ABA Membership Monthly: ChicoBags

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Join for the camaraderie, stay for the savings: a monthly column about the hidden gems of ABA membership, written by ABA’s Member Relationship Managers, Catherine Cusick and Nathan Halter.

Comments and suggestions are welcome at info@bookweb.org.

Independent booksellers and the customers who shop locally with them all share an interest in adopting sustainable practices, both in their shopping habits and within their communities. In a bookstore setting, an important opportunity to go green arises at the checkout counter: with the shopping bags customers use to take their purchases home.

Since 2008, a small business based in Chico, California called ChicoBag Company has been offering ABA members a custom line of distinctive, eco-friendly, reusable bags as part of its mission to help customers kick the single-use bag habit. The company has helped 1.8 million people refuse more than 779 million plastic bags with its alternative products, all of which sport bright, intentionally memorable designs. “A reusable bag,” ChicoBag notes throughout its company literature, “is only valuable if you remember it.”

Crystal Viars, channel manager at ChicoBag and ABA members’ first point of contact at the company, is a longtime advocate for ChicoBag’s mission of helping indie booksellers “offer zero-waste products branded with their bookstore logo, or with everyone’s favorite IndieBound slogan.” As well as being products that booksellers can sell alongside books, the customized bags help promote the bookstore beyond its four walls, to the community at large.

In addition to its reusable bags, ChicoBag is promoting a complementary line of products that further encourage the reduction of single-use waste. “Each product we are offering member bookstores is a proven, top-selling retail product from brands that manufacture with the greatest care for social and environmental welfare,” said Viars, including Liberty Bottleworks, To-Go Ware, and ChicoBag. Respectively, these brands offer the only Made in USA metal bottle that is uniquely crafted from recycled metal; bamboo utensil sets (fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks) with a case made of recycled plastic bottles; and ChicoBag’s rePETe option, a reusable bag that is manufactured from 99 percent recycled content.

ABA members can preorder and save on three exclusive IndieBound “Eat. Sleep. Read” slogan items — ChicoBags, Liberty Bottleworks water bottles, and To-Go Ware utensil sets — by preordering before April 30, 2016. In addition to receiving discount pricing, ABA members will pay nothing until July, when the products ship.*

Members Weigh In

“We love ChicoBags!” said ABA member Jane Richstein, co-owner of Sundial Books in Chincoteague, Virginia. “When we opened our store almost 10 years ago, ChicoBags were one of the first sidelines we carried. We wanted to focus our sidelines on items that were either locally made or eco-friendly, and wanted a reusable bag of some kind to include in our inventory.”

After researching several vendors, Richstein decided to try ChicoBags. “Crystal Viars, our salesperson, sent free samples for us to review, provided a free display, and has been incredibly easy to work with,” Richstein said. All ABA members save five percent on their first standard order of ChicoBags and 10 percent on custom printed bags with the bookstore’s logo. Free samples and displays are available upon request.

Richstein said that she merchandizes ChicoBags on a standing rack with multiple baskets, as well as on “some great little recycled cardboard display 10-pack POS boxes that [they] have used on the counter to highlight a new product or design.” She fashions the bags into window props, too, and uses them as part of promotions at events: “I stuffed several of the bags with paper and put them in the front window and they started selling almost right away,” Richstein said. “We used a few of the bags for giveaways for local events and they were a hit.

“It is a great way to have a bookstore-themed bag without the usual costs or minimums for store-specific customization,” she added. ChicoBag’s Custom program is designed to work with orders of 250 or more; its Quick Turn program allows for standard orders of as few as 25 bags.

Richstein made special mention of the quality of ChicoBag’s customer service. “Our store is fairly small,” she explained. “Although we are likely not one of ChicoBag’s biggest vendors, we are treated as if we are. Crystal frequently asks for feedback on items, gives us a heads-up about upcoming new products, and is always looking for ways to benefit [ChicoBag’s] bookstore partners. We really appreciate that!”

ABA member Sylla McClellan, owner of Third Street Books in McMinnville, Oregon, echoed Richstein’s comments about ChicoBag. “We love the ChicoBags!” McClellan said. “We have stocked them in the past as regular sideline inventory and we’ve always done well.”

Knowing that ChicoBag offers the option of customizing bags with store logos, McClellan saw a unique opportunity to help unite her community: “This fall I wanted to do a big push on getting people to use reusable bags,” she explained. “A friend had a great design with our town’s name on it. We partnered with our downtown association and did a nice big order of the basic ChicoBags and had them imprinted with this new McMinnville logo.”

The idea to encourage town-wide branding was a huge success. “They turned out great!” McClellan said. “I have two retail businesses in town and we kept a basket of them at the front counter of each. People were buying them two at a time. Around Christmas, lots of folks bought them as stocking stuffers. Our downtown association also retailed them and we sold out of that order months ago!” The next step, according to McClellan, is to give customers a discount when they bring the McMinnville-branded bags back to reuse at the store.

*To order, call ChicoBag at (888) 496-6166 or e-mail crystal@chicobag.com. ABA Members can pre-order and save on three exclusive IndieBound “Eat. Sleep. Read” slogan items when they order by April 30: Orders will not only receive discounted pricing but booksellers will also pay nothing until July, when the products ship. Orders for all three IndieBound-branded products will receive extra savings and free shipping.

For the full range of ChicoBag’s products and designs, click here.

For more information on the exclusive business services available to ABA members, click here.