SCBA Booksellers Make the Most of ABA's Forum Program

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The American Booksellers Association held a Booksellers Forum and Education Program, in conjunction with the Southern California Booksellers Association (SCBA), at the Long Beach Hilton in Long Beach on Wednesday, February 16. "The format was excellent," said SCBA Executive Director Jennifer Bigelow. "I love the way the ABA forum offers an educational opportunity, a chance to network with other booksellers, voice concerns, and learn firsthand what the ABA is doing."

Approximately 25 booksellers from stores across the SCBA region attended the forum. Bigelow said that booksellers were "jazzed" about ABA's "It's in the Payroll" seminar, which was presented by Director Len Vlahos. "It's in the Payroll" elaborates on a component of ABA's extremely successful "The 2% Solution" seminar.

Linda Ross, general manager of the four Russo's Books in Bakersfield, told BTW that information presented in "It's in the Payroll" confirmed that she was managing payroll and her evaluation system effectively. "It reminded me that payroll is the most flexible expense and should be the most manageable, and that [pay] raises should be based on evaluation rather than just being there."

Kerry Slattery of Los Angeles' Skylight Books also found the seminar a helpful validation that current operations were on course. "I brought our bookkeeper and our store manager and it was a very good seminar to have brought other staff members to. It really confirmed that we have a handle on payroll and that no matter how flexible you want to be, because you have good staff, you can't be accommodating at the expense of the store. At independent bookstores we highly value our staff, but you can't price yourself out of the business."

Following "It's in the Payroll," there was an open forum moderated by ABA COO Oren Teicher and Vlahos. Booksellers received an update on ABA programs and initiatives and discussed a number of issues including bookstore tourism, Book Sense gift cards, and the Book Sense Picks.

Bigelow told BTW that one of the topics she talked about was SCBA's bookseller-focused foray into bookstore tourism: the regional has planned a daytrip, "I Feel the Need to Read: An Independent Bookstore Tour for Booksellers," for May 10.

"We'll visit four to six bookstores ... and we'll begin and end the day at Vroman's [Bookstore in Pasadena]," she said. "We hope to have a few authors as well as sales reps on board. We also hope that when we tour different bookstores, the owners or managers will give a presentation on something they do well at the store." Bigelow added that she has contacted Larry Portzline, the force behind the bookstore tourism concept, to talk about the possibility of offering a bookstore tour for consumers. (To learn more about bookstore tourism, click here.)

Slattery told BTW that the forum featured considerable discussion about Book Sense gift cards and that she lead much of it since Skylight Books was an early adopter of the program. "There was a lot of talk about gift cards since the certificates are going to be discontinued," she said. "I talked about how gift cards are not hard to use and that [customers] tend to buy more of them than gift certificates. [Booksellers] were interested to know more about using them. They were concerned about cost but seemed receptive."

Booksellers also shared their opinions about the Book Sense Picks list redesign and expressed strong support for the new format. Ross told BTW that the general response is that booksellers prefer the shorter lists and smaller fliers. "I noticed that customers are picking them up, looking at them, and taking them out the door more and without us stuffing it in a bag for them," she said. ABA staff also encouraged those in attendance to offer more input on the Picks lists by completing the Bookseller Picks Survey. (For more about the survey, click here. To nominate a title as a Pick, click here.)

All in all, Bigelow said she was "thrilled" with the education and the forum. "It provides one more opportunity for booksellers to receive educational programming," she said. --Karen Schechner