The Winter Institute: A Transformative, Do-Not-Miss Experience

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Registered for the 2009 Winter Institute in Salt Lake City yet? The free event, capped at 500 attendees, is packed with tough-times education, networking, author events, and store tours. Previous years' participants, including Paul Yamazaki of City Lights Books, Ray Nurmi of Snowbound Books, Andrea Avantaggio of Maria's Bookshop, and Sue Zumberge of Common Good Books, have found the Winter Institute a no-risk, high return investment in their businesses.

"The ABA Winter Institute is the best planned and executed educational conference that I have had the pleasure to attend," said City Lights' Yamazaki, who was at the second Winter Institute, in Portland, Oregon, and the third, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Seminars like "The Two Percent Solution" were helpful in refining City Light's cost of doing business and cash flow analysis. Said Yamazaki, "This type of fiscal analysis is a vital component of City Lights being a sustainable organization."

Andrea Avantaggio, co-owner of Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, has been to all three Winter Institutes. She found that seminars paved the way for staff-wide understanding of the store's financials. "As a result of at least one Winter Institute seminar, we started sharing our ABACUS results with our staff," she said. "It's given us a concrete way to talk about the critical financial numbers on a regular basis in a way that everyone can understand."

The range of Winter Institute sessions struck the right balance of passion and numbers crunching for Sue Zumberge of Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minnesota. "I thought the variety of learning sessions was just right, representing the ying (love) of bookselling with the yang (the economics)," she said.

"We have put into place many of the suggestions that we learned about staging events and marketing, but equally important might be those ideas that you do not put into place because of what was taught at the Winter Institute." Because Common Good Books was "almost a brand-new store" when Zumberge attended the Winter Institute, she said it was difficult to gauge whether what she learned helped boost the store's bottom line, but, she added, "There is no debating that it kept us from making some important mistakes of new stores."

Along with the programmed education, Avantaggio picked up tips from her comrades-in-arms. "The Winter Institute provides the opportunity for lots and lots of bookseller interaction, and the programming is all about the specifics of how to improve our businesses. Without fail, the seminars I attend at the Winter Institute leave me energized about selling books for a living -- how can that not help our bottom line? Definitely go!!!"

For Zumberge, face-time with other book people is also invaluable. "I really can't stress enough the importance of having the opportunity to talk with other booksellers from all over the country," she said. "I went on my own without knowing a soul, but the mix of seminars and social gatherings gives folks the opportunity to talk and share ideas. I never met a person who did not want to discuss my questions, and I have continued to be in touch with a number of these folks."

City Light's Yamazaki considers talking and trading picks with booksellers one of the top benefits of the Winter Institute.

Although budgets are extremely tight this year, each of these booksellers considers the Winter Institute too packed with key information to miss. Ray Nurmi of Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan, attended last year's Winter Institute in Louisville. He summed up the event as a "transformative experience for myself, a dedicated employee that I brought along, and ultimately for our store.

"I would say to another bookseller that you absolutely cannot afford not to go. It is incredibly cheap for what you get out of it. If you are incredibly cheap, they give you enough food that you don't have to even buy a meal for yourself."

Zumberge concurred. "If you can get to Salt Lake City and stay with friends or relatives (if you can't afford the hotel) do that... You won't have to pay for food; there is plenty provided by the hosts. If you can only send one person, do that.... If you have to scrimp somewhere else to pay for the Winter Institute, do it because this is the real nuts and bolts of bookselling, and I guarantee you will have a better store for it." --Karen Schechner

Winter Institute 2009

The fourth annual ABA Winter Institute will be held from Thursday, January 29, through Sunday, February 1, in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown.

Wi4 is free of charge, but open exclusively to ABA Bookstore and Provisional Members. Registration for the Winter Institute is capped at 500, and spaces will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, limit 10 per bookstore. Event Registration deadline: November 21, 2008.

Salt Lake City Marriott Downtown
Special $122/night hotel rate
Hotel Reservation Deadline: January 5, 2009
All hotel reservations must be made directly with the hotel.

For complete details, including a schedule and session descriptions, visit