Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This Is How We Do It: Big Book Sale Edition

This is another part of the "This is How We Do It" series.  As always, these are my own reflections and thoughts about various aspects of junking and re-selling.  Your opinion my differ and your mileage may vary.  That's totally fine.  In fact, if they do, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.  You can find other posts in this series by using the "How We Do It" label.

So, the big, big, BIG library book sale was a few weeks ago, and the last day found me wandering among the tables filling up boxes of books, when it occurred to me that this might make a good topic for a post.

When I started re-selling, one of the things I really wanted to sell was books, largely because:

A)  I love books and
B) I have a lot of them

I started small, with just a few here and there and tried to concentrate mainly on things that I had read out of my own stash that I wasn't planning to keep.  I pick up a lot cheap at yard sales and figured I could pass those along cheaply as well.

When I took the second of my four spaces at the Peddlers Mall, I decided to focus on books and media in that spot.  It's gone on to become an important part of my set-up.  I sell something out of that spot pretty much every day--usually several somethings.  This means I need to keep it stocked with fresh stuff constantly.  I can't do it solely out of my own personal stash any more, although that still contributes a small percentage of each weekly restock.  (I do read several things a week, after all.)  So, I have to buy titles specifically for resale.

Yard sales, bookstore markdowns, and the like provide can provide a healthy source of stock, but the real bang for your buck comes from large sales like the library sale.  But, if you're not careful, you can end up with a lot of duds, instead of things that will fly off your shelves.  When I was shopping the library sale, I tried to think about the principles that guide me when I'm choosing titles to buy.  I'd like to share a few of them here.  Some of these principles probably also apply to smaller scale purchases, as well.

Go on Box Day.  Most large scale sales will have a discount day on the last day when you can buy by the bag or box for a set price.  As far as bang for your buck goes, this is the way to go.  For the price of three or four books during the regular-price days, you can walk out with a box full of dozens.  Yes, you might miss something special, but there will still be plenty left to choose from.  It's hard for a large-scale sale to get completely picked over.  I recently went to the last day of a benefit sale that had run for a week and had no problem filling up two boxes of stuff.  Plus, the crowds don't seem to be as bad on box days, although that may be a misconception.  You will have deal with other dealers, though, but the scanners will have come and gone by that point.

Scanners Suck.  I have nothing against bar-code scanner apps for smart phones and other gadgets.  I have one myself and use it.  I have a great dislike for the people who use them as if they were the be-all and end-all to reselling.  Honestly, if you aren't prepared to actually do the work to learn something along the way, you'll never amount to much as a reseller.  My scanner confirms my choices.  It doesn't make them for me.

Be Discriminating.  It's tempting to just start scooping stuff up on Box Day, but if you do that you'll most likely end up with a whole bunch of unsellable crap.  I do see dealers walking through filling up box after box and stacking them up, but these are high volume sellers who have the space to sell and store their stuff.  Try to play like them and you'll drown.  It's okay to be choosy.

Know Your Audience.  I have a good picture in my head of the people who shop at both locations where I have booths.  If you spend some time hanging out in your mall and pay attention, you'll develop one too.  I make sure that a good portion of what I'm picking up is stuff that those shoppers will want to buy and read.  It's important to remember that you are not the customer who's shopping in your space, and if you aim only for stuff that you personally like, you'll close off part of your audience.

Know What's Going On.  Trends can be a trap, but if you are careful about it and don't overdo it, you can use them to your advantage.  There seems to be an interest in vintage craft books right now, so I always make sure to pick a few up when I find them.  As long as you are choosy and pick higher quality items, you won't set stuck with a bunch of unsellable stuff when the trend cools off.

Avoid Traps.  Last year's bestsellers.  Harlequins.  Cliched, overexposed authors.  Every time I hear someone tell me that books don't sell, this is the kind of stuff I see in their inventory.  No one is going to by a copy of that Dan Brown book from you.  Everyone that wanted to read it got it when it was new.  I once bought three boxes of books at an auction.  There was a lot of good stuff in them, but I also ended up with something like 29 Harlequin romances.  I was going to donate them, but at the last minute changed my mind and put them in the booth.  It took months to sell them!  I got so sick of looking at them.  Never again.

Ex-Library is a No-No.  Even though it's a library sale, I tend to stay away from books that were actually a part of the library's circulating stacks.  No one wants to buy something that's covered in stamps and labels.  And the condition can be quite ratty.

Condition Matters.  You want to have a rep for selling good quality stuff, so put good quality stuff in your box.  It's okay to be choosy.  You'll still fill up a box or two.  I promise.

Hit the Media Table.  I know it's the digital age, but there are always people who are slow to convert or who never convert.  I can still sell cassettes and 8-tracks!  (Not that I'm going to be investing in a ton of either, mind you.  Just a few interesting ones here and there.)  Because more and more people are opting for digital delivery and storage options, it means that items like CD's and DVD's are still available on Box Day.  I have a nice little niche for both in my spaces.

Have a Limit in Mind.  With bulk buying, there is always a temptation to go overboard and buy more than you need.  While having a small backstock can be a good idea, you have to remember that items sitting around in a box don't make you any money.  I go in with a pre-set limit in mind (usually 3-5 boxes) and stick with it.  Set your limit based on your needs at the moment.  If you have been selling a lot of books recently, then you may need a higher limit.  If you have boxes waiting to go to the booth, it may need to be smaller.  Regardless, set it and stick with it!

Create Niches for Yourself.  Look around your mall and see what kind of books others are offering.  Unless you can feel like you can do it in a way that attracts shoppers' attention, avoid the kinds of things everyone else is doing.  Believe it or not, you can cater to the folks who shop at your mall and still be different from everyone else, since, chances are, your competition hasn't really put a lot of thought into their books.  You can also create niches for yourself that build an audience and make you stand out.

Avoid the Children's Section.  This is just a personal preference, but those tables are always crowded and the books are usually all pretty rough from circulation.  With a limited amount of time, and a wide array of choices, I just feel mine is better spent elsewhere.

Watch Your Stash!  If you're going to buy more than one box, you're probably going to have to start setting them somewhere so you can keep shopping.  Unless you're the Incredible Hulk, lugging around boxes full of books can impede the process.  Typically, on box day, it's understood that the boxes stacked along the walls are off-limits, so that shoppers can place their stashes there, but there's always a clueless newbie that comes along and start rooting.  Unless you plan ahead and bring your own sign or marker to id your boxes, plan on keeping an eye on them.  I've had to (politely) run off folks at just about every sale.

Pack.  Sort.  Repeat.  You'll make better use of your time if you do your deliberations all at once.  If something looks interesting to me, I'll throw it in a box and keep going.  Then, when I've got several boxes full, I'll sit down and start seriously going through everything.  This is the time to give every book the third degree:  Can I sell this?  At which spot?  Who would want to buy it?  Carefully thumb through things and make sure that they are in sellable shape.  And start packing your boxes deliberately,  You want to get as much in each box as possible to maximize your spending power.  (And don't forget your limit!)

Re-browse.  I always check back over tables that I've already visited, because stuff is always getting added, even on the last day.  When I find that I've gone through the entire place and not added anything to my pile, then it's time to sit and deliberate.

Avoid Temptation.  If you are a book-lover, you can allow yourself a title or two as a reward for spending all your time being a wise buisnessperson, but keep your true purpose in mind.  You are there to find things to sell, not build your own library.  The vast majority of items in your boxes should be earmarked for a booth.


Protector of Vintage said...

I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks for the great info. I have had very little success selling books in my booth. I don't sell last year's bestsellers or the romance novels and I am picky about book condition, yet I seem to be choosing the wrong titles. I haven't figured-out what shoppers are seeking. Take care!

Sue (Vintage Rescue) said...

Very interesting. Some months, books are my best-selling merchandise. I tend to buy mine mostly at estate sales and only go for specific topics (military, medical, dictionary, foreign-language, religious, dogs) and all very old.

For vintage, condition doesn't matter as much, as many buyers will be breaking them down for art projects.

But, since they sell so well, I've been contemplating bringing in a lot more. Unfortunately, my biggest bookshelf just sold!

Library sales are AWESOME, though. All great pointers you've got here.

EM said...

Protector--What kinds of books are you trying to sell?

Sue--I hadn't thought of the use of vintage books for art projects. In vintage books, I tend to gravitate towards text books (sell lots of those), religious texts, odd novels and manuals and things of that nature.

Thanks fir the comments!

We are: Clamco said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience in book buying.