Book Tables Should Be About Group’s Agenda, Not Store’s
Generally speaking, I’d jump at the chance to do an across-the-board, no-restrictions, interdenominational book table. There is a lot of merchandise in my store I’d like to move. But most book tables don’t work that way. Rather, you’re told “it’s for older women and the theme is missions;” or “these are junior-high kids from our midweek program some of whom haven’t been on a Christian retreat before.”
Too restrictive? We did $1,000 at the former and $500 at the latter recently.
The trick is to get inside of the heads of the organizers and prospective purchasers and then see what merchandise in the store matches up, not what you want to get rid of. And in one case, a Christian education conference, we had to concede to the organizers that we are simply not the right people to do the book table at all. (The person who did ignored the guidelines, and actually made out not too badly; maybe we should have taken it!)
This topic rolls around at our store every year at this time, not because we’re obsessed with a local opportunity that we’re missing out on, but because the customers themselves keep raising it. I wrote about the strange relationship that one of our suppliers has with a local denominational conference ground in this 2010 post. (Remember, I wrote this five years ago. The situation, as myself and a customer assessed it Thursday morning is, if anything, worse.)
Who can do the best job of supplying books, Bibles and music that Pentecostals want to read and listen to?
The answer is clear: Not FDI.
For starters, their Bible sources are all ESV and NLT. Pentecostals much prefer NKJV and NIV. And the large metal easel highlighting the John Calvin commentary — not that Charismatics would never read Calvin — was just absolutely hilarious. [The one that got the biggest reaction in our 2015 overview was the multiple copies of a 3-in-1 Western novel, but honestly there were so many missteps to choose from.]
There’s a smattering of Karen Kingsbury fiction, but absent is FDI’s own best selling fiction title, the new Francine Rivers’ hardcover. Actually, FDI has a handful of titles on the Christian Retailing top 100; all conspicuous by their absence. But the rest of that top 100 is an impossibility for a wholesaler, though for an individual store it would be no problem. [2015: The John Hagee title would have made sense in that environment.]
More important however is that, irrespective of the top 100, you have to breathe in PAOC or Assemblies of God culture and know the things that such people want to read. There were about 2,000 people at a concert there on Saturday and with exaggeration — and totally factoring in the concert artists’ sales would dominate transactions — I could easily do about $7 – $8,000 with a group that size and the right product. I suspect that they actually did about 5% of that.
Each of us just have to reach a point we you say; “Hey, we’d love to help you out but we can’t do the job as well as ____ or ____ can do it.” You admit that the publishers you represent don’t represent Charismatic or Pentecostal interests. You concede that you won’t be “on site” to replenish items as needed. You confess that your system can’t make allowances for new titles releasing after the camp session has commenced.
Or you can try to own all the marbles. (A compromise would be to farm out the contract to a retailer with the proviso that there is good representation of FDI merchandise.)…
…My strongest, personal conviction is that the selection of merchandise available for sale at the Pentecostal Camp on Saturday represented everything you should not do if asked to provide sales at an event for Charismatic or PAOC people. The wrong titles in the wrong place. Trust me, if your store got this opportunity, the books and Bibles on display this weekend represent all the titles you would not choose.
It was, as my kids would say, an epic fail.
It’s not just that we could have done a better job. It’s that our most junior employees could have done a better job with their hands tied behind their backs.
Just because somebody “knows somebody” is no reason to allow them to be the starting quarterback. You recognize your strengths and limitations and place each opportunity into the hands of those capable of rising to the occasion.
If you are a wholesale publishers’ representative having only about 12% of the available products; then that’s a limitation that precludes any possibility of doing a decent job.
In the discussion that followed, it was pointed out that this particular conference ground does have history of splitting the retail sales between two parties. They could easily allow the distributor to display their wares along side other merchandise from a local store.
Here’s an additional comment that came in by email, from someone that wasn’t part of the discussion at the site, but had been there days before:
I looked at the stuff and there’s nothing there that I would want but I know there are things in your store that I wouldn’t be able to stay away from.