On Thursday, May 6, the American Booksellers Association held a Marketing Meetup dedicated to marketing tips for nontraditional bookstores.
A recording of this video can be found on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org.
Guest speakers included:
- Katrina Brooks, Black Pearl Books in Austin, Texas
- Marianne Reiner, Run for Cover Bookstore in San Diego, California
- Melanie Moore, Cincy Book Bus in Cincinnati, Ohio
- Lady Smith, The Snail on the Wall in Huntsville, Alabama
- Tameca Blossom-Lyons, Brown Babies Books in Evanston, Illinois
- Victoria Scott-Miller, Liberation Station in Durham, North Carolina
- Lucy Kull, Redux Society in Kansas City, Missouri
Here are some of the top tips from the session:
- Use social media to your advantage. Some stores might find one platform more useful than another. Make sure to tag community partners, authors, and publishers in posts, which can expand your reach.
- Book lists on Bookshop.org can bring in sales. Nontraditional stores can sign up for an affiliate page, and stores like Redux Society have opted to use lists on Bookshop in addition to lists posted on their own e-commerce site. Link to these lists wherever you can.
- Form relationships with community partners. Not only can this expand your audience and reach, but they can also offer advertising opportunities. And don’t turn down opportunities for advertising such as newspaper articles. For Cincy Book Bus, this has spread their reach nationwide. Community partnerships can also result in having a physical space to sell books.
- Develop community partnerships based on your store’s mission that you’re comfortable working with. For example, Liberation Station focuses on dismantling the spaces that BIPOC children feel most uncomfortable with. Liberation Station has pop-ups on the Duke University campus, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the newsstand at the Durham Hotel, all of which stand behind the store’s mission.
- To build your brand, highlight the unique parts of your store. For Cincy Book Bus, it’s their bus.
- Hone in on what your store’s core focus is. For Liberation Station, it’s the Black family unit, and Scott-Miller’s family has been brought into the store’s brand — for example, books that haven’t been read as a family are not listed on the Liberation Station website. Similarly, Blossom-Lyons’ centers Brown Babies Books’ marketing on her core values and family.
- To find that focus, it can be as simple as asking, why open a bookstore? That answer can lead you to your branding. For Black Pearl Books, that answer was to build an inclusive community.
- Decide what purpose your store’s branding will serve. Snail on the Wall, for example, is a reference to a Virginia Woolf essay, but it’s also a mascot for the store. Similarly, Run for Cover uses an owl as the store’s mascot, which makes for a recognizable logo.
- Take breaks to take care of yourself, especially during high volume periods, and communicate those breaks clearly to customers. In June 2020, Black Pearl Books and Liberation Station found themselves inundated with orders, and chose to temporarily close to catch up.
- Communicate that you aren’t Amazon. Factors out of your control, like shipping delays, can slow order processing down. Customers at Brown Babies Books responded well to clear communication.
- Be sure to set business hours and a schedule. For online stores especially, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance. But rest is key to running a successful business.