Wi14 Education: Selling Direct to Schools

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Panelists at the American Booksellers Association’s recent Winter Institute education session “Selling Direct to Schools,” presented by the ABC Group, discussed best practices for selling direct to schools, managing author event orders, and book fair distribution.

ABA member booksellers can visit BookWeb’s Education Resources page to see a complete video of the session and access handouts (booksellers will need to log in to BookWeb.org; e-mail info@bookweb.org for login credentials). A version of this session will also be on the schedule for Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh this June.

The panel was moderated by Emily Hall of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri, and featured Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Cindy Dach of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona; and Heather Hebert of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

The panelists offered the booksellers in attendance tips and tricks pertaining to the seven best practices they found most important for getting started:

Establishing Contact With Schools

Establishing contact is the first step booksellers can take to build a relationship with the schools in their district.

The panelists urged booksellers to:

  • Familiarize themselves with state laws regarding degree requirements for staff, which can help streamline the process of who to reach out to within a certain department
  • Set up a meeting with the head of the library to discuss working together in some capacity

    • Offer literary outreach services and classroom galley review projects, which can give booksellers a better glimpse of the literary movers and shakers within a school
  • Offer to attend monthly staff meetings as a networking opportunity
  • Be on the lookout for teachers who might come into the store
  • Reach out to parents with children in the school district, especially those who run the PTO. They can offer insight about the teachers’ and school’s literary involvement
  • Cold-call teachers using the school’s directory

Creating Systems of Convenience

Once a relationship with a school is established, booksellers can expect a potentially high volume of orders to be placed, Brechner said. He stated that his store’s goal is to have a teacher or librarian enter Devaney, Doak & Garrett, walk up to the counter, and leave with their books in an overall smooth experience.

In creating systems, booksellers should:

  • Strive to be as efficient as possible

    • Evaluate every event after the fact to see what was done well and what could be done better next time

Teacher Wish Lists

Wish lists are a great way to get potential customers in the store, Hebert told booksellers in attendance. Teachers in her district used wish lists to choose books they wanted for the classroom. Then, on a child’s birthday, they would gift a book from the list to the whole class. This both brought new books into the classroom and offered exposure for the store, since the teacher recommended Children’s Book World to students.

To make wish lists work in their store, booksellers should:

  • Choose which way they would like teachers to create their wish lists

    • Via e-mail, phone, website, or in-person?
  • Encourage teachers to create a wish list on their store’s IndieCommerce site

    • This can be used as community service outreach, as teachers can send home a flier about the wish list with their students to encourage parents to buy a book off the list for the classroom
  • Bring the wish lists offline

    • Set up a display made up of books from a teacher’s wish list at a discounted price, which creates customers and gives the school a percentage of sales made

Book Fair Distribution

While many think of Scholastic when they think of book fairs, book fairs actually have a much wider range, Dach told booksellers. For indies, book fairs can include pop-up book fairs in schools and in-store book fairs.

To host efficient book fairs, booksellers should:

  • Choose the format that makes the most sense for their store, either in-store, on-site/pop-up, or both

    • On-site book fairs

      • Booksellers that choose to do a pop-up event should keep in mind how the books are being transported and set up between locations
    • In-store book fairs

      • Offer a week of free publicity, which can include events like Donuts with Dad or Muffins with Mom that get potential customers in the store
      • Tie-in an author event, which can make the fair feel special and draw in customers
  • Differentiate indie stores from big publisher book fairs

    • Personalize selection to the school hosting the fair. For example, if students are doing a unit on India, offer books on India
  • Set up book fair accounts with publishers that have the option

    • Book fair accounts are often wholesale rather than retail, which can give booksellers a better discount
    • Booksellers who do this should keep in mind that they will need to keep wholesale inventory separate from regular inventory, which means either putting the books in separate locations (storing them in a basement, for example) or keeping the titles separated using the book fair module on their POS system

Orders for Author Visits

Author visits also draw in potential customers. To capitalize on this opportunity, booksellers should:

  • Include potential school visits in event grid pitches
  • Send an e-mail newsletter to schools asking if they’d like to host an author for an event

    • For schools that host an author, offer an order form (hardcopy or online) with a minimum to guarantee sales
    • If pre-order sales numbers are low, offer a post-order option by making the order form available for a few weeks following the event, as the event itself can serve as inspiration for students to buy the book
  • Ask publishers for a reading copy of the book to give to librarians or teachers, which can inspire buzz and raise interest

Subscription Services and Specialty Publishers

Brechner told booksellers that offering subscription services and working with specialty publishers has also been helpful for his store. Booksellers can:

  • Offer an advance “ahead of the curve” ordering service to schools. Paying in full in advance cuts out the fear of a budget freeze, or losing business to a competing service
  • Work with publishers such as Bellwether, which offers books specifically for libraries and classrooms