Booksellers Look To Bicycle Stores For Inspiration
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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Bicycles and books: One exercises the body, the other the mind. Despite those obvious differences, a group of booksellers meeting this week in Washington, D.C., visited a local bike shop. The point of the trip: to find out what they had in common. NPR's Lynn Neary joined the tour.
LYNN NEARY: From a sales perspective, Mike Hammanwright says, books and bikes are not as different as you might think. Both attract discerning customers who care deeply about the products they are buying.
Mr. MIKE HAMMANWRIGHT (President and Chief Executive Officer, Revolution Cycles): To most consumers, our product is a passion product. Well, I think that's true of books, as well. I think people who love to read, they have a passion for books.
NEARY: Hammanwright, president and CEO of Revolution Cycles, says customers of both bike and book stores want a sales force that knows what it is talking about.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: You're living on the edge of a sword, and so, if you're really good you'll do well. But if a customer comes expecting that expertise, and you don't deliver it, you're going to do very poorly.
NEARY: As the booksellers gathered in his store in Arlington, Virginia, Hammanwright handed each of them one of the brightly colored bicycle pins, which is offered to all his customers.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: Hello, welcome. Welcome to Revolution Cycles. Did we all get our bike pins?
NEARY: The tour of the store was organized by the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent book stores. Meg Smith, marketing and membership director of the ABA, believes booksellers need to forge new relationships with other independent retailers. Smith says the emergence of e-books is challenging business as usual for booksellers, who are beginning to realize that in order to survive, they need to change.
Ms. MEG SMITH (Marketing and Membership Director, American Booksellers Association): This is part of that evolution. You know, let's go see what other people are doing. We don't have to be the private club anymore. The private club is independent retailers working together.
NEARY: Hammanwright, whose business has grown from one to five stores since it began in 1997, has clearly thought through every decision, from the store's design to the ID cards his employees wear around their necks.
Training, he tells the booksellers, is key. Everyone is steeped in the same approach to sales.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: It's really about - we want to ask you questions to find out what are you looking for, what do you want to do with the bike. Is it for fitness or fun or racing or whatever? And if we're listening and paying attention, and we hear what you're looking for, then we can show you the products we have that we feel meet those needs.
NEARY: But it goes beyond just selling products, Hammanwright says. It's also about creating a customer who will come back for more.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: So part of our process is to make sure that our consumer, now that they have the bike, what can I do with it. We actually want to encourage them to ride. In the end, even if it's a competitor of mine that sells a bike, that benefits me as a bicycle retailer because at some point they need a nutrition bar or a flat repair or want to get a new jersey or whatever. So I would rather they get a bike than a new TV, a new computer or go on a vacation.
NEARY: Revolution Cycles' newest store doesn't sell bikes at all. Instead it offers bike rentals and bike shares. Opening that kind of store was a risk, says Hammanwright.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: I need some risk. I need to be able to feel like we're trying to make significant change. So - and especially in this industry, sort of like your industry, you know, if you don't evolve and change, what's going to happen?
NEARY: I don't run my business on hope, Hammanwright said, and those were the words that made the biggest impression on Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic Connecticut.
Ms. ANNIE PHILBRICK (Bank Square Books): And I think sometimes as a bookseller, because it's such a difficult business, and you're so passionate about it, that you tend to run it on hope. But the other thing he said which is so key is that we're really at a turning point, I think, that we can look at it as doom and gloom, that there's e-books and e-readers, and we can say okay, we're done and walk away from it. Or are we can look at it really positive and take advantage of the opportunity and turn it around and embrace the whole electronic age and also be, you know, a great independent bookseller, as well.
Chris Curry of the Novel Experience in Zebulon, Georgia, liked Hammanwright's sales philosophy. Curry says if a bike store can get more butts on bikes, as Hammanwright calls it, then bookstores need to work on getting more eyes on the page.
Mr. CHRIS CURRY (Novel Experience): We just need to grow readers and think about not just selling books but making reading books cool. So if we can do that and somehow incorporate that into e-books and figure out a way to sell e-books through our stores, I think maybe we have the start of a new model for bookstores.
NEARY: And with the tour over, the booksellers did what they would want any good customer to do: They shopped.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: Are they both for you or for somebody else?
Unidentified Woman: They're both for me.
Mr. HAMMANWRIGHT: Fantastic.
NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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