How to market an independent bookstore to local businesses
March 29, 2013 8:02 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some ways to get the local lunch crowd into our bookstore, which sells used books, CDs, DVDs, videos, and books on tape/CD; a small number of new books; kids' gifts; and other gift items/stationery/cards. Many of our customers don't have much to spend (which works out because our books are priced very low), but nearby is a law firm, a couple of big corporations' local offices, a bank, etc. I don' t know if the employees even know we exist. Any ideas on how to get them in here to pick up a birthday card or used CD or small gift for a friend? We're located in the downtown area of a medium-sized city. There are very few places to shop in the downtown business area.
posted by trillian to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you gotten in touch with your local media (papers or websites)?
posted by brujita at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2013

Open house during lunch with cupcakes and coffee.

Distribute coupons to the various offices, perhaps an hour each morning before the shop opens.

Bright signs with a themed special each day. Monday, books, Tuesday, Cards, etc.

Book clubs. Advertise a specific book, and invite people in to discuss.

When I worked downtown in Nashville, it never occured to me to shop there because it was all touristy crap and frankly, it was mostly about grabbing a bite and getting back to work.

Also, you may not be in a bookstore friendly market to be honest. Bookstores in general are suffering and a lot of folks prefer not to accumulate more books, favoring e-readers.

I think bookstores would work better in a small, funky neighborhood, where dogs are welcome and there's a bridge game or scrabble going on.

There has to be a reason for your shop to attract people into it, either activity, food or magnatism.

Simply needing to buy what you're selling isn't going to do it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not gonna thread-sit -- just wanted to mention that this is a store inside a city library (and the proceeds support the library), in case that makes a difference.
posted by trillian at 8:26 AM on March 29, 2013

Hook up with the local SCWBI and see if any local YA authors would be interested in doing events. YA has a big draw--and those attending will likely be teens (who have money) and their parents, who need to drive them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a local used book store in New Haven (Book Trader Cafe) that's about 50% used books and 50% lunch/coffee counter. It managed to make it to Adam Richman's Travel Channel series "The Best Sandwich in America" (story here)... so food can definitely work to get people in the door.
posted by reptile at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some kind of coupon or promotion that has a fairly short expiration date. Try to get people onto a mailing list-- maybe by offering a one-time coupon for signing up. Also agree with distributing coupons to offices. If you call them "friends and family" coupons or similar, that will help.
posted by BibiRose at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2013

Do you have a sandwich board? When I'm walking around looking for lunch or doing errands or whatever on a break from work, funny sandwich boards on the sidewalk are one thing that routinely catches my eye. The chalk board ones that are regularly changed are the most appealing, especially if you can make them cute and/or funny.

This also gives you the opportunity to mention your different products on a regular basis.

In light of your city library update, make sure your signage is really obvious in general! Do library patrons know you are there? Do they know the funds go to the library? And perhaps most importantly, do they know you have the stationery and stuff? When I see a library shop, I don't really expect them to have new books or other items, just used library books.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Run a lunch and learn once a month or whatever where some expert on something of interest to the local community talks at lunch. Promote the hell out of it with the local businesses, bring a lunch and learn something instead of sitting in the company cafeteria.

You could also host local networking events. You wouldn't even have to organize then, hit up the chamber of commerce and other local groups and offer up the space for their events.
posted by COD at 8:50 AM on March 29, 2013

Promote the other gifts, especially around holidays-- everyone needs a last minute Mother's Day card once in a while! Do you have a Facebook page, and would the library be willing to cross-promote your items on their social media? That's something I see more museums doing, both in their newsletters ("New jewelry items perfect for X at $$") and through Facebook/Tumblr/etc.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:56 AM on March 29, 2013

Definitely have a Facebook page! Maybe offer a small coupon if people like you, to start. Post pictures of new products you're getting in, announce sales and events you're involved in- keep it engaging. Are there any particularly popular lunch spots near you that would let you put some cards next to their register or a flyer in the wall?
posted by MadamM at 9:35 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Online Presence - Be sure to have a Facebook, also make sure you set it up properly (as Business Page.) Twitter and Google+ can also be good. Market through those with the following content.

2) Run a Press Release - You can use a multitude of free press release sites to start to get the word out.

3) Make Flyers/Coupons - As others have said they need incentive to get into your shop. If you aren't good with graphic design and copy writing you can probably find someone free-lance online to do it for you. See if you can get your flyer displayed in the local windows. Make sure to highlight that it's for a good cause.

4) Hold an Open House/Lunch/Grand Opening - Again agreeing with others that they need a reason to come in and found out you're there.

5) Make Sure to Network - Get involved with local community events. Obviously your library may hold events so make sure you are marketing/networking at those. You can also try to attend other non-profit or community outreach events and network with them. For instance you advertise for this group and they advertise for you.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:56 AM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cross promote with the restaurants. They could have postcards/signs near their cash register, and you could have their coupons near yours. They would have some good publicity as supporters of the local library. Perhaps they could include your flyer in delivery orders.
Do the large corporate offices have a cafeteria?
posted by Sophont at 10:17 AM on March 29, 2013

I've mentioned them on MeFi before, but Fog City News in SF, while obviously a different demo, does a really good job of bringing people in off the street in the Financial District by a) stocking unique items (international newspapers and international chocolates) and b) having a cool sandwich board (which advertises their free weekly chocolate tastings).
posted by deludingmyself at 11:08 AM on March 29, 2013

Another vote for cupcakes and coffee... maybe even some kind of weekly bake sale on fridays around lunchtime? Also host as many events as possible- book clubs, author talks etc. And since you're part of the library- does the money raised go back into the library? is there a 'friends of' the library member group yet? If it does then promoting it as way to support your local library might be a great idea too. The kind of group that charges a small membership fee, and you get a small discount (like 10%) at the store.

Coupons.. since used books are cheap, and you can't discount them much since they're so cheap already- i'd make the coupon be something like buy 5 paperbacks, get one free. You're only saving a couple bucks, which isn't much, but a free book sounds nicer than $2 off.
posted by Aliera at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2013

Also nthing the better signage and sidewalk sandwich board. If this place is like the usual bookstore in the basement or such of the library, odds are even most of the library patrons don't know it's there.
posted by Aliera at 1:34 PM on March 29, 2013

Distribute free cardboard bookmarks advertising your hours, merchandise, etc. to the various offices around your area. I hate clutter and try to keep my work areas as organized as possible - but I will never throw away a good quality bookmark.

For added effect: have elementary school kids help design the illustration. My hometown independent bookstore does this, and it really adds a special touch.
posted by invisible ink at 4:28 PM on March 29, 2013

Can you display art or handcrafts? You could host a local/student group and have an opening reception. Anyone whose work is on display will invite their friends and family.

Or sponsor a children's art poster contest with a specific theme. Bingo! Parents.

Or coordinate an event with one of the local businesses so they will publicize it from their end and ask their employees to volunteer (during work hours!)
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:20 PM on March 29, 2013

Promote the cards. Make a display showing some of the lovely (funny, thoughtful, inspiring, whatever) cards you carry, and put it somewhere that the office workers will see it. Rotate the cards on display regularly so it sends the message that new things are coming in regularly.

I work in downtown Oakland and there is one store that carries good-quality greeting cards (the only other choices are the drugstores). As far as I can tell, they capture most of the card-purchasing dollars spent by people at my workplace. In fact, I just dropped $5.75 there on a baby shower card on Friday (note to self, remember to get reimbursed).
posted by Lexica at 7:13 PM on March 29, 2013

I am in charge of birthday cards for our office and I go to our local library store, within walking distance, to purchase them because they have a great selection. Very different than Hallmark. They have some leterpressed cards, some humorous cards that are very well designed and large section of "from us" kind of cards with lots of space for groups of people to sign.

It would be worth it to send a cute flyer or post card featuring your birthday card section to the businesses nearby. Go on their website or call and find out who the office managers and scheduler type of people are. Administrative assistants are good too. These are the kinds of people that have to run out and buy cards for birthdays, retirements, baby showers, bridal showers and other office celebrations.

For administrative professionals day (AKA Secretary's Day) you could do some cute promotion.
posted by dottiechang at 7:57 PM on March 29, 2013

I'm the marketing assistant for the independent bookstore in our town. Yay indies!

* bookmarks with hours, location
* ad in local paper
* book club
* Facebook/Twitter
* mailing list with (weekly? biweekly?) coupons/offers
* handing out coupons at these law offices etc near you

Carry products from local artists - cards and things that people can't find anywhere else. Yes, you will get the usual rounds of touristy people looking for souvenirs, but you'll also get local folks sending these things to their friends.

Also stock up on items that advertise your town and bookishness. Some of our best-selling non-book items are bumper stickers and shirts that say "KEEP XVILLE WEIRD" and, simply, "READ".

When you do get a Twitter set up, tweet photos of cool used books that come in. Signed copy of a Danielle Steel? Tweet it! Complete LOTR set? Tweet it!

Contact the elementary/middle schools and see if you can place an ad in their handout for your kids' games and books. Or, better yet, be the destination for their summer reading program! Our is as simple as: hand the kid a bookmark with 5 (whatever) lines, they fill it in with the books they read that summer, they hand it in and get a sticker/trinket! And their name hung up on our wall! Kids love getting prizes and feeling accomplished over the summer (at least the kids you -want- to be in your bookstore do).
posted by wintersonata9 at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2013

Thanks so much! These are really great ideas.
posted by trillian at 7:58 AM on April 1, 2013

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