The Good and Bad of the 2012 NEIBA Fall Conference
By Jason Harris
The New England Independent Booksellers Association 39thAnnual Conference took place from Oct. 3 through 5 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
I will start with the good first. I went to the first day of the conference on Wednesday. I was looking forward to the panel “Social Media 2.0: Beyond the Basics: Using Social Media to Drive Sales and Customer Engagement.” As the NEHW Director of Publicity and Webmaster and Marketing Director and co-owner of Books and Boos, a bookstore, I knew I could learn something from this panel. The panelists were Sarah Rettger, of Newtonville Books in Newton, MA., Mary Allen, of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, VT., Kirsten Hess, of R.J. Julia in Madison, CT, and Ann Kingman of Random House.
The panelists mentioned there are ups and downs when using social media. One downside is that you have to use it five times a day, Hess mentioned.
One thing I was surprised to hear was the fact that the panelists don’t like Hootsuite, which could help with having to be on social media five times a day. The reason is it’s not genuine and people know it from seeing where the message is from. “Voice is important” when posting in social media, Hess said.
Hess also mentioned that people should be looking at other Facebook business pages, not just look at the book business.
Allen mentioned that people love photographs and live pictures of things with authors. She wasn’t talking about pictures of authors reading from their books either. She’s talking about a picture of them making a funny face or something behind the scenes before they become professional to do their reading.
Hess said customers want to see the people who sell them their books.
If you own a bookstore or any type of business, a good word to keep in mind is “partnerships” with other businesses in your community, Allen said.
Rettger said you should do what’s best for you and not to force it.
The other panel I checked out was “It’s All About Customer Service: Strengthening the Brick and Mortar Advantage.” This one wasn’t has interesting to me as the Social Media one, but it did contain some good ideas. The panelists were Susan Mercier, of Edgartown Books in Edgartown, MA., Ann Carmichael, of Kennebunk, ME, Michael Kanter, owner of Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, MA., and Karen Corvello, of Baker & Taylor.
Kantor said that customer is all and everything. Stores should be kept cleaned and stocked, he said.
“My goal is for customers to leave the store and say ‘wow’ that was an amazing experience,” Kantor said.
He has noticed that in many bookstores employees are indifferent.
It was mentioned that every customer should be greeted as they come into the store.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Carmichael said. She also said that customer service begins on the sidewalk before the customer even comes inside. This means that the landscaping to the windows to the building itself has to be in the best shape possible.
Now we come to the bad of NEIBA. I had a couple of assignments on Thursday, which kept me away from the conference. I was able to attend on Friday and I wish I didn’t. The main reason I was going to go on Friday was to attend the panel, “Think Tank Round Tables – New ideas for New Business.” This is how the program guide described the panel: “Whenever booksellers get together the room seems to fill with new ideas. This 45-minute ‘think tank’ is an opportunity to gather – at tables organized by small, mid and larger-sized stores – and talk with each other about what exciting things you’ve done in your store in the past year and what things you’ve learned at the Fall Conference you’re going to do. We hope this will be a useful and focused way to wrap up the educational offerings of the Conference.”
When I got to the convention center, I found out that the trade show exhibit room was already shut down and packed up. It only went on one day this year and that day was Thursday. I didn’t realize this would happen from the program guide. I figured it would go on the entire conference. This was the first year they only had it for one day I was told. NEIBA was trying something new this year. Hopefully, they will go back to having it open all three days next year.
After being disappointed about the trade show, I went to the room where my panel was going to be held. I was about twenty minutes early so I waited outside the room. As it started getting closer to the 11 a.m. start time I wanted to the door. Once it got to 10:55 a.m., I was leaning against the doorway and started to worry. When I heard Steve Fischer, of NEIBA tell Neil Strandberg of the American Booksellers Association to continue talking and that he had plenty of time and it was around 11:10 a.m., I started getting upset. Later on, Fischer said that Strandberg could continue until 11:30 a.m. The last twenty minutes of the supposed panel I went to see was used to continue the discussion of the Kobo e-reading program, which was the subject of the previous panel. I had made a two hour and fifty minute round trip from Connecticut for nothing and I wasn’t happy about this. If NEIBA wasn’t going to have the panel they promoted in its program then they should have gotten the word out. Instead of still promoting it, by having the panel’s name and description listed on the wall outside the convention center’s conference room.