Merchandising not only helps the books we’re featuring jump into customers’ hands, it gives personality to the store, making every room unique and giving each one character. We employ our sidelines to do this, using cookware and placemats, gardening tools and knitting needles to create a homey atmosphere in what we call our “Home” room (its sections range from cooking to gardening to home, psychology to parenting to health); miniature globes and maps, backpacks and travel paraphernalia in the room that houses our travel, nature, and faraway places; Shakespeare busts and bookends in the literary room. We use our sidelines to increase out profit margin but also to tell stories about the books on our shelves and the sections in our stores.
Because we are small and quick to act we can bring in locally made wares from all over the state and turn them over rapidly, so that nothing seems stale. We have a “trade” program with the other shops on our block and across our community; here’s how it works: We agree on a dollar amount, say $75, and then trade equal products across stores with a minimum of paperwork and fuss. For example; we recently traded five copies of The Geometry of Pasta to the local deli across the street. We then took $75 worth of pasta and sauces and crackers to make a display with our copies of the same book. Using Local First signage to remind customers that we are just across the street or down the block, we both win (we sold the goodies in record time and went back for more). We’re currently doing this program with about 10 unique merchants around town and are delighted with the results. It lends uniqueness to our displays, draws attention to our localness, and creates ever-stronger ties with our fellow locally owned independent businesses.
We use local vendors whenever possible as a way to highlight unique talent and make our store stand out, and we feature various local artisans on our website, as we do signed copies of books by a stable of local authors that includes Terry Tempest Williams and Shannon Hale. We are in the process of creating a consignment wall for local publisher Gibbs Smith similar to the consignment section we created in collaboration with Chelsea Green (which features books on the subject of local). We display Local First brochures, directories and plaques around the store as well, in general using merchandising to constantly remind customers of our localness, our uniqueness, and our close ties to the rest of our community.
Our rules for merchandising and display are loose. We try to place physical objects, whether sidelines or props, in most displays. Some of our favorites reside in the mystery room: a large black raven we acquired from a local costume store, a skull given to us by Calvin Crosby at Books Inc., and a “Mystery Menu” created by one of our mystery mavens, Paula Longhurst, which is particularly apt, placed as it is next to the door opening into the Italian café next door. As we don’t have tinted glass and our windows face west, window displays are tougher. We try to change out whatever books we use at least weekly to avoid damage, and we use large signs and props both to attract the attention of passersby (ABA’s big red “Eat Sleep Read” poster for example) and to announce our identity as booksellers.
The subjects of our displays are determined by events, and by the choices we make when buying books. We also display thematically, of course, whether by holidays or topics. Jenny Lyons, our marketing guru, is also in charge of merchandising, assisted by one bookseller in the children's room and two on the adult side. And, of course, every bookseller is responsible for merchandising in various ways, deciding which books to stack on the fiction table or face out on the shelf, which to choose for staff-picks or shelf-talkers, which to pile deeply in the book-club case. Along with the case of staff-picks near the front door and the spinner-rack of picks in the paperback fiction room, our book-club bookcase is one of the fastest selling pieces of real estate in the store.
Each bookseller has his or her own room and is responsible for not only shelving and straightening in that room but for featuring books with a “Rachel Recommends” slips (our booksellers sprinkle these around the store, changing them frequently) and otherwise drawing attention to what’s new and what’s good. Taken as a whole, our merchandising efforts not only sell books, they help create the identity that, along with the books themselves and the staff who sell them, make the King’s English the distinctive store that it is.