In Your Store

For Successful Events in Retail, More Power to the Point People

Welcome to the third episode of Extended Retail Family, a series of articles exploring how indie booksellers’ approaches can inspire those of us in the art supply industry. Last week we spotlighted Women & Children First, a feminist bookstore in Chicago. Their knowledgeable, empowered staff is a central thread that weaves through their long-term success. We follow that thread to an aspect of their business made particularly lush by the efforts of specific staff members: events and partnerships.

Fans of Ann Patchett in line for book signing at an offsite event.

On-Site Events

Events are a central tenet of the Women & Children First business model. This grew over time through relationships with publishers and their community. How do they manage? If an opportunity is not in line with their mission, they just say no—and make room for events that are more on-brand. 

Valerie Jarrett and Chelsea Clinton engage with fans of all ages.

Through this tenacity they have become a top trusted destination for author tours; last year’s events included guests such as Chelsea Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, Ann Patchett and Valerie Jarret.

As a community gathering space, WCF also hosts events that don’t necessarily revolve around a book sale (if it falls in line with their mission). This might mean a workshop, storytelling show or Meet-Up. While these events are incredibly popular, they are not always a financial gain, Sarah admits. For the very popular Drag Queen Story Hour, the store gets so packed that it is “unshoppable,” but it’s the reason some people know WCF exists, so it is worth it!

Off-Site Events

In addition to readings and community events on-site, WCF has a busy calendar of off-site events maintained by someone especially hired for the task: Karlee, their Sales & Outreach Liaison. Karlee works full-time on off-site initiatives at schools, conferences and other events often hosted by non-profit partners. “It’s a whole new revenue stream that we don’t have to think about,” owner Sarah says. “We trust Karlee to manage and maintain the calendar.” Karlee focuses on the partnerships that make sense and ensures that these pop-up shops run smoothly and efficiently. Her tasks include making initial connections, building community partnerships, managing inventory and sales on-site and maintaining the off-site POS system.

One of the biggest success stories on the WCF website, made possible by Karlee, is WCF’s wishlist for Chicago Books to Women in Prison. She took initiative to contact the organization about moving the wishlist, which was originally on Amazon, to their own website.

Now the wish list not only drove traffic to their site, it also served as a powerful form of advertising. They share the list across multiple platforms in the city including the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Reader, multiple blogs and various social media accounts. If they hadn’t hired Karlee, they wouldn’t be able to capitalize on the press generated from the wishlist, or make such a profound impact on a community of incarcerated people. While previously they had to say no to a lot of opportunities, Karlee’s position has made profitable off-site events possible.

The Secret To Productive Partnerships and Great Events

Women & Children First tote bag designed by an artist on staff.

WCF’s clear, consistent communication and follow-up has resulted in strong, enduring relationships with publishers. When they have an event that involves a specific publisher, they will anticipate the publisher’s needs. This means providing the number of attendees, number of books sold, photos, and an overview of how the event was received.

What’s Next?

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring and expanding our extended retail family, and we hope this is just the beginning. Are you inspired by an independent bookseller in your community? Or have you discovered another industry that we can learn from? Reach out at artdogblog (@) and let’s get another feature going!

Series Navigation<< Creative Retail Strategies: A Feminist Bookstore with a Mission

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