Booksellers Brainstorm in Wi7 Working Groups

Among the new features at last week’s Winter Institute were working groups: the 500 bookseller attendees were divided into 22 groups and were led by a facilitator in planning for the future of a case study bookstore. This programming was developed by the American Booksellers Association as a result of feedback received from booksellers, and as a way to foster the networking and brainstorming that attendees have cited as an important facet of past Winter Institutes. The working groups met for a 90-minute session on Friday morning, and one person in each group was assigned as a scribe to take notes on the entire discussion. These notes were then handed off to ABA staff members to synthesize, and the results were presented by Dan Sheehan, vice president of sales and general manager of the Ingram Content Group, who worked with ABA staff in preparing the presentation.

In his presentation, Sheehan pointed out that one of the most important parts of the exercise was the process itself, and he stressed the importance of education, especially in turbulent times. “We believe one of the components to evolving and adapting to the ever-changing marketplace is through education and events like these,” he said.

Sheehan noted that while no two groups undertook the same process of evaluating and planning, they often reached a consensus. He then listed the top 10 topics that were covered by all groups: store layout, the kids’ section, product mix, lease-related issues, local-first/community partnerships, co-op, payroll, events, location, and store hours. He noted, too, that what had surprised those involved in analyzing the results of the groups’ work was that missing from most discussions was the need to develop a store mission statement; the addition of digital, e-commerce, or print-on-demand options; a focus on social media; and, thankfully, the decision to close the store.

Several of the working groups conducted a SWOT analysis, and, again, there were commonalities. Among the store’s identified strengths were a strong location and solid relationships with the community. The weak points cited were layout, product mix, staffing, and lack of community involvement. Booksellers found opportunities in adding sidelines, working with other businesses, becoming pet friendly (noting a pet store close by), and conducting an energy audit. Threats were identified as, an erosion of print sales, leisure time competition, and its dependency on tourism.

Sheehan closed his presentation by encouraging booksellers to take this information – and their experience from the working groups – with them back to their store, to share insights with their staff, and to continue to educate and collaborate with peers.

“We got a lot of momentum going on,” said Sheehan. “How can we keep it going? A very important word is ‘we.’”

The PowerPoint presentation of the Working Group Summary is available here. (PDF file might take a few moments to load.)