Bookselling Is Give-and-Take at Broadway Books

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This past spring, around the time Borders first announced that it was closing hundreds of stores, customers of Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon, were showing signs of concern for their indie bookstore. “People kept asking, ‘Are you going to be alright?’” said Broadway Books co-owner Roberta Dyer. “So we felt an honest response was needed.”

In April, Dyer, along with the store’s other co-owner, Sally McPherson, produced a “State of the Union” address for customers, which, in addition to explaining the recent changes in the book industry and what they meant for the store, listed 10 things that the store was doing to remain competitive, and 10 things that customers could do, in turn, to keep Broadway Books alive.

On the store’s list was a plan to start selling e-books that was tied to the launch of an IndieCommerce website, which would keep the store open 24/7. The owners also committed to bulking up the store’s events schedule and to showcasing local authors as often as possible. They reminded customers of their long-standing devotion to books and bookstores; their continuous assessment of the Broadway Books’ inventory; and their commitment to employing the most passionate and knowledgeable staff possible.

In return, the owners kindly requested customers do simple things to help them reduce expenses, including avoiding using credit cards and bringing their own bags to carry home purchases. They also suggested that customers could help expand the bookstore’s reach by telling a friend about the store or mentioning it through social media.

The “State of the Union” was posted on the store’s website and blog, and was printed out and put in various places in the store, as well as in customers’ bags. “Oh, we put it everywhere,” said Dyer. “We really wanted to make sure we got the word out.

“The response was terrific,” she said. “We wanted to be as transparent as possible. We worked really hard on it and carefully considered every word, so we were really gratified when the response was so strong.”

Many customers commented on the piece when they came into the store, often thanking the owners for sharing the information and expressing their willingness to help in whatever way possible. One immediate result, Dyer said, was that customers started paying in cash more often, or asking if the staff would prefer they write a check instead of charging a purchase.

“Now, they’re more understanding of how our business works,” said Dyer. “We’re big fans of the 350 movement. It’s the same kind of thing, the same instinct — being informed enough to make a decision about where you’re shopping or how you’re shopping. It empowers people. We’re sensing that our customers are smarter about that kind of thing than they used to be.”

In June, Broadway Books met one of its goals by going live with an IndieCommerce website, which, more than anything, keeps the store “relevant in the marketplace,” said Dyer. “More and more customers are expecting to have the option of buying online. And those customers are going to buy online somewhere, and we don’t want to lose them. It’s not a huge amount of business, but it’s an important business.”

Broadway Books just closed its fiscal year in September, and sales have gone up by four percent. “It really was the best year ever,” said Dyer, a fact she attributes to her customers’ loyalty and support.

“We’re really glad we did that. Sales have gone up, and I think it made our regular customers feel more included, that they know more about us, and feel more a part of our story,” said Dyer. “They like knowing there is something proactive that they can do.”