With only one big-box book retailer serving the industry, many readers across the country have been left without a place to find their favorite trade books. Rob Duvall, text specialist at College Corner Coffee and Books , took note of this need when opening his store’s newest location.
Although the store is Alma College’s institutional bookstore, they recently relocated off campus in an effort to further integrate into the community. Although a move can bring major uncertainties for many retailers, Duvall and his staff were confident that their new location would be for the best; and, as they soon discovered, they were right!
“We’ve always been on campus and our location was somewhat hidden, so it wasn’t easy for anyone off campus to stop in,” he explained. “Our move was part of a campus wide initiative to expand into the city and really make the college an integral part of our community.”
Along with a new location, the store began carrying new merchandise including everything from greeting cards to general reading books. This slight change in merchandising nearly tripled the stores sales in less than a year’s time.
One integral aspect of the store’s successful trade book strategy has been hosting author signings for the titles they carry. Alma College coordinated with the store to bring in titles from big names like Dave Pelser and Bob Dole as well as local authors such as campus professors.
“It started off slowly,” he described. “I had an author contact me and ask if we did signings and I thought, ‘why not?’ As people began to hear about them, the attendance grew and our name spread. We started to see regulars stop in, and it’s been that way ever since!”
The signings have filled a need in the community that is much appreciated by dedicated readers.
“There are no bookstores in the area that cater to the non-textbook audience except for us,” Duvall said. “Our customers really appreciate the fact that we have these events; they love them.’
To advertise the events, Duvall sticks to the basics. The store posts any events they host on a billboard out front, sends flyers to every deliverable address in a five mile radius and takes advantage of in-store signage.
“We’re also partnering with more organizations to assist in their fundraisers and gain visibility at the same time,” he said. “We keep our marketing efforts simple, and sometimes that’s better.”
Now, Duvall brings authors in based on word-of-mouth. Rather than following a set schedule, the signings are sporadic and simply coincide with when an author or customer contacts him. For instance, students recently presented him with the idea of bringing in a children’s title about a black lab who was adopted as a Coast Guard dog and Duvall decided to not only add the title, but have the author visit the store, too.
“We’re open to anything,” he said. “Others usually present ideas to me or I base our schedule off what is selling well in the store.”
To add to the entertainment, the store often partners with other businesses to provide refreshments to their customers.
“There’s an ice cream shop across from our store, so for one event we worked with them to create a special where attendees could receive a discount,” he added.
Although the events don’t always produce huge sales, Duvall says the biggest benefit is the relationship he’s able to develop with local readers.
“Some events may produce just one or two sales, but that’s not the point,” he stressed. “We’re getting to know the community and learning their preferences, which helps us serve them better in the future. It’s about developing that loyalty. They walk away really happy and that’s what matters!”
The signings are beneficial not only for the store, but also for the authors. For example, author Susan Rogers visited during the town’s annual Highland Festival, which celebrates Scottish heritage with food, music and merchandise, last year drawing a big crowd.
“She told me she had the best sales day she’s ever had,” he added. “It’s great to be able to help out authors while making our customers happy, too.”
Once an author visits the store, they are always welcome back for future readings, too, which allows them to create a relationship with the store’s customers. In fact, Rogers is already scheduled to attend this year’s Highland Festival again in May.
“We have an open door policy,” Duvall emphasized.
In the future, Duvall hopes to expand his trade book events by reaching out to professors on campus more frequently.
“My hope is that we can partner with some of our campus authors in order to provide a book they’ve published and have them integrate the title as part of their class,” he said.
Besides book signings, the store extends excellent service to their customers, which has helped develop a sense of trust in the new location.
“We will gladly special order any book that our customers ask for,” he explained. “We’re here to help our readers maintain their passion and that’s something they really appreciate.”
The effort has certainly paid off; although the store is only three blocks from its old location, College Corner Coffee and Books has reinvented its image in the short time it’s been open.
“As an on-campus leased store, we did about $2800 in trade books per year,” he described. “But, at this location we’ve sold over $5000 in trade books in about seven months! It’s been wonderful.”
By developing a loyal following at the new location, Duvall is confident that the store will be successful in the future.
“We need to pursue other avenues besides just textbooks,” he said. “These events lay the groundwork with readers and show them what we have to offer. We’re now reaching out to the community and picking up business that we never had at our old location. It’s so great to make all these contacts and know that you’re helping your neighbors. I think we will only continue to grow from here!”