I was in one of my favorite independent book stores yesterday and overheard the following conversation:
INDIEBOOKSELLER: "There are so many books published these days, thank goodness there are stores like ours to sort through what is good to read."
PET CUSTOMER: "Uhm, absolutely."
INDIEBOOKSELLER: "After all, chains are just big warehouses with too many titles to choose from. How could a customer know what's good to read. Readers really need us to make those sorts of decisions for them."
PET CUSTOMER: "Er ... Right."
INDIEBOOKSELLER: "It makes no sense to go to a big chain when people can come here and get a selection we've worked hard to produce after sorting through all the chaff."
PET CUSTOMER: "Totally." Then leaves without purchasing anything.
I really like the store owners and want them to succeed. But this rationalization does not bode well.
So what can they do with limited shelf space and limited funds to add titles?
1. Greet every person as they walk into the store. It's a small store and that's not hard.
2. Get rid of the clique. Make every person feel welcome, not just pet customers.
3. Be enthusiastic about every reading taste. Fake it if you think romances, mysteries and thrillers are beneath you. Your bottom line is beneath you too if you foster that 'tude.
4. Embrace online. Have a "Book Sleuth" terminal (or several) like Borders. Encourage people to use it for special orders of stock you don't have. It may take a bit longer for the b0ok to arrive than it would with Amazon, but you can offer free shipping and a friendly email to them upon arrival. That email is also a great and acceptable (non-spam) opportunity to say something positive about new arrivals, events, signings etc.