Customers Take the “Five More Books” Pledge

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Sandi Torkildson recently considered A Room of One’s Own’s finances and an upcoming decision about the store’s lease renewal. She figured that if the store sold just five more books a day, it could comfortably commit to a new lease. So in mid-February, the Madison, Wisconsin, store e-mailed more than 3,000 of its customers and expressed the hope that 350 of them would pledge to buy five more books a year.

In six weeks, the store has gotten 450 pledges and a spike in sales.

Said Torkildson, “I wanted to keep the letter really simple, and I didn’t want it riddled with guilt. And we didn’t want to wait until the last minute.”

After thanking customers for their birthday wishes (the store recently celebrated its 36th anniversary), the letter, which was signed by Torkildson, co-owner Nancy Geary, and the staff, explained that because of decreasing textbook sales and poor holiday-season sales, the past year had been a tough one. “We are hoping to find 365-plus people willing to pledge to buy as few as five more books from us this year, and possibly to encourage your friends to do the same,” it said, closing with, “We know our customers value Room and want to keep Room a strong, independent bookstore downtown. We are optimistic these pledges will help us achieve this goal.”

The “Five More Books” pledges hang from long ribbons in the store’s entrance way, said Torkildson. “I see this as a way to educate our customers.”

In addition to the pledge appeal, the February e-mail from A Room of One’s Own communicated another important message. “It really raised people’s awareness,” said Torkildson. “It raised awareness that they can order online from us, that they can order e-books from us, and that if they buy books here, we’ll stay here. People got that really quickly. We had one customer who didn’t realize he could buy online from us. Now he does, and we just picked up a $200 sale from him.”

Torkildson said that before she signed a several-years long lease, she wanted customers to understand that they would also have to make their own commitment. “I wanted to tell people that I’m willing to take this risk if they show they really want the bookstore and will support it. I think that’s a fair trade, and I think people got that.”