Christian Retailing

Independent Thoughts September 2014:Five ways to drive store traffic Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Monday, 11 August 2014 12:15 PM America/New_York

Work with independent publishers to attract more customers

DaveSheetsAs a Christian retailer competing with a variety of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce competitors, you understand the importance of thinking “outside the box” when it comes to driving traffic into your store. Likewise, independent publishers typically have an entrepreneurial approach to handling their “traditional” publisher competition. Working together can be profitable for both parties.

Once you start to build relationships with independent publishers, see if there are ways you can partner with them on driving traffic into your store via their authors. Chances are they have some excellent ideas on events, merchandising and special offers that will pique your customers’ interest.

The following are five ways you can work with independent publishers on driving store traffic, but don’t be limited by these. Brainstorm with them to learn even more!

1. Get to know indie authors via their indie publishers. Your independent publisher contacts work closely with their indie authors and understand the importance they bring to Christian publishing. These authors provide new voices to an industry filled with established authors. Independent publishers can help explain their authors’ backgrounds and the types of customers who would benefit most from their books. All you need to do is ask.

You may find that independently published (indie) authors are more accessible as far as the time they’re willing and able to put into getting to know retailers. This gives you a great opportunity to build relationships with them. By and large, they are marketing their books solo (or with guidance from some indie publishers that provide marketing and publicity options), so they need you as much as you need them. Your common goal: to get their books into the hands of your customers who will benefit from their content. Independent authors need you, and your customers need their stories, information, inspiration and insights. Be the conduit that builds up tomorrow’s best-selling authors by connecting them with today’s readers.

2. Go local! Locate indie authors in your community and introduce them to your customers.

Today, creating a sense of community in your store is extremely important to the success and sustainability of your business. This is what keeps people walking into your store rather than purchasing their books via the Internet. They want to be a part of the community—the community in which they live and the community in which they gather. If you’re not instilling that feeling in your store, then you’re basically hanging a sign outside that says, “Stay away.”

A great way to build that sense of community is by seeking out indie authors who live in close proximity and who have become—or are in the process of becoming—active members of your community. Align with them to help build community in your store. If you expect your customers to “shop local,” why not exemplify that yourself by inviting local authors into your store and introducing them to your customers?

ABA booksellers have a long history of encouraging and building up new authors to help sustain and grow the publishing industry, most notably small and independent publishers. They “get” the importance of building a community in their stores, of being an inviting gathering place for people of like minds, of establishing and maintaining relationships with new and local authors. Take a mini vacation from your store and visit area ABA stores, or plan to visit an ABA store or two if you happen to be out of town at a conference or on vacation. Take notes. You may even want to introduce yourself to the store owner or manager and pick his or her brain for ideas. Borrow brilliance!

Likewise, work with your independent publisher to identify indie authors who live close to your store. They can usually help facilitate a meeting between you and the author. Again, you all—publisher, store, author—are indies who should be working together to bring these books to the industry through your store.

3. Invite indie authors to your store to talk about their books. Book signings are great, but independent retailers know how difficult it can be to get traditionally published authors to come to their stores to participate in one. And, book aficionados also are looking for more than just an autograph. They want to engage with authors—get to know them, their thoughts, their backgrounds. In short, they want to learn about what inspires them.

Let your independent publisher know that you’re interested in bringing authors into your store. They may have some ideas for you as far as authors who enjoy doing this more than others. You want your event to be a hit, so you’ll need to make sure the author you invite is dynamic enough to keep a group of customers interested, and wanting more!

Invite these dynamic authors to your store to talk about their books with your customers. Make it a special event. Send e-mailed invitations to your customer list. Put invitations in bags. Focus on the subject of the book if the author is relatively unknown. Make sure that the subject is a draw. Serve light hors d’oeuvres or dessert and coffee. Make it cozy. Encourage interaction.

4. Design a “Local Authors” and/or “Indie Publishers” section in your store. Once you’ve located and built relationships with some local writers, set up a special section, endcap or display table for local authors’ books. Celebrate them as members of your community. If they have their own blogs, include information about them on signage, encouraging your customers to check them out online and then purchase their books in your store.

In addition to your Local Authors section, consider building a new section just for independently published titles. This “Indie Publishers” section will draw attention to these books and authors and give credibility to the importance of independent publishing in today’s market. It may even encourage your customers to put their writing talents to work and attain their dreams of writing a book (see Tip No. 5).

Also, if you don’t yet have a “Pick of the Week/Month” shelf, why not institute one in your store? In addition to the Fiction, Nonfiction, Children’s, Young Adult, Theology and other such categories, add independently published titles to the selection.

5. Start a writers’ group and/or an indie book club. The attention you’re going to draw to indie/local authors might just inspire your customers to pursue their dreams of writing books. This presents a super opportunity to start a writers’ group at your store. Like a book club, a writers’ group brings traffic, sales and increased customer engagement. Be sure to stock books on writing to cater to this group of customers. Become their one-stop shop for all things writing and reading.

Speaking of book clubs, consider forming a club just for independently published books. This will also pave the way for more indie-author in-store events and appearances.

Indie authors provide new voices and books with fresh perspectives, and the partnerships you create with these authors and the independent publishers that work with them are vital to keeping fresh product in your store that will appeal to your community—product that is not as easily available via your competitors. Independent publishers have great ideas to help drive foot traffic into your store—to help you succeed!