By Bob Sommer
"The Book Sense Gift Certificate potential is still woefully untapped, and ... we are still sending $$$$$$$ to the chains ... every day." -- Carl Lennertz, ABA
When the Book Sense national gift certificate program was announced, we jumped enthusiastically onto Carl's bandwagon. We tacked up the map of participating stores across the country, posted the point of sale materials, informed our staff, and encouraged them to offer the new certificates to our customers. We put articles and then reminder blurbs in our newsletters and mentioned them at store events. We ended up selling about two per month.
We continued to offer our own store's gift certificates -- actually the Mary Engelbreit and other designs that we'd been buying from the ABA for years -- because they were easier to issue and better looking than the original Book Sense certificates. And we were disappointed at how few of the national gift certificates purchased at other independents were being cashed at our store. Why was the national program not working for us?
Book Sense Gift Certificate and Envelope
November 2002 will be the second anniversary of our decision to sell only the Book Sense gift certificates (we still use the local type for fund-raiser giveaways). These national Book Sense certificates now come in tasteful gold envelopes into which we insert, along with the GC, a special notice to the recipient (and the purchaser). We explain that we hope "you'll choose to redeem the gift certificate in our store. However, if you don't live nearby, you can use this certificate at any of the 1,200 other participating Book Sense stores located in every state," and we go on to tell them how to locate the independent store nearest to where they live.
In this way, we communicate the Book Sense national gift certificate message to every purchaser and every recipient of every gift certificate sold -- 362 in the first nine months of 2002. We believe that if all the other participating Book Sense stores would "take the pledge" and sell only Book Sense gift certificates, too, that we would collectively grab a sizable chunk of the national market, which the chains have come to dominate.
Since we started offering Book Sense national GCs, 52 of them purchased at Changing Hands were redeemed elsewhere -- at 34 stores in 15 states. Changing Hands has accepted 42 certificates from 36 different stores in 20 different states. For the program as a whole, since it was launched in 1999, more than 9,300 certificates have been redeemed through Book Sense stores resulting in more than $300,000 in certificate sales that would have been spent at the chains. Thanks to Jill Perlstein at ABA for these numbers.
Thanks to bookseller Susan Novotny, owner of Albany, New York's Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, who showed us the way by being the first store to take the pledge.
Bob Sommer is the co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. This essay first appeared in the November/December 2002 issue of the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association newsletter and is reprinted here with permission of the author and MPBA.
Full text of the insert that Changing Hands encloses with each gift certificate sold:
The enclosed Book Sense gift certificate was purchased from (Your Bookstores Name), and we hope you'll choose to redeem it in our store. However, if you don't live nearby, you can use this certificate at any of the 1,200 other participating Book Sense stores located in every state. Call 888-BOOKSENSE or log onto BookSense.com to find the Book Sense store nearest to you.
We're delighted to be able to offer the convenience of Book Sense gift certificates that you can send to friends and family inside or outside of our community. We have always taken pride in helping our customers find just the right book to give as a gift. Now with Book Sense gift certificates, the choice is even easier.
Book Sense is a diverse network of independent bookstores each of which has a distinct personality and character illustrated by a personal touch, a strong knowledge of the store's customers and of its selection of books, and a commitment to the local community. (Your Bookstores Name) is proud to be a Book Sense bookstore.
(Your Bookstore's Name & Address go here)
Independent Bookstores for Independent Minds