The latest Marketing Meetup hosted by the American Booksellers Association covered ways that children’s bookstores and general bookstores with children’s sections can market their services to the local community.
The December 6 Marketing Meetup — one of the biweekly online video conferences hosted by ABA on Zoom.us — featured guest speakers Hilary Barrineau of Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Virginia, and Cecilia Cackley of East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C.
Right now, Hooray for Books is focusing on developing non-author events for children in order to strengthen the store’s community presence, said Barrineau. This year, the store hosted a stop for Dr. Seuss’ Super-Dee-Duper Bus Tour 2018 and a story time with Elephant & Piggie as part of their Thank-o-Rama Bus Tour.
In addition to posting staff recommendations to its website, Hooray for Books is also making an effort to post reviews of picks for the store’s Youth Advisory Council, where children receive one advanced reader copy of a book per month, and its book club for Adults Who Read YA.
Hooray for Books also uses its website and social media to connect with potential customers. “Anytime we can, we take advantage of free opportunities,” Barrineau said. “For example, HarperCollins gave us a free Facebook Live video option, so we did a tour of the store one morning. Anytime there’s something that can get us on people’s radar or expand our reach, we take advantage of it.”
To reach loyal customers, Hooray for Books sends an e-newsletter to those who sign up. The store solicits e-mails by asking for them at the register and promoting Hooray for Books’ Bookstore Booster program, which offers a five percent discount after a customer purchases 20 items.
Hooray for Books also works closely with local schools, said Barrineau.
“Our teachers are always striving to meet the needs of all their students, so they’re looking for others who are like-minded to partner with them,” she said, noting that teachers will often ask for recommendations of new titles that focus on disabilities, stress and anxiety, and diversity. “They’re really looking to us for what’s coming down the pipe. We’ll even have social workers come in and say, What books do you have that can address grief?”
Partnering with schools is also an important marketing strategy at East City Bookshop, said Cackley, as it helps expand the store’s reach into the neighborhood and the city as a whole.
“We’ve actually had a lot of teachers ask about the business side of owning a bookstore,” she said. “We’ve had classes come to our store on field trips where our owners talk about what it’s like to own a small business, what you have to do to prepare for it. And that can range for classes anywhere from first grade all the way up through high school.”
“It will obviously look different for each visit, but for our little kids coming in we’ve had teachers create lessons where the children get to think about [how] to decide which book gets on the bookshelf,” she added, noting that teachers will also ask what the students would like to see on their bookshelf at school. “Teachers will have a certain amount of money to spend that day, and they ask their students to recommend what they want to purchase for their classroom. They get a little bit of real-world experience and we get the business, which is nice.”
East City Bookshop also hosts in-store book fairs, during which a school will receive a percentage of the sales made during a predetermined block of time. Cackley said that the store works with the school to create a flier to promote it, in addition to asking teachers for wish lists. Then, they set the books on a table for customers to purchase.
“We’ve had a really great response from our local community,” Cackley said, noting that they publicize the in-store book fairs on their newsletter, website, and outdoor signage. “We’ve had some really nice moments where people who are just browsing the store will notice the table and say, ‘This is for a teacher? Give me the last five books, I’ll buy them.’”
“That’s really been nice to see, that community members who might not necessarily have a student in that school [still] understand the importance of having a strong local school system and want to do what they can to support our school and our teachers,” she added.
To connect with teachers, Cackley recommends reaching out to administrative offices and the head of the parent-teacher association, or to simply work toward building relationships with teachers who stop into the store. In addition to offering teachers a 10 percent discount on items they are purchasing for the classroom, East City also hosts yearly educator nights, which feature freebies, raffles, and gift bags for teachers of different age groups.
Teachers also reach out to East City for recommendations. “We’re making sure that we’re providing expertise on what is new and what is coming out, and we’re helping them find what they need in order to achieve their best,” Cackley said.
Finally, East City offers book clubs for children that they market to customers via special bookmarks. The bookmarks have each club listed on them, and upon checkout booksellers will circle the correct age group for the child in question for families to reference. Cackley, who previously worked at Hooray for Books, has also started an ARC Review Club at the store.
Booksellers who would like to participate in the next 30-minute Marketing Meetup, which will take place on January 3 and feature a freeform conversation amongst booksellers to discuss what marketing strategies worked for them in the past year and what they want to learn next, can send an invite request to ABA’s Phil Davies. All ABA members are invited to join. Meetups are held at 11:00 a.m. EST on two Thursdays a month.