This just in from Publishers Weekly: Home Depot has announced they will no longer sell books. It may be that you never bought a book at Home Depot. Last time I looked, they sold an array of how-to books on home improvement and gardening, some of which were fairly humdrum (Ortho books, that sort of thing) and some of which were the sorts of books that you and I know and love.
Clearly the books weren't selling well, which is why Home Depot decided to drop them. Or maybe they were selling just fine, but Home Depot had other ideas for that section. In the announcement they say that "the move is part of a wider strategy of 'front end transformation.'"
Whatever. It's over. I don't know how much hand-wringing is going on at publishing houses, but if you're a publisher of garden books, here's my advice: Help independent garden centers become better booksellers.
Borders is gone. Home Depot is, as far as bookselling goes, also gone. Many cities have no independent bookstore at all. But there are over 3000 large independent garden centers in the United States, and with a little help, they could become much better booksellers.
People who own garden centers are not necessarily book people. They don't read Publishers Weekly. They don't go to BEA. They've never heard of the ABA. And they might not even read much. This is not a criticism. It's just a fact that when I go to IGC, I meet a lot of people who own or work in garden centers who say, "I don't read much." So they might be happy to add more books to their gift shop, but they need some help. What could publishers do?
- Help them make sure they're getting the best possible terms and working with the right kind of sales rep or distributor. Some garden centers just don't know where to get books, how to take advantage of special shipping terms, or how returns work. When should they discount books, and why?
- Help them understand, in very concrete terms, what kinds of books gardeners might enjoy reading. I've seen many IGC owners pick up interesting, top-selling, well-written garden books and say, "Will this tell how to prune shrubs in zone 6?" They might not understand that books can be more than instruction manuals. I have actually had to explain to garden center owners who Michael Pollan is and how many copies of his books have sold in order to help them understand about literary garden writing, or reading nonfiction for entertainment rather than instruction.
- Just generally, help them figure out what books to order. What's new, what's hot. Not just garden books but garden-themed cookbooks, nature books, children's books.
- Teach them basic bookselling stuff. I'm talking shelf-talkers, nice displays, where to buy shelving and book stands, etc. (or how to make them, since many garden centers employ very handy people or are next to a hardware store) Garden centers can be dusty, humid, or otherwise inhospitable to books and signage. Customers and staff sometimes have dirty hands. Help them figure out how to deal with all that.
- Help them teach the staff how to hand-sell books. If someone comes in with a lot of questions about fruit trees, great. Answer their questions, but show them some wonderful new book on fruit trees, too.
- Give them ideas for cross-merchandising with other things they sell like tools, seeds, birdhouses, etc. I mean literally–send out an email in September suggesting exactly what could go on a fall book table about, say, the harvest season.
- Teach them about author events. They might not know how to advertise an author event, how to introduce an author, how many books to order, where or how to do the signing–all of that could be brand new. Also, what about book clubs? A book discussion group?
- Give them some benchmarks to go by. How much can a successful bookstore sell, per square foot? How quickly do bookstores turn their inventory? These are things that a garden center might have no idea about.
Just my two cents. Publishers are worried about independent bookstores closing, but if you're a publisher of garden books, you have 3000 potentially great bookstores out there–they just need some help.
What do you think? Do you buy books at your garden center? Would you, if they had a truly fantastic little book section and enthusiastic staff selling the books?