Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Swings and misses

It's fairly easy for stores to look back once a year comes to an end and see the things that worked. We all want to see those things and pat ourselves on the back a little. Harder to see are the mistakes--those things we tried and that failed. Maybe a book didn't get the media attention that was anticipated. Or we didn't display it properly have someone hand-selling it. There are a lot of factors that come into play for the hits and misses. Here's a sampling of the ways in which I made a mess of things in the last six weeks of 2011. I own all of this--no blaming sales reps or publishers.

There are two books that I didn't buy enough of. "Leaving Atocha Station" by Ben Lerner is a book we started to sell fairly well right out of the gate. But it wasn't going bonkers. Then some wild reviews hit from some biggies--Jonathan Franzen and James Wood, to name two--and we ended up chasing stock on this for the rest of the season. Lesson: I had an inkling this could do well but no idea how well. Listen to gut.

The second book was "Twelve Owls" by Betsy Bowen and Laura Erickson. To be fair, I couldn't tell how great this book was going to be until I first held it in my hands. Seeing it in the catalog didn't do it justice. It had many things working in its favor. Priced just under $20, two local artists working with a local topic and something that hadn't been done before. It was unique. Once we started selling it I was overly cautious and didn't do what I should have done. I should have simply ordered 75 copies and rolled with it. We did really well with this book but could have done much better. Lesson: Cautious is often good but sometimes foolish.

I had the opposite problem with "Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade" which was a boxed-gift edition of the famous Nabokov work. Published by Gingko Press and priced fairly, I thought, at $35. Our sales rep, Tim, has always helped decide what books of theirs to go for. They do great art, design, grafitti, urban studies. We agreed that I was being sensible in my order. We had, after all, done well a couple years back with another Nabokov book("Alphabet in Color") done by the same people. We had it displayed it and didn't move. Lesson: I'm not entirely certain. Possibly, never be certain.

Finally, and this is admittedly the toughest one to gauge, I didn't have enough remainders(sale-price) books in the store. The ebb and flow of these sales are determined, I'm convinced, by rising tides, voodoo and unicorns. There is no telling. One simple fact is that more people in the store equals more sales of these books. How many more is harder to figure. Our business was up in 2011 and we definitely had more foot traffic in December. The mild weather was a major factor in that. By the time I realized we were selling so many sale books it was too late to get more in time. These books aren't shipped via UPS or Fed Ex and seem to come by slow boat. So we were basically stuck around the 10th or 12th of December when I saw what had happened in the previous two weeks. All in all it's a decent problem to have but I wish I would have ordered more different books and a larger quantity of the things we had. Lesson: Pray to the snow gods and know we will sell whatever quality discount books we have.

Talking about being smart is well and good, but learning from my mistakes is better for me, Micawber's and our customers.