Saturday, February 28, 2009

Organizing Children's Books at a Thrift Store

For a few years, I've helped stock books at the Mercer Island Thrift Store, as the Assistant Book Lady (...the Official Book Lady is Charlotte...). We've worked out some principles for stocking children's books to maximize sales, mostly by making it easier for shoppers to find what they're looking for.

You Can Tell A Book By Its Cover

Most children's books are roughly grouped by age; books that appeal to 5-year-olds don't appeal to 13-year-olds. The size and binding of the book is often related to its target age range. Therefore, if we group books by size and binding, we group them by age range and that is very convenient for shoppers.
  • Oversized Hardcovers: Hardcover books that are more than 12 inches tall tend to be heavily illustrated and aimed at preschoolers. I try to keep some of those on the very bottom shelf, so the pre-schoolers can grab & look at them. However, those with nice dust jackets I try to put on a high shelf so parents can look at them.
  • Stapleback: Another popular format is bound with staples. There are several sizes. The most popular size is about 7-by-8 inches (e.g. Berenstain Bears); we usually group them together. Another popular size is about 12 inches tall and they're often worth grouping too, but it's harder because they flop over and spill onto the floor. Then there are the miscellaneous sizes. Anything smaller than the 8-inch size doesn't sell well. The other point about staplebacks is that they damage easily. While they DO sell, they should be culled often to get rid of those that have degraded due to shelfware.
  • I Can Read: The I Can Read series is about the same reading level as staplebacks, but more durable. Instead of a staple, the binding is glued and you can read the title on it. They're about 9 x 6 inches and group together well with series of comparable size, e.g. American Girl.
  • 7 x 5-in Paperbacks: Our most popular size paperbacks are 7x5 inches, with a glued binding. These include many series: Little House on the Prairie, Goosebumps, Magic Treehouse
    , most of Roald Dahl's work and many, many more. Unlike staple books, these can sell even if somewhat worn, although of course the better the condition, the better the sale. Books in this format sell very well and should be stocked as soon as we get them!
  • Pocket Paperbacks: Sadly, pocket-sized paperbacks move very slowly in children's books. The exception seems to be fantasy, e.g. the Redwall series (author: Brian Jacques), and to a lesser extent, Narnia and Lord of the Rings. It may scarcely be worth having a children's area in this format at all.
  • Thin Hardcover: Hardcover books less than a quarter-inch thick tend to be heavily illustrated and aimed at young readers. The best known may be Dr. Suess. These sell well. However, the shorter the hardbound book, the less likely it seems to be to sell. Hardcovers under 5 inches tall should be culled frequently.
  • Regular sized hardcover: Hardcover books more than a half-inch thick, with almost entirely of text with few illustration, are for middle-schoolers and up. They merit their own section mostly to simplify shopping but also because it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish children's, young adult, and adult works. Note: If the dust jacket is missing, the sellability is much reduced. Older hardcovers (e.g. Best In Children's Books) sell slowly or not at all; it is probably better to put them in a "nostalgia" area for adults to pick over.

Special Authors

Some authors to know:
  • Dr Seuss, as noted above, sells very well; always stock, never pass on except for serious condition issues. Exception: "The Grinch That Stole Christmas" should be saved for the holiday season; we never have enough copies (in December 2008, we set out five copies and all were sold in a day!)
  • Roald Dahl: sells very well and should always be stocked; however "Switch Bitch" is very adult fiction. "Boy" and "Flying Solo" are autobiographical and, while not inappropriate for children, might be more interesting for adults ... if they could get past the cover!
  • Carl Hiassen: Most of his works are adult, but "Hoot" is for kids.

Difficult Formats

Some book formats have special issues
  • Pop-ups: Pop-up books can be totally delightful! However, they are easily damaged; before stocking them, check carefully (...which can be fun! ...) and pass on ruthlessly. They can be easily damaged while on the shelf as well; we have a special labeled holder for them.
  • Noisy Books: Books that make sounds when you push buttons are very popular. However they don't seem to sell if we price them at a premium. Often the batteries are worn. If the book makes any sound at all, it's worth stocking if only for its value in keeping children entertained while parents shop. For this reason, I keep noisy books on the lowest shelf, so the youngest child can grab and play. They aren't big sellers but they encourage lingering!
  • Board Books: Board books use light cardboard for pages. They sell very slowly, and not at all if worn at all. I speculate that they are mostly intended for an age range that might still gum their books, and therefore parents are reluctant to buy anything but new. They don't seem to be worth much shelf space.
  • Sticker books & Coloring Books: Usually sticker books come to us partly used and just plain unsellable. I try to keep a few coloring books, carefully checked for being unused, in a labelled box, but they are not big sellers.
  • Unusual formats: Most unusual formats don't sell well. Books printed on cloth or foam, or with a spiral binding, seem to sit forever taking up space. An exception is the Wiggle Eyes series, e.g. Max the Minnow, which feature googly eyes; these sell very quickly

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