Any independent retailer knows that online shopping has transformed the way Americans spend their money. But no one knows this better than independent booksellers, who have the added challenge of simultaneously battling the proliferation of the e-reader. As it turns out, not only are many shoppers choosing online outlets to purchase books cheaply, but they’re also practically forced into online shopping if they’ve chosen an e-reader.
The good news is that brick-and-mortar booksellers are setting themselves apart with tactics that can work for any independent store, including natural products retailers. And when Independent We Stand, a national small business advocacy movement, named its Independent Small Business of the Year Award finalists, five of the 25 were bookstores.
Here are five tips from the finalists that can boost natural foods store in 2015:
1. Partner up. Instead of competing, Oregon-based Jan’s Paperbacks teamed up with three other local bookstores to produce a brochure that promotes them all. “We work to keep each other in business, rather than trying to put each other out of business,” said owner Debbie Burke. “The brochure contains a map, and we hand it out in the store. If customers can’t find something at our store, we encourage them to try the others.”
2. Go the extra mile. Alison Ramarge, co-owner of New Jersey-based Califon Book Shop, says she can’t think of a single customer she’s lost to online shopping, and that’s because she offers something a webpage cannot: impeccable customer service. For example, Califon Book Shop delivers orders to elderly customers who can’t make the drive, and word gets around. “It makes people want to come in and support us,” she said. “Going the extra mile is important for any small business.”
3. Meet a demand. Recently, a shopper inquired about gift wrapping services at Jan’s Paperbacks. Because she didn’t have any gift wrap in the store, Burke found another way to make it happen. “My daughter brought the book home, wrapped it, and the customer was thrilled,” she said. “Now we keep a roll of wrapping paper in the store—just in case.”
4. Offer unusual items. Shoppers might be able to find the latest bestseller online, but browsing the shelves is much more conducive to discovery. That’s why Jan’s Paperbacks gives a voice to independent authors and small presses through weekly book signings. The store offers a space, places an announcement in the local paper, promotes the event on Facebook, and provides snacks for guests. “We set them right in front of the door so they get exposure,” Burke said.
5. Create community. Illinois-based Afterwords Books creates goodwill by hosting in-store events like weekly story time for kids and even a family fun night. Additionally, staff members take to the community to bring the story time events to daycares, preschools, churches and local schools. “Time and time again, our customers prove to us in very tangible ways that this little bookstore is an important part of our community worthy of nurturing,” said owner LuAnn Locke. “They want us to stick around.”