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Dirty secrets of Canadian bookselling

A Saturday morning seminar about the art of handselling got off to a really shaky start when it was revealed that the primary speaker – Avin Mark Domnitz, CEO of the American Booksellers Association – was a no-show. But bookseller Trish Petrie, of Vancouver’s Black Bond Books, stepped in to pinch-hit at the last minute, much to the relief of the BEC co-ordinators.

Rather than do all of the talking herself, Petrie turned the seminar into a free-flowing group discussion in which all of the attending booksellers exchanged handselling tricks of the trade, and before long things got pretty interesting. Who knew mild-mannered booksellers could be so sneaky in their selling strategies?

Samantha Holmes of Victoria’s Bolen Books revealed that one of her favourite techniques for selling kids books to parents and grandparents is to clutch the book to her chest and say: “I love this book, but it’s really for gifted children.” She explained to her fellow booksellers, “Everybody buys it after that!” Then Petrie chimed in: “Yeah, grandparents are suckers!”

Another bookseller said that she always makes a point of asking parents the name of their child, then she dispatches a co-worker to search for a picture book with a protagonist of the same name. “They always buy it!” she said.

According to Petrie, another good technique for selling kids’ picture books is to let staff spend a half-hour each day reading them. “We started doing that in our store, and the effect on sales was enormous, because the staff had so many more recommendations,” she explained.

Another bookseller said he always greets customers by saying “Good morning,” even if it’s the afternoon or evening. “Because then they say, ‘It’s not morning,’ and then you’ve got them in a conversation.”

Other suggestions tossed about were:

  • Don’t ask customers, “Can I help you with anything?” Ask them open-ended questions that they can’t simply say no to, like, “What are you looking for today?”
  • Create new store bookmarks on a regular basis with up-to-date staff recommendations printed on them.
  • When ringing in a customer purchase, tell them that if they like the book they’re buying, they’ll probably also like “X,” and then write the name of “X” right on the bag.
  • Encourage employees to track store sales of the books they recommend, so that they can see if their recommendations actually work.
  • Don’t just train your staff in the art of handselling by pretending to be a customer yourself – get them to practice on real customers.

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