Top Ten Things to Know About: Improving Operational Workflow

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On Thursday, September 17, the American Booksellers Association presented a webinar called “Top 10 Things to Know About: Improving Operational Workflow” as part of its new webinar series designed to prepare booksellers for the fourth quarter.

ABA Educational Content Coordinator Stephany Choi presented information pertaining to the topic, which was provided by Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck and Millerton, New York; Bettina Dirks of Magic City Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Stephen Sparks of Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes, California; Bradley Graham of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.; Jenny Clines of Seminary Co-op Bookstores & 57th Street Books in Chicago, Illinois; and Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.

A recording of this webinar as well as a PowerPoint can be viewed on the Education Resources page on

Here are the top 10 points from the session:

  1. Gauge staff comfort levels around working in-person and listen to staff feedback. Consider staggering schedules to limit exposure.
  2. Follow local, state, and CDC guidelines and regulations, and keep up to date with your town’s COVID policies. Post clear signage around the store outlining these policies.
  3. Reimagine staff roles to reduce redundancies.
  4. Prioritize open and honest communication with your staff, and keep them informed of all changes made to the store’s operations.
  5. Rearrange furniture to maximize efficiency and create more space so customers and staff can keep socially distanced.
  6. If offering curbside pickup, think through the entirety of the process. For example, have a plan for customers who don’t pick up their orders.
  7. Consider reusing packing materials and boxes instead of buying more.
  8. Streamline your process for online ordering.
  9. If anyone on staff tests positive for COVID, get everyone possibly exposed tested. If you must scale back operations, update your website, answering machine, and social media accordingly.
  10. Consider your cash flow. Watch ABA CFO PK Sindwani’s webinar on cash flow and ABA’s Coffee Break on buying monthly.

Here is a more in-depth recap of the webinar:

  • Talk to your staff to gauge their comfort levels with working in-person. If they are uncomfortable coming into your store’s physical space, see if there’s anything you can do to lessen their anxieties.
  • Stagger staff schedules to limit exposure. This can include scheduling staff in groups, so that people from group A don’t have direct contact with group B. Also consider splitting your store’s space into sections and assigning a person to be in charge of each one.
  • Keep up to date with local, state, and CDC guidelines and post signage in your store about policies and safety requirements.
  • To limit customer and staff exposure, remove furniture that encourages sitting and rearrange shelves and tables to create more aisle space. Limit the number of customers and staff allowed in-store, and if weather allows, open doors and windows to increase ventilation.
  • When reimagining staff roles, split up tasks in ways that make sense for your store and get rid of redundancies. This can mean creating specialized roles.
  • Be open and honest with staff, and be sure they’re informed about changes made to store policies. Consider using a digital communication system, such as Google Suite, Slack, Trello, Airtable, or email.
  • Be sure to communicate with customers as well; this can be done through social media, newsletters/email, phone calls, and your website.
  • Rethink your store layout to create more aisle space and more space for your staff to work. For example, turn your event space into a shipping and packing area. Be sure to have a storage space for curbside pickup orders and proper signage to let people know where they should go.
  • For curbside pickup, have a plan. Consider how and where people should pick up their books and where those books will be stored. Set a specified amount of time that you let orders sit on your shelves unclaimed, and inform customers of the limit and when the order “expires.”
  • Streamline your online order processing by writing down each step of the process, who does it, and how long it takes. From there, identify issues and get rid of redundancies.
  • IndieCommerce stores that are overwhelmed with orders can consider having Ingram fulfill orders through Direct to Home (DTH) and Consumer Direct Fulfillment (CDF). If you can’t keep up with demand, try Bookshop. Visit the Ingram Fulfillment FAQ page for more information and read BTW’s recap on the recent Direct to Home Technology Meetup
  • If a staff member tests positive for COVID-19 and you must scale back operations, notify credit reps. Be sure staff have everything they need to do their job remotely. And pay attention to how you communicate operations changes to the public — even if you’re not open to the public, say you’ve “paused” some services instead of saying that you’ve “closed.”