Management-Employee Relations

We’re a small and tight-knit group at TKE.

We’ve grown up together since the late 70’s along with our customers. We’ve had babies, hired our kids (and our customers’ kids) as gift wrappers, become grandparents and are now watching a new generation of booksellers keep our store as relevant and vibrant as ever. We hire carefully and put all new employees on probation for three months so that we can take their measure and they ours, and once that probation period is over seldom let anyone go (unless finances force us to) feeling that although people can’t be stuffed into jobs that don’t suit them, most have talents in one area or another—the trick is to discover those talents and then give said employees their heads. The one exception we make to this rule is trouble-makers: The King’s English feels like family to its staff as well as its customers, and the good will and fellow-feeling staff generates reverberates throughout the store to the benefit of all.

Our pay rates are about what you would expect in an indie bookstore, the difference being that unlike many bookstores we consider frontline bookselling invaluable and pay those positions accordingly. We also offer health insurance. It’s expensive but we firmly believe it’s an integral part of keeping great booksellers healthy and happy. The cost has raised our total payroll expenses well beyond that of the average profitable store. We’ve used our low rent costs to offset this expense, and this year will be receiving the maximum healthcare tax credit as well.

In terms of scheduling we try to be as flexible as possible while still maintaining a stable environment in the store and the best possible bookselling face at the front desk. Sarah Ray works out a proposed schedule each month and Anne Holman the manager, and Betsy Burton, the owner, go over it in detail. Having already established a regular schedule and made sure that the right mix of age, knowledge and talent is represented on every shift, they check all proposed substitutions to insure that those on the desk can be everything to everyone who walks in our door—or as close to that ideal as possible.

Because booksellers at TKE really do like one another, filling in for vacations and emergencies is relatively simple. Usually there are more than enough volunteers for any contingency and we have a roster of capable ex-employees who are happy to work as substitutes when necessary. Anne, Betsy and Sue Fleming (a longtime, superb bookseller at TKE) train new staff and then pair them with other experienced booksellers to learn the fine arts of handselling and customer service—and, of course, to absorb the inventory. Every employee has a job description and Anne meets with each of them once a quarter to ask for a self-evaluation and to have a heart-to-heart talk about the job he or she is doing. Unless there are real problems, Anne prefers positive suggestions to reprimands, so maintaining a positive atmosphere while correcting problems before they blossom. The staff meets as a whole once a month as well, and we have as many parties as we can cheerfully throw throughout the year.

In terms of the management itself, we have seven store managers, Anne, who is the General Manager; Margaret, who manages the children’s room; Betsy, who manages the buying; Sarah, who manages the staff; Jenny, who manages publicity and events; and Kimberly, the operations manager; along with Lisa, who manages TKE’s finances. Anne meets with each manager once a week and then Anne and Betsy meet to discuss problems that may have arisen, the schedule, finances, upcoming events, publications, etc. along with plans for the future. Once a quarter Anne, Betsy, and Margaret have an overnight retreat at a remote farm far from telephones where they take an overview look at the store, strategize, make wish lists and long- and short-term plans. The first item on each agenda is a review of the proposed accomplishments from the last retreat. They are presently in the process of forming an advisory board and have already invited a former newspaper owner and congresswoman, a community organizer, a banker, and an attorney. The first meeting is planned for May 2011.