Marketing Meetup Recap: Marketing Bookstores to Schools

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On Thursday, June 25, the American Booksellers Association presented a Marketing Meetup on marketing bookstores to schools.

After receiving a number of requests to revisit the “Marketing Your Store to a School” topic previously covered in March, ABA decided to cover it again with a focus on what needs to change as businesses are in various states of operation and events are taking place virtually instead of in-person. Booksellers can learn more about ABA meetups here.

Guest speakers included:

Blue Willow Bookshop

  • In non-pandemic times, Blue Willow does 350 events a year, with 150 of those events being school visits. The store also partners with schools on in-store shopping days and other bulk purchases.
  • To build a network, Blue Willow is always looking for leaders on campuses that are committed to books and literacy. These can be librarians, English language arts teachers, administrators, and even parents.
  • Berner keeps her network organized in a spreadsheet, and when she’s ready to reach out to schools to arrange author visits, she sends out a Google form. The form includes event expectations and basic information. It also asks if the school’s administration will welcome and support an author visit during this timeframe.
  • Additionally, Berner asks schools how they plan to prepare their students for an event.
  • In non-pandemic times, Blue Willow uses a paper order form, but the store also has an online option. Schools can choose curbside pickup or to have books shipped.
  • Booksellers with questions can contact Berner at Cathy@BlueWillowBookshop.com.

Print: A Bookstore

  • Print partners with Portland-area schools for author visits, book fairs, in-store book fairs, and other unique forms of programming. Since the coronavirus outbreak, Print has been focused on virtual book fairs and virtual author visits.
  • For virtual book fairs, Heinz has created a landing page on the store’s website with the event’s information and recommended reading lists. Booksellers can view an example here.
  • For a school interested in including audiobooks as part of the reading lists, Print worked with Libro.fm so it could sell certain monthly memberships directly through the store’s website.
  • Heinz recommended stores with IndieCommerce sites reach out to the IndieCommerce team to activate the Bulk Upload of Book Lists function, which lets booksellers import large numbers of ISBNs at once. Booksellers can also add teacher recommendations on their IndieCommerce sites.
  • For virtual events, Heinz recommended that booksellers use the platform students at the school are most comfortable with. Print has used Zoom and BlueJeans so far.
  • Print also uses a similar order form to what Blue Willow uses.
  • Virtual author visits allow Print to work with schools they might not have worked with otherwise, such as smaller schools off the coast of Maine that can’t fill a 600-person auditorium. In these cases, Heinz has also paired schools up for a larger author visit.

Brain Lair Books

  • Burnette was a librarian before becoming a bookseller, so she has used those connections to reach out to schools within walking distance of her store. She’s also met with principals and librarians to discuss how her store can work with them, not just with book fairs, but with any kind of book buying needs the school might have.
  • Brain Lair has done both virtual and in-person book fairs. Her store is very small, so for in-person book fairs, she partnered with a nearby pizza shop so half the students could eat before browsing the store and half could eat after.
  • For virtual book fairs, Burnette distributes a private code for the week the school’s book fair is scheduled. The website includes books recommended by Brain Lair as well as books that teachers want to have in their classrooms. Burnette always creates a handout with those same books for those who don’t want to shop online.
  • Burnette builds her network across the school district so her store can get into each school’s newsletter or something called a “Friday Folder” that students take home.
  • At the time of this recording, Brain Lair was preparing to hold a virtual author event in conjunction with another bookstore. Burnette felt that publishers would be excited about bookstores working together, as each store brings its own audience to an event.
  • This fall, Brain Lair plans to hold its curriculum planning workshops online. Burnette is also currently working to figure out how to get supplies to classrooms. Right now, she plans to deliver packages to the teachers’ houses herself.
  • The hardest part of virtual events, Burnette added, is time coordination and making sure everyone can be where they need to be at the right time, especially when she’s working with more than one school at a time.
  • Schools also haven’t decided when or what model they’ll be returning with in the fall, which makes planning difficult. Many of the schools Burnette works with have experienced layoffs, which will also impact how she will build her network. 
  • For payment, Burnette sends the school an invoice with the minimum number of books it must buy.
  • Burnette only plans to ticket larger events that are open to the public as well as schools. She has one coming up in August.
  • Burnette also creates forms and posters depending on the school, rather than sending out standard materials.

Downtown Books

  • Anderson works in a smaller coastal community with only one school district. Her store does a couple of author visits and book fairs each year. Downtown Books also fills a lot of grant classroom orders.
  • Anderson stressed the importance of cultivating a relationship with her schools. Every few years, she sends out a letter to all the principals, finance directors, media coordinators, central offices, and school board members to remind them of her bookstore and what it does for the community.

    • This will be very important this year, as the school transitions back to in-person education in August.
    • Anderson added that if booksellers can make contact with just one librarian, it will be easier to meet others in the district, as they all meet and talk often.
  • When the shutdown first started, her store got $3,500 in grant orders from teachers that were scrambling to fill before a deadline.
  • Anderson is working on virtual school visits for the fall. Her district uses Google Meet, so she’s been learning about that service.
  • Anderson has a standard order form that she adjusts to each event.
  • For community and parent communication, her district uses Peachjar instead of giving students materials to take home.
  • If schools are in session in-person this fall, Anderson is considering hosting a showroom-style book fair. Instead of bringing in $25,000-$30,000 worth of books to the elementary school, Anderson would work with the school librarian to figure out a list and set up a single copy to showcase in the library. Her store would then fill those orders based on demand.
  • Virtual book fairs don’t work in Anderson’s community, and while she’s tried to do in-store events, the community is so spread out they usually don’t work either.
  • For sideline items, Anderson plans to have a $5 option that are almost like goodie bags, which will include pencils and erasers and other items.

Hicklebee’s

  • When the shutdown started, Hicklebee’s was just beginning to ramp up its book fair programming. The store created a quick book fair list on its website, where books were divided up by category and that allowed people to order directly through the store. (If Hicklebee’s were to use that model again, they’d make the website more visually appealing with book covers.)
  • One challenge was that by virtue of having the entire Hicklebee’s library available online, shoppers could purchase outside the recommended lists. It became difficult to fulfill orders at the speed they originally anticipated.
  • They also learned that virtual book fairs are more labor-intensive and require additional staff, since they have to have someone there at the store to fulfill orders and prepare for curbside delivery if shoppers are choosing to pick up their order.
  • A positive to having the book fair run through the store’s website is that all the pieces were already in place. The store could accept payment, process the order, etc.
  • The response was strong. Most schools have continued to host book fairs with Hicklebee’s, though traffic hasn’t been as high. Hough noted that the virtual book fairs were 10 to 25 percent the size of a normal book fair; this was likely due to schools going through massive transformations.
  • Hicklebee’s normally runs about 100 author visits each school year. When the shelter-in-place order was established, the store thought it would only be for a few weeks, so authors were happy to reschedule. As time went on, the store ramped up on virtual visits; it also created pages on its website for people to order books for each event.
  • In order to get students signed personalized bookplates, the store created a Google Doc of names and sent the visiting authors bookplates. After the bookplates were signed, authors sent them to the schools for distribution.
  • For author visits, Hicklebee’s took a hands-off approach to the technology piece because each school in each district has its own way of hosting virtual meetings.
  • Each year, Hicklebee’s goes through its lists to be sure its contacts are still at the school. If they aren’t, they find a new person to reach out to.
  • Hicklebee’s has also worked with a local organization to distribute books as part of a school lunch program. 

McNally Jackson

  • In the past few years, McNally Jackson started working on its book fair program in earnest. The store began by partnering with schools on the Upper East Side in New York City, but in recent years, it has tried to bring business downtown to partner more with public schools.
  • McNally’s focus immediately after shelter-in-place was gaining new clients from schools it had previously partnered with.
  • Woods found that librarians in the city have a consortium that they rely pretty heavily on for recommendations for what to do, programs they’re using, and book fair vendors. The store was midway through planning a spring book fair when the outbreak began, and the librarians at that school promoted McNally as a virtual book fair option for other schools.
  • For public schools, Woods called all of the local school districts to offer all the ways McNally could help with the online learning transition.
  • The store pitched two different options for book fairs. Woods also posted an FAQ to the store’s website to preemptively answer some questions.

    • The store created a kids’ shop on its website with books organized by category. Woods offered to create a school code for shoppers to put in when they purchased from the kids’ shop, and a certain percentage of that would return to the school at an agreed upon time as an ongoing partnership throughout the year.
    • The store also offered to create an individualized virtual book fair site, with categories of books tailored to the school’s community. The websites included school colors, photos of the campus and student body, artwork from the students, etc. The store did eight of these throughout the spring, some of which will run through the summer.
  • Woods hopes that schools will be able to shop online and pick up their orders in-store this fall.
  • The biggest challenge for McNally has been fulfillment, since only one person was allowed in the store at a time during the shutdown. For upcoming book fairs, McNally would like to improve shipping, the cost of shipping, and the organization for whomever is processing and fulfilling of orders.

Booksellers can visit the Education Resources page on Bookweb.org to view a recording of this session.