Christian Retailing

Independent Thoughts November 2014: Show your hometown pride Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 02:14 PM America/New_York

Engage the wider community—not just Christians—with the help of independent authors and ‘shop local’ campaigns

DaveSheetsCommunity is about bringing people together via a common interest for the common good, taking pride in one’s hometown. Local authors can become “local celebrities” with the help of local bookstores that give back to the community by engaging its residents. American Booksellers Association (ABA) independent bookstores have been doing this for years, but Christian bookstores can use similar methods to bring their community together—and into their stores.

Host or Co-Host a Themed Event

Some books will lend themselves to specifically themed in-store events better than others. Take advantage of that and work with independent publishers and their authors who are local to you to arrange a special event that encourages your community to gather at your store.

You can also partner with other local businesses on events, thereby building a “shop local” mentality in your community. As part of their new “Book/Plate” series, Greenlight Bookstore, an ABA store in Brooklyn, New York, partnered with neighbor Peck’s Specialty Foods to host an event for Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit. The series features events that include dinner with an author and a copy of his or her book. Greenlight’s Jessica Stockton Bagnulo called the event “a super lovely evening of food, camaraderie, a brief reading by Francisco and lots of book signing and chatting.”

The point here is to get creative with ways you can help local authors build recognition and a following within your community, thereby helping you increase your customer base. Make it fun, educational, informative, relational—whatever works with the book/author you’re promoting.

Celebrate Books and Community

People love to talk about books. What better way to encourage foot traffic in your store than to open your doors wide to the community at large to celebrate books? Add to this a celebration of local and independent authors along with community goodwill, and you’ve got a great opportunity to share your store with locals, increase your customer base and become an example of Christian care and compassion within your community. In addition to inviting church groups, pastors, ministry teams, youth groups and entire local congregations, invite the whole community. Make it about celebrating the wonder of books!

BookPeople is a local independent bookstore in Austin, Texas, that focuses heavily on the community. On Aug. 16, during the store’s quiet season, BookPeople threw open its doors to the local community in celebration of all things books—and all things Austin. They offered entertainment, prizes, snacks, conversation groups, a literary trivia contest, story times, a movie screening, author appearances and more in their store. The store’s co-owner, Steve Bercu, worked with the local news media to ensure the community was aware of the event. The local response was enthusiastic, and the store’s typical Saturday traffic was up by more than 1,000 people that day—and sales were up by 35% for the day.

“In terms of our store, what matters is the enhanced connection with our customers that something like this allows,” Bercu said. “This is goodwill, and this is relationship building. The idea is that our customers participate in the fun and appreciate the store more because we did it. It’s not about selling stuff; it’s about having fun and liking this place because that’s what will bring customers back here forever.”

Honor Your Independence

Independent bookstores have every reason to celebrate what makes them different from other book sources. Perhaps one of the best reasons is the ability to share with customers the latest and greatest independently published books. To do this, though, booksellers need to build relationships with independent publishers and their authors.

What makes the independent Christian bookstore special makes independent Christian publishers and independent Christian authors special as well. We all have chosen to go our own route instead of the path of traditional publishing and corporate bookselling. We have the autonomy to make our own decisions based on our personal and professional values and goals. As a Christian retailer, you likely also have chosen this career to broaden your ministerial reach and help people find Christ-honoring books and resources that will enrich them throughout their life journey. Putting your customers and community in touch with independent authors of whom they may not otherwise have learned is a service you can provide as an independent bookstore.

Celebrate your independence by making it a point to connect with independent publishers. Work with them on programs to get their independent authors’ books on your shelves. Promote those books daily in a special section specifically for independently published authors, and expand that section with a “local authors” subsection. Share those books and authors with your community. Display them prominently in your windows. Show your community that you care about your local authors!

Get Involved in ‘Shop Local’ Campaigns

Don’t be the only store in the strip mall or on the block that doesn’t take part in your community’s shop-local campaign. As a matter of fact, make sure you’re one of the stores that is instrumental in organizing the campaign! “Community” doesn’t just comprise customers—it also includes your fellow business owners.

Such campaigns encourage people to keep revenue in their communities. By shopping locally, consumers are contributing to the economic sustainment—and, hopefully, growth—of their town or city. Shop-local events offer the perfect opportunity to promote local independent authors in your store.

Promote Community History

In addition to Christian titles, you may want to consider including books that provide information on your community’s people, natural environment and history.

The website for ABA store Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, sees independent authors as a plus in the community. The store site reads: “With technology giving us new ways to print, publish and promote books, there are more authors who choose to sell books individually or through small local presses. This is a great bonus to local communities, as more of our neighbors print their stories or delve into local history. But sadly, the reality is that these books are hard to find on the web because the large wholesalers who provide web databases for bookstores do not include them in their inventory. Good news! Here at Village Books, we carry many of these local, independent and small-press books. … Although not all books are listed on the web, all our books at Village Books are listed in our in-house inventory database (new and used), and we are always happy to look up a book or author you might find of interest. … We love to promote our local authors.”

Your bookstore exists to provide your community with the Christian resources they need. Carrying independent books and promoting local indie authors is a great way to become involved in your community. Be creative in finding ways to engage your community in your store. Your customers will come to appreciate you even more!