Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, and Savoy Bookshop & Café in Westerly, Rhode Island, have created a new tradition: the “Mini Winnie,” an abbreviated Winter Institute conducted at home in the weeks following the event.
Kelsy April, the children’s book buyer for Bank Square and Savoy, recently spoke with Bookselling This Week about the stores’ new post-Winter Institute learning initiative for staff, a topic she will also discuss as a panelist for the Winter Institute education session “Best Practices for Conducting Staff Meetings.”
The idea for Mini Winnie stems from last year’s institute in Minneapolis, said April, which was attended by Manager John Francisconi, Events Manager Elissa Englund Sweet, and Assistant Manager Lauren Anastasio, who came back very inspired to share the new knowledge she had gained as a first-time attendee. “She thought it would be good to bring back some of the things she learned to the staff. It kind of opened up her eyes to how much more there is to bookselling than just working in a bookstore,” said April.
Anastasio pitched the idea of a mini-Winter Institute to April, Francisconi, and Sweet, who then presented it to owner Annie Philbrick. After that, the four booksellers got together every Tuesday at a local restaurant to brainstorm ideas. Throughout the ensuing three weeks, they corresponded via text and e-mail and chatted in person about the curriculum, then shared the final version with Philbrick.
The first annual Mini Winnie took place on Monday, February 27, 2017. After closing the store for the entire day, the combined stores’ roughly 25 employees gathered in Bank Square’s upstairs events space, which had been set with tables and chairs. April said the event was especially useful since it was the first time employees from both stores had gotten together since Savoy opened in April 2015.
“We had little packets with printed-out PowerPoint presentations with notes on each session, much like at Winter Institute, where you walk into the room and there’s a little pamphlet or flyer on your seat,” said April. “We also did a short survey at the end.”
During the session from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., which was punctuated by lunch and snack breaks, Sweet, Francisconi, April, and Anastasio went over the history of the store, returns and receiving, the employee handbook, job descriptions, customer service tips, conflict resolution, and the chain of command. The day also included refreshers on the store’s point of sale system, Wordstock, as well as refreshers on the store website, the consignment program, and sidelines, each taught by different staff members. The day’s final segment was called “The Life Cycle of a Book,” based on a session at last year’s Institute. Bank Square invited John Muse, a sales rep from Simon & Schuster, and Christian Westermann, sales and marketing coordinator at Europa Editions, to talk about the stages of a book’s production.
“Following the Mini Winnie, there was a lot of positive feedback,” said April. “We kept hearing our booksellers talk about it for weeks after the event. I’m just so proud of our staff. There was a lot that we planned in a few weeks. I’m excited to do it again and to help our booksellers do their jobs better and learn more about the industry. This year, we already know we’re going to do it going in, so we’ll be able to make it even better.”
April said she, Francisconi, and Sweet — the booksellers who are attending this year’s institute along with Philbrick — have already looked at the event program to decide who is going to what session. When they return from Memphis, April said, they will all get together to decide the curriculum for this year’s Mini Winnie, taking place in February.
“We covered a lot of stuff last year, but I think this year we’ll dial it back and go over things that we really think are important so it won’t be information overload,” said April. “We plan to cut this Mini Winnie by half, with maybe two store-centric and two industry-centric sessions instead of a total of eight. I think that for this Mini Winnie, less is going to be more in terms of employees remembering or retaining what we go over.”
According to April, each store regularly holds four to five staff meetings per year, with April leading the meetings at Savoy and Francisconi leading those at Bank Square. Meetings cover a set list of topics as well as any other concerns the staff brings up. Otherwise, employees use the work communication platform Slack to share information.
The Winter Institute session “Best Practices for Conducting Staff Meetings,” where April will appear as a panelist, will bring together other experienced booksellers including Andrea Avantagio, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado; Andy Brennan, store manager of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee; and Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as moderator, to share tips and best practices on everything from scheduling and creating agendas to successfully conducting a meeting. Booksellers will demonstrate how regular staff meetings can reinforce a store’s mission, strengthen a store’s bookselling team, and provide an opportunity for employees and management to share updates and brainstorm solutions to problems.
“Best Practices for Conducting Staff Meetings” will take place on Thursday, January 25, from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. in the Cotton Row Room at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
Winter Institute 13 is made possible by the generous support of lead sponsor Ingram Content Group and from publishers large and small. See the full Winter Institute program here.