Last week SIBA hosted the B3! webinar "Bringing Used Books into the Mix for Higher Sales and Profit." Megan Bell and Josh Niesse from Underground Books in Carrollton, GA and Hills & Hamlets in Serenbe, GA , Cathy Graham from Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, FL, Frank Reiss of A Cappella Books in Atlanta, GA, and Shane Gottwal's from Gottwals Books (franchising nationwide as "Walls of Books") of Macon, GA and beyond presented their best tips. Because all the presenters began as used booksellers adding in new books, stores transitioning in a similar way will also find this webinar quite informative.
Josh noted the "incredible variety of approach to including used books" among the panelists. He and Megan prefer to buy book collections from private homes rather than allowing folks to bring boxes of books to the store. These bulk purchases help the unit price go down. Although he and Megan emphasize being selective, when they find aesthetically interesting but damaged books, like children's books, they may take them off the owner's hands for free, and then use what they can from these books to create journals, buttons, and more for sale in their stores. They hold a quarterly sidewalk sale to clear out inventory, and these days are often record sales days.
Although Cathy's store is moving towards 70% new and 30% used, they do quite well with used books in genres like mystery and romance, and have a separate antiquarian book section. They are quite selective about what they bring in, Cathy emphasizing that "more isn't better" and they only buy "gently-used" books. She loves the "cool factor" of beautiful and retro antiquarian books, and mentioned a growing trend in younger customers appreciating and purchasing antiquarian books.
Frank cautioned that "it's a challenge to do both (new & used books) well." He noted that they are very different from each other. The aesthetics and price margins for used books appeal to him, but he's always considering the allocation of labor costs, as well has how to best merchandise them. He advised booksellers looking to add used books to "respect how much time used books can take...if you're going to do both, then have a lot of focus." He agreed with Cathy's comment about younger customers being drawn to used books, saying, "Young people do seem to be getting into old books in a way that surprises me, and is gratifying."
Shane's buying philosophy is one of bringing in as much product as you can in categories that do well for you. His buyers are serving multiple stores and selling online, with the ability to store overstock in a warehouse, which is different from the other presenters. He suggested keeping used books separate from new books in the store, at least initially. He also believes online sales of college textbooks is a lucrative market for new stores wanting to start selling used.
Questions from attendees including paying for used books with credit and/or cash, charging for shipping, online sales and pricing, and whether adding used books undermines new book sales.
View the webinar.
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Additional resources are Cathy Graham's tips and pitfalls when adding used books to your new book inventory, Josh and Megan's Used Book Sorting Chart, and tipsheet on evaluating used book values, and Shane's 2017 Winter Institute presentation on bringing used books into your inventory. All are available in our Peer Brain Trust under Working with Business Resources.