As part of the American Booksellers Association’s new “The Top 10 Things to Know About...” educational series, Bookselling This Week reached out to several booksellers around the country to compile a list of 10 tips for ordering calendars and other nonreturnable items this holiday season.
Here are the top 10 points:
- Use non-book, stationery, and toy purchases to improve your margins.
- Order with average turn numbers in mind. Booksellers might consider cutting orders down based on when orders are placed and what works best in their communities.
- If cutting orders, narrow options down by focusing on just a few vendors, and choose those vendors with discounts in mind.
- Consider buying with the intention of selling through much earlier in the season than usual to avoid having leftovers later that may not sell.
- Plan purchases to arrive throughout the season so there’s always something fresh for your regular visitors. Set calendars out upon arrival to give dated materials every possible chance to sell through.
- Be rigorous about markdowns at the end of the first turn cycle if an item is not paying for its shelf space.
- Use the coming weeks to test out new lines with smaller orders. If customers respond well, bring in a bigger order in the 4th quarter.
- Call before placing orders to see if vendors are offering split cases or lower minimums.
- Aggressively promote nonreturnable seasonal items.
- Take advantage of free freight, but don’t over-order just to qualify for a freight deal.
Here’s a more thorough recap of what booksellers had to say:
Jessica Peterson White of Content Bookstore in Northfield, Minnesota
- Use non-book, stationery, and toy purchases to improve margins. Forget everything you know about keystone pricing, and push to get the best margin you can on products that aren’t pre-priced.
- Remember that with nonreturnable items, you’ll probably have to mark some of them down. Don’t wait too long to do markdowns, because if you’re sick of looking at the stuff, your customers probably are, too.
- If you can, plan your purchases to arrive throughout the season, so there’s always something fresh for regular visitors. If you’re worried about supplier stock levels and want to take all the inventory earlier in the season (and this would be reasonable), hold some of it off the floor so you can trickle out the new stuff and keep your displays looking fresh.
- Now is a great time to test out new lines with smaller orders. If your customers respond well, bring in a bigger order in the 4th quarter.
Rebecca Fitting of Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York
- Buy with the intention of selling through much earlier in the season than usual. Usually we have stock that lasts into the new year, marking down a handful of leftovers in February, but this year I'd rather have a clean sell-through earlier than have questionably saleable leftovers later. I ordered about two-thirds of what I usually order, give or take. I narrowed down my options by focusing on just a few vendors (three instead of five or six), and chose those vendors specifically by the ones with the better offers.
- I decided not to order any 18-month planners this year, only 12-month. This furthered my ability to cut my orders by narrowing the number of things I needed to consider.
- All calendars went out upon arrival. Usually we hold some things back (ie, desk or page-a-day calendars), reserving them for holiday displays. All of them are out now (and selling) because I want the dated materials to have every possible chance to sell through.
- If the virus rates [in New York] remain low, and if our stores are able to remain open, I will probably run out too soon and may regret my caution and may do a supplemental order, but I don’t want to decide that until November.
Lane Jacobson of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon
- We usually order calendars on returnable terms. We’re happy to sacrifice a few percentage points in order to not get stuck with any after calendar season is gone.
Cynthia Compton of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana
- Order with average turn numbers in mind. Ordering too many or too few items is equally expensive — either in leftover merchandise and lost shelf space for more profitable items, or lost sales for “out of stock” situations during the holidays. Take advantage of free freight if you can, but do not order too many just to qualify for a freight deal.
- Many vendors are now offering split cases or lower minimums. Call customer service before you assume that the case quantity listed in the catalog is absolute.
- Advertise/promote/and feature the heck out of nonreturnable seasonal items, and consider “bundles” for gift giving. We have a tremendous opportunity this year to extend our customer base through social media, as so many more people are browsing online. The nonreturnable gift item may be the first purchase someone makes in your store, and change them into a bricks-and-mortar book buyer.
- Look for extra margin in nonreturnable gift items, but be rigorous about markdowns at the end of the first turn cycle if an item is not paying for its shelf space. Stale merchandise poisons everything it touches — including all the really good stuff.