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Business Strategies During COVID-19: Tips For Managing an Unexpected Crisis

Posted By Linda-Marie Barrett, Monday, March 16, 2020

john cavalierEvery time I hear the term "flatten the curve," I sing it to myself in the voice of Waylon Jennings to the tune of the Dukes of Hazzard theme. And then I add ... Some day the mountain might get us but the virus never will. That's one of my dumb little coping mechanisms in this time of heightened anxiety.

It's bizarre. One of our staffers here at our store likened this pandemic to the slowest moving hurricane possible. I agree. The uncertainty is intense and the news of so many of my friends shuttering their doors for a yet to be determined period of time makes me feel nauseous.

For us, it's school book fairs. Louisiana has closed all schools for a month and with their closure around $60,000 in anticipated revenue has dried up literally overnight. Will we have time to reschedule? Can we pursue alternate sales strategies? How will we move all of this inventory? How much can we return? When will we have to close our store as well? When will we reopen? Will we have the cash to get through the pandemic? The slower summer?

The anxiety can be crippling.

My wife and I were discussing all of these things and we asked ourselves, "What are we going to do?" For us, the answer is the same thing we did in 2016. That year was our worst year in business owing to a string of natural disasters in our area that culminated in the Great Louisiana Flood of 2016. During that crisis we saw widespread school closures in our area as well as a complete halt to our local economy for non-essential goods and services. Those consequences were dumped on us then much like the consequence of the coronavirus is being heaped on all of us now.

It's tough to distill an experience like that into actionable steps to take in response and it's tough to try to cherry pick lessons that can be shared with others, but there are a few fundamentals that I know to be true and I'd like to remind everyone of them at this time.

  1. Focus on solutions and not problems. There are of course economic realities and uncertainties yet to be revealed, but don't lose sight of your goals, hopes, and dreams. Figure out how you want to emerge from this pandemic and then take the necessary steps to get there. For us, we're looking at being cash poor and time rich for several months so I aim to come out of the other side of this leaner, more efficient, and more organized than ever before. I'm also looking at business and personal debt restructuring as well as strategies to be more responsive to opportunities so that as they present themselves I can be ready to pounce.
  2. People are people. Everyone is experiencing this and everyone is going to have a rough go for a bit. Honesty and communication are essential. Express your concerns to your landlord, your credit reps, your sales reps, your banks as soon as possible. Don't wait to be late on a payment. You have infinitely more credibility and wiggle room if you are upfront and present a plan of action rather than sweeping problems under the rug. Go to your bank or your landlord or whomever right now and make sure they know your story and that they are on your team. Lead them to a solution, rather than presenting your problems.
  3. The future is what we make it. Certainly the randomness and unexpectedness of this pandemic would make it seem otherwise, but we have to remember that most of our anxieties and frustrations come not from the virus itself but from our collective response to it. This is the hard way wisdom is earned. We are a community. We are parts of other communities. We are our own leadership as well as our own source of authority. We have to take comfort in knowing that the experience of today can lead us to a stronger tomorrow.
  4. Community is everything. Whenever you feel like everything is at its worst, someone will surprise you. Whenever you feel like you are all alone, someone will surprise you.

Deep breaths and baby steps. Remember your goals and your assets. Share your talents. Think about others. Be honest and open. Create and share solutions. Take comfort and find strength in the various communities you are a part of. Lean on other people - metaphorically of course (#socialdistancing). Don't just react, plan.

Hoping for the best and planning for the future,

John Cavalier
Co-owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, LA, and SIBA Board Member

Tags:  Cavalier House Books  Covid-19  Emergency Preparedness  John Cavalier 

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Book Expo: It's About Relationships

Posted By Linda-Marie Barrett, Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Book Expo: It's About Relationships by Michelle Cavalier, Cavalier House Books

There is a reason BookExpo is the largest book industry event in North America – everyone goes! If there is a message I can get across to you that would be it! 

This is not a show you can walk into blind. You will accomplish less than nothing that way. Our first BookExpo (when I was but a baby bookseller) was a complete failure. I was not yet working closely with any of my reps, wasn’t active in SIBA or the ABA, and had no idea what to expect. I basically just wandered around, probably got in other people’s way, waited in a lot of signing lines, and felt the show was not worth the capital and time outlay…and I didn’t go back for years.

Set goals and schedule meetings. The bulk of the work you do for this show happens before you leave. What areas are you struggling with? Not connecting with publicity? Getting too many damages? Coop plan not working for you? Reach out. As I said, the brilliance of BookExpo is that *everyone* goes, so you can get face time with exactly the right person. For me, this was indispensable. I got so many questions answered, relationships established, and headaches averted! It was bliss. Meeting with children’s publicists was game-changing for us. Not only did I get to meet and make numerous contacts, I got a lot of my questions about grids answered. Moving into the next season I can really optimize my outreach. But even more helpful to me was meeting with heads of wholesaling and specialty markets with many of the publishers our wholesale and distribution company works with. Looziana Book Co. is a new company and regional wholesale is definitely not the norm; we are often shuffled from one wrong department to the other on phone calls. I made so many valuable connections this week and saved myself a ton for time; that alone was worth the trip to NYC!

You should also probably know that your favorite author is going to appear at BookExpo. It doesn’t really matter who your favorite author is – they send everyone! I was told by someone at Hachette that they added Kira Jane Buxton to the lineup because indies have been showing Hollow Kingdom so much love! And you should have seen Madeline Miller’s line during the ABA signing! I didn’t get to meet too many authors (aforementioned meetings) and was really sad to miss out on Sarah Maclean’s signing (because I am a Fated Mates and romance nerd), but I did make sure to thank Jewell Parker Rhodes. Her books mean so much to me and I just wanted to let her know how much I appreciate her work and then she basically made me cry. This woman is a treasure! She ended our conversation saying “I want to come to your store! Take my card.” And then I died.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that they feel like they get more from attending their regional shows and the ABA’s Winter or Children’s Institutes. Fair enough, I don’t miss the SIBA Discovery Show and try to go to either Winter or Kids every year, but BookExpo isn’t about education in the way that those shows are. It’s about relationships. BookExpo very much feels like a show about leveraging your business up. From formal appointments with clear directives established by you to the Speed Dating rounds set up by ABA and the informal talks that happen at various events and mingles, BookExpo is a platform for moving your shop forward while getting a beat on the pulse of the industry as whole.


Tags:  BookExpo  Cavalier House Books 

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Refueling Ideas and Enthusiasm at This Year's SIBA in the Springtime!

Posted By Linda-Marie Barrett, Monday, April 15, 2019

Refueling Ideas and Enthusiasm at This Year's SIBA in the Springtime! by Michelle Cavalier, owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, LA

I almost don’t want to tell you about how great SIBA in the Springtime and EUREKAsiba is because, here’s the thing, one of the best parts about this event is how intimate it is. But I also really, really want you to come next year so we can get to know each other, so here goes!

We started off on Monday with a bus tour of Atlanta area stores. I did the bus tour in Tampa as well, and this is genuinely the best way to spend a day! You are on a bus with a bunch of book nerds visiting your colleagues, learning best practices, and gossiping about which authors are most fun to host. And y’all, we even had the best ever story time at Little Shop of Stories (I tried to hire our reader, Ms. Hannah, away from the shop, but she was steadfast in her loyalties). I did, fortunately/unfortunately, spend all my money at the five bookshops we visited, but luckily on Tuesday I was refueled with ideas and enthusiasm to go back to my bookselling life with enough EUREKA moments to recoup my investment (plus, I have all those cool books)! Quick note of thanks to Southern Fried Karma for hosting our bus tour!

Back to the hotel for a dinner celebrating the Southern Book Prize. We got to hear from Will Walton (oh, you remember, you fell in love with him when he hosted a dinner in Tampa and of course, you read his books) and Jo Watson Hackl, our kids prize winner! Jo spoke about how her own upbringing in a ghost town inspired her debut novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe, and also outlined the many resources she has available for helping kids delve deeper into her work and the world at large. Seriously, from treasure hunts to a classroom empathy exercise – this is an author after my own heart.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Tuesday morning, we entered the ABA’s session on pre-order campaigns. My biggest take away here is that you’ve got to be creative! Through the ABA’s hard work, the pubs are getting behind us and supporting pre-order campaigns with swag, signed copies, and exclusives but we must engage our customers with pre-orders in the same way we would with in stock handselling. Did you know that up to 30% of a book’s total sales can come from preorders? Yeah, we gotta get in on that. Second take away, complete the ABACUS form, you guys! Oren and Joy went through the data with us and it is so helpful! The percentage breakdown allows you to assess what is happening in other stores, and ideas that may boost your business (like the growing percentage of nonbook, which does make my heart die a little, but facts are facts). We also had lunch with the ABA for the spring forum. The access we have to the heads of this national organization is unparalleled and during this event we have the opportunity to advocate for new ideas, to get questions answered, and to find new ways to be involved. Whether you want to be on the Indies Introduce team, are looking to host a Well-Read Black Girl book club, have questions about how indie commerce sites work, it is all open to discussion here.

But what you really came here for were the Eureka talks, right? We heard from twelve speakers (and two musicians!) full of enthusiasm and innovation. Our TBRs exploded, our ideas grew and were challenged, we laughed, we cried, we were validated by the very idea of moral injury (f*ck burnout, am I right?). I couldn’t possibly summarize it here for you. Many of the talks were recorded and will be shared, but there is definitely something about the experience of being there in the room with an engaged group of your peers that defies summary. So, here’s the part where I urge you to join us next year! I’ll be there, along with another group of inspiring speakers in our industry. I promise you will experience one of those EUREKAsiba moments; it happens to all of us (I mean, John bought a button maker immediately after seeing how much fun and profit the owners of Underground Books had with theirs!). I think I’m reaching my word count max here, but I’ll tell you this one last thing: books! The event is capped by author signings and a dinner that includes talks and readings (and this time, a game of Never Have I Ever) that is a great way to wrap up. You will leave so ready to recommend all the books and implement all the ideas – your customers and staff won’t know what hit ‘em!


Tags:  Cavalier House Books  eurekasiba  Jo Watson Hackl  SITS  Southern Fried Karma  Will Walton 

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