Where there are readers, there is atleast one bookshop in the area. From that one bookshop, other bookshops may arise. However, are all bookshops the same? Do they all service the same population? Perhaps they don't, so why not complement them by providing services they don't?
Not all bookshops are created equal. Some of them specialize in education, medicine as well as used and rare books. Yet, there are some bookshops that stock a little bit of everything ... perhaps some of the more well known works of authors or titles. They may also focus more on stocking the most recent books put-out by publishers. Yet, even a general bookshop may not carry all that books that exist for a specific topic.
Connect With Other Bookshops
You can fill in the void that exists between the bookshops and readers, within the scope of your specialty. You need to first learn what they offer and don't offer, then see how you can fill in that void with your stock of books. You may also want to try to meet with owners and staff members of other bookshops. You can learn what their bookshop is all about, as well as their specialty and target customers. You may want to also share with them the intentions of your bookshop and your interest in complementing them by making stock available to customers that perhaps they cannot or will not carry. At first, you may find them to be a bit cautious around you and how they respond to your questions, but give them some time to build and mature a relationship with you. Sooner or later, the customers as well as all involved bookshops will benefit from complementing each other.
The field of medicine is well known for its referral to specialists. Usually, the process starts with a general practitioner doctor. When they suspect something is a culprit, but they don't have time to investigate or sense it is out of the scope of their training, they will make a referral for a patient to visit and be examined by a specialist. This trend has also been observed in the automotive industry. You may go to a general mechanic to do a tune-up and replace broken parts. However, when the general mechanic suspects something that is out of his scope or that they have little knowledge as to how to troubleshoot or repair something, they will make a referral to a specialist.
In a bookshop, there are times that a particular title or author is high on demand. You do your best to keep the books in stock, but sometimes your run out. It is at this time that you can leave your customers floating in deep waters or throw them a lifeline. Your lifeline to them is a referral to another bookshop. How will this benefit you? First, your customers will know that you value their needs and are doing your best to look after their best interest; they will remember. They will come back to you first for their book needs, even if there is another bookshop that is nearer to them. Second, they will begin to tell others about what you did for them and refer them to you. Your customers can do this by word of mouth or social media, but also by helping you with your marketing, like passing out flyers or business cards. Third, the other bookshops will hear about what you are doing and will begin to do so as well. They don't want to appear greedy or selfish, but they want to appear as the bookshop that is there for its customers. Sooner or later, you will begin to receive referrals from other bookshops as well, so be ready to receive and serve those customers well.
Making A Referral
There are different ways in which you can serve your customers by making a referral. You can make a list of all of the bookshops that you have come to know as well as their contact information. You can create a half-sheet or postcard that lists all of the bookshops, including yours, as well as their name, address, phone number, and hours of operation. Your customers will appreciate this extra step to help them find what they need as well as the time you have saved them from searching for this information.
When a customer comes to your bookshop, and you don't have the book they are looking for, help them find it, provided that you have the time. You can gather the book information for them, and begin to make phone calls to all the bookshops on your list. When you find a bookshop that has a copy of the books, get the price and share it with the customer. If the customer is both content and wants to get the book from them, have the bookshop hold the book for the customer by name. The customer will save time and be gracious to you for having done the foot work for them. This may not be possible at all times or with all bookshops. However, if there is time, it is worth the return that it brings to your customers and bookshop as well.
One of the greatest things you can make is a referral card. The referral card can be a place where all the information of the book is placed and the customer can take with them to the referral bookshop. The card should have a letterhead of your business info., if possible your logo as well. Each of the entries should have a line of their own so that both the customer and referral recipient understands what they are looking for. You should have the title and sub-title; author(s) or editor(s); the edition or revision; and the year of publication of the desired copy. You should also have the ISBN, which is like the social security number of a book. You can also include the publishing company (this sometimes changes over the years); and whether the book is still in print.
In receiving this card, your customers will have the opportunity to learn more about the elements of a book, and in turn help you with any future book requests. In addition, the referral bookshop will be appreciative of you having provided all the information needed to find the book quicker and making it available to the customer.
You have done your best to find the book for the customer, but no one has it in stock, there is no other choice but to offer a special order for that book. When making this offer you have to keep in mind the time when the customer needs the book; will it arrive in time for them to pick it up from your bookshop? Is the customer willing to pay extra money to have the book expedited in shipping, so that it may be received on time? Does any of your distributors have it in stock, ready to be shipped out to you, or is there a back-order list for that book? Lastly, is this a service your bookshop will be able to make for only books in print, or also for books that are no longer printed?
Special orders are a high demand task. They require accurate records of the book(s) you are looking for from your source distributors. It requires that you have the most complete contact information of your customer. This is important, because if your distributor learns that they don't have the book any longer, its on back order, or will no longer kept in stock, you have to inform your customer of this change and the options that they now have. It requires that you decide ahead of time if you will be billing for the book(s) prior to receiving a shipment or upon arrival. It will also require for you to also decide if you would like to be paid in full or portion. Most importantly, when the special order arrives, be prompt in letting your customer know their book(s) has arrived. Doing so will allow them to manage their schedule to go pick-up their books and perhaps do a little supplemental browsing for other books.
In closing, complementing other bookshops is not bad for business, if you have the best interest of your customers in mind. Referrals can help your bookshop by establishing customer loyalty due to your extra efforts and it will establish better bushiness bonds with the other bookshops. In turn, both your customers and other bookshops will come to bring a reward to your bookshop.
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R. A. Gómez