Book Publishing Specialists
SaleswomanshipMay 09, 2012 by Sam Henrie, President
I was decidedly unexcited when Chi Newman told me that she had been asked to do a book signing at Costco here in Tucson. I told Chi that I recommended against doing it. Though I love Chi’s book, Farewell My Beijing, her memoir of fleeing the communist takeover of China and her subsequent life living in countries around the world, I knew that people pushing shopping carts around Costco on a Saturday afternoon aren’t generally shopping for memoirs. They’re looking for new microwaves or twenty-gallon jars of maraschino cherries. In short, they are not Chi’s target audience. Also, Costco and other big discounters offer the worst financial terms of any book retailers out there. They insist on 55% off of the retail price, the publisher pays all shipping, the publisher must put Costco’s price stickers on the books, the returns rates are usually very high, and, because of the stickers, sometimes the returns can’t be resold.
I wasn’t the only one trying to dissuade Chi from the event. Just a week before the signing, Chi fell and bruised her face while visiting an open house for sale in her neighborhood. Costco offered to postpone the event by a couple weeks so she could heal. To Chi’s credit, she insisted on keeping her word.
So, on a Saturday afternoon I drove to Costco, spent the requisite twenty minutes trying to find an available parking spot in the vast parking lot, and went in. At the end of the book aisle, right in the middle of the store sitting at a table with her husband and daughter was Chi. To my surprise and delight she had sold nearly all of the books Costco had ordered for the signing. (By the end of the afternoon she’d sold them all.) How could I have been so wrong? Well, there were two factors I hadn’t accounted for: One was the sheer number of people who walk down the main isle of a Costco on a Saturday afternoon—maybe a hundred times as many as down the main isle of a bookstore—and the other was Chi’s salesmanship. Chi actively engaged every passerby she could, showed an interest in who they were and what they were up to, and ultimately charmed many of them into buying her book. I effused to Chi and family about how impressed I was. Chi’s husband looked at me with a smile and an arched eyebrow and said: “You’ve never seen Chi sell before.”
The event didn’t change my mind about selling books to and having signings at discounters like Costco. But it did remind me of the power of face-to-face sales skills—skills well worth studying, acquiring, and honing.
All in all a great day, except, of course when I returned to the vast parking lot and realized I had no idea where I’d parked my car.
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