the Living to The Day of the Dead is never more than 36 hours away.
We have a team of teen interns who work primarily in the kids room as they learn the business of bookselling. They also set up for events, take them down, and help with story times, among other things. This is an important means of encouraging a new generation of booksellers to follow in our footsteps. Speaking of generations, we are now in the process of beginning a layered succession plan so that when Betsy retires the store will be in good hands with Anne and her management team.
We put our money where our mouth is by using a local bank, a locally-owned office supply store, and the local kraft paper company for our bags. It does cost more sometimes and we believe we must support local business at every level to keep Utah’s economy strong. This past summer we joined the other merchants on our block to form the 15th and 15th Neighborhood Business District, which has allowed us to have a larger voice in city and county issues—and to throw a great block party, one we hope will be the first of many.