Feb 22, 2015

Reflecting On My Time Working In a Bookstore (Part 1)

Working in a Bookstore, What I liked...

For over ten years I worked in the bookselling industry, specifically in a specialty store, which sold Christian books, Bibles, music and other 'Christian' paraphernalia'.  I really enjoyed it and most days looked forward to it.  Like all jobs there were things I didn't like but I can discuss that in another post.

In this post I thought that I would outline what I enjoyed about working in a book store, especially a Christian book store.

I started my journey in the bookselling industry by volunteering at the local Christian book store, and as a bonus I got to spend time with one of the book-loving girls who volunteered there as well.  I eventually married her.  At one point I was in between jobs and had a lot of time on my hands, so I was asked to fill in for the managers while they took holidays.  I had a nice enough pay out from my last job that I actually did this for free, that's how much I loved the job. 

After I got married and while on my 'honeymoon' I was presented with two options accept a permanent job as pastor or join a Christian bookstore chain, as manager of a newly acquired shop.  I choose the latter. 

Like all bibliophiles I loved to read, admire and collect books.  So the first thing I liked about working in a bookstore was:

Being able to read the books...

People would often come in ask 'Have you read all these books?'  I would answer truthfully with 'No, there are too many, but I'm working on it.'  Other times I felt like saying 'No, because some of them are just plain rubbish, but aren't you glad I know that so I can steer you away from them.'  Unfortunately the books I felt were rubbish ended up being best sellers, or in high demand.  When it came to ordering new 'Christian' paraphernalia', my wife and I had a running joke.  'Oh that "product" is hideous, we better get 3 boxes of it.'   It worked most of the time, if my wife hated a toy, pen or greeting card, I would order some in and they were the first things to sell.

I loved looking through the new release catalogues and seeing what was coming out.  Evaluating from previous experience if it was worth purchasing for the store. Would it stay on the shelf until I discounted it, or would it move into someones hands quickly?  I was often surprised at which books became best sellers and which ones didn't.  I learnt the hard way that you can't put the books you love on the shelf, it's heartbreaking marking down your favourites in order to get them sold.  You really need to know what the customer wants and will purchase.

I loved being able to read new books, and listen to new music, without having to spend a fortune, or spend any of my own money.  Although I didn't have time to read everything that came in, it was part of my job to be able to speak knowledgeably about a lot of the books and other stock we had in, and that was fine by me.  I liked it that I could read books on topics or by authors that I would normally avoid purchasing because of my tight budget.  Now I was able to read them, get a feel for the topic or authors style and give an informed opinion to my customers about what I thought about this book.

This leads into the second thing I liked about working in Christian book store, which was...

The sense of community

Strangely enough a bookstore will attracted other book lovers and so I got to meet the other bibliophiles in our town.  Most people who came in had a love of books and it was easy to start up a conversation. There was the potential to meet a kindred spirit, or someone as passionate or more passionate about books as I was. Of course, I especially loved talking about the books, and music, I liked, but as you may know books cover a lot of topics. I really enjoyed getting into a conversation with someone who was passionate about a topic which I was unfamiliar with.  Doing this had the flow-on effect of being recommended the 'best' book on that topic and learning more about that certain subject, from an enthusiast, which made my job a lot easier when recommending books on that subject.  And finally it built rapport with that customer.   Both my wife and I found that we were able to develop several long term friendships with people who originally visited our bookstore as a customer.

Third, the relationships within the Christian Bookselling Industry. 

In Australia the Christian bookselling industry is quite small, even in the pre-2008 days, so it was easy to get to know at least one or more people from each of our suppliers.  Although it was the sales reps job to make sales, my wife and I found we were able to build rapport, if not a friendship with most of them.  I liked it that these people were willing to share their knowledge of the industry with us and help us out.  Of course things got a bit tense trying to haggle for the best deals, but when we needed information about a particular product whether it was theirs or not they were always willing to help.

Finally, I liked it that I learnt that I could be good at something. 

This was the first job I had that felt like I was cheating in someway.  I enjoyed what I did and most of the tasks came easily.  If you could sum up what I learnt during my time working in the books store in a sentence it would be this:  "Confidence comes through experience."
  I found out that I could 'do' maths. In the bookstore I needed to know my mark ups, and earlier on in my career someone gave me the formula on how to work out percentages and markups.  I used it so much that it was second nature, and had other managers phoning me up to work it out for them.  I enjoyed the challenge of 'Just in Time' ordering, looking through the sales figures and working out how many books, music, etc, I would need for the next week or month.

I enjoyed working for this small book chain.  Being a non-profit organisation on a shoestring budget it allowed me to try my hand at various skills that I would not normally have a chance to do if I worked for a larger organisation.  I found if I had an interest in a certain area or task, most of the time it was gratefully thrown my way.  It was a good period in my life and looking back now I can fondly say that I miss it but at the same time I am glad that I got out when I did.

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