A bookstore's planning guide to Canadian Independent Bookstore Day 2018

Mark your calendars! The inaugural Canadian Independent Bookstore Day takes place on April 28, 2018. As the event coordinators attest:

"Canadian Independent Bookstore Day is a day to celebrate the amazing independent bookstores in communities across Canada that develop and maintain a thriving book industry across the country. It is a day to go out into your community and enjoy the unique intersection of art, culture, business and opportunity that bookstores provide. Thanks to your participation, this event can continue to grow and thrive in the years to come. The purpose of Canadian Independent Bookstore Day is to show off the unique community spaces that bookstores create and was born from Authors For Indies... a national grassroots movement in support of independent bookstores."

Where Authors for Indies involved a tremendous effort from authors to organize and volunteer their time at the event, Canadian Independent Bookstore Day builds on that grassroots effort and encourages all indies to herald their status and uniqueness in the retail space with author events, community celebrations, or anything else that speaks to your store's customer base!

The US poster for Independent Bookstore Day.

The US poster for Independent Bookstore Day.

If 2018 is your first time on the Indie Bookstore Day / Authors for Indies bandwagon, it might seem like there's too much to think about, but don't panic! Here's a simple list of things to help you plan your Indie Bookstore Day participation.

A reminder that this is just a primer: There are fantastic resources available online courtesy of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), who have spearheaded the US Independent Bookstore Day initiative for years. Some of the NCIBA's resources are specific to the US edition but many of the tips and tricks can be easily adapted to Canadian Independent Bookstore Day and other large events for your store.

The number 4

T minus 4 (aka four weeks until Indie Bookstore Day): Week of April 2

This week is your strategy week. You need to set some goals for the week so that you can measure how you actually did against your expectations for the day. Are you....

  • expecting to see a sales increase week-over-week?

  • increase traffic?

  • give back to your customers?

  • test innovative programming outside of the norm offered at your store?

  • accumulate social media followers?

  • trend on Twitter in your city?

It's a good idea to note down what you're hoping to accomplish so you can look back and see how the day measured up to your expectations. When planning, here are some things to consider:

  • Take advantage of your store's strengths. Are you known for your incredible bargain books section? Maybe you can offer a one-day, buy-one-get-one-half-off sale and hold back juicy new remainders and bargain stock until that day. Is your store celebrated for beautiful window displays? Plan a window display that speaks to the history of your store and the role it plays in your community.

  • Call out Canadian Independent Bookstore Day in your monthly or weekly newsletter, your Facebook events listing, your website event listing, and any and all places you broadcast events, starting today (if you haven't already). Make sure you revisit the posts as the day approaches and fill in additional details as they become available. Try to list a stub with the relevant information as it pertains to your store: the date of the event (Saturday, April 28, 2018), the hours your store will be open that day, your social media handles, the day's hashtags (#CIBD #CdnIndependentBookstoreDay #BookstoreDay), and any other key pieces of information.

  • Connect with other independent stores in your area, especially bookstores, to better understand how you can promote Canadian Independent Bookstore Day together and prevent duplication. Many of your customers will overlap so building a plan that complements, not competes, with each other's plans will encourage your customers to support all independent retailers. Community support for independent business owners, and the unique spaces that they create, contributes to the overall health of communities. If you're part of a larger network of stores in your city or neighbourhood, consider a passport program where customers can visit multiple stores on the day and earn stamps to redeem for prizes or exclusive discounts, merchandise, etc.

  • Reach out to local authors, politicians, celebrities, or influencers. If you have well-known people in your community who support your store, solicit their feedback and support. Would they be willing to offer their support in the lead-up or day-of? Could they come in for a guest reading? Share on their social media channels? You'll find you have many champions in your community who will be willing to help — you may not even have to ask for any favours!

The number 3

T minus 3: Week of April 9

This week is still open for imagination but you should be closer to establishing what you want to program for the big day. Even if it's only select discounts and a cake, it's important to start turning thoughts into realistic plans.

  • Staffing: If your plans and customer feedback suggest that you'll be busy, ensure that your store is well-staffed the day of the celebration. Even if it means bringing in a few more floor staff to cover a midday rush when programming is taking place, be sure to remember that you can't run a special event AND manage hand-selling AND take care of the cash desk, while doing all perfectly.

  • Get on the air! Ask your local radio station if they would consider sharing details in the day(s) before the event. If they don't usually feature community events, volunteer to come on the air with unique programming: you or one of your booksellers could provide listeners with book recommendations, essential kids' reading lists, or act as an on-air "book doctor" to take calls from listeners about their reading woes and offer suggestions. Explain that the event is not strictly to raise sales, but to raise awareness and celebrate the contributions of local independent bookstores in the community. Explain that your successes are due to their support. If your community doesn't have a radio program, offer a write-in column for a local paper, newsletter, or a "takeover" of a local influencer's social media feed.

  • Call your sales reps and publisher contacts. Explain that you have an event coming up and ask if they have any swag hanging around, particularly bookmarks and stuff for kids that you can hand out to customers. Remember: It's a party, and what kid who doesn't love a goodie bag?

  • Finally, if you have a bookstore cat: Exploit him or her! Play with your feline's celebrity and give the people (and the internet!) what they want: memories filled with adorable cats. Find a way to include your mascot on the day-of. Offer one-day-only pawprint autographs, set up a cat photo booth next to their favourite resting spot, order a pet-only cake, or whatever will allow the hardest-working member of your staff team to celebrate.

The number 2

T minus 2: Week of April 16

This week is your deadline week, when you should allow yourself to get everything you need to put the day's plan into action. It's about making those final decisions, preparing your team, and putting everything into motion. Here are some ideas of what you may want to think about:

  • Finalize your schedule and share with the relevant participants. If you're hosting authors for readings and/or signings, bringing in local bands to entertain customers, either in or outside your shop. Make a simple (or detailed, if that's your jam) schedule with expected arrival times, mic checks, and on-stage times. Share it with everyone involved, including your staff, especially if they're required to make introductions or ferry an author through a busy store to the mic! If you need some more time or expect to make changes up until the day-of, create your schedule in a live, shareable environment like Google Drive others will be able to follow along with your edits.

  • Planning on serving food? Even if you're picking up cupcakes from a local bakery or ordering appetizers from a neighbourhood restaurant, it's a great idea to place the order 2-5 business days before it needs to be picked up or delivered. If you live in a larger city like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, or beyond, food courier services like Foodora can be booked three days in advance and delivery can be timed to your precise needs. And, yes, everyone likes cake!

  • Pick up supplies. If you're doing anything out of the ordinary, plan to pick up supplies this week so you're not running around next week. Hosting a photo booth? (Side note: Why haven't I realized until now how handsome a well-stocked, spine-out bookshelf can function as a portrait backdrop?) Make sure to pick up silly props! Making a customer memory wall? Pick up an Instax camera, some film, and a few Sharpies so your customers can leave personalized notes for you to post in the store on the day-of!

  • Check on stock. Especially if you experience longer delivery times to your store, you may want to review your stock levels this week and order event-specific stock so you have it on-hand on the day-of. If you tell your distributor and publisher representatives that you're ordering event stock, they may be able to assist you in monitoring and ensuring smooth delivery.

Number 1

T minus 1: Week of April 23

This week is all about the small details, freeing up your time on the day-of to be present in the moment, and celebrating! This week, you want to automate and plan for as much as possible so the day goes smoothly:

  • Simplify your social media life. Every busy marketer knows that scheduling social media posts ahead of time is a huge time saver. It also eliminates those panicked moments where you planned to tweet about an author's arrival at the shop but only remembered 30 minutes into their reading because you had to run and get stock from the back to replenish a table. Thankfully, all the major platforms (as well as tools like Hootsuite) allow for posts to be scheduled ahead of time. Here are some tips on how to future-post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

  • Reach out to partnering businesses, authors, customers, your staff, and anyone else you feel will spread the word about your store and the splash you're making for Canadian Independent Bookstore Day! Make sure you give them all the relevant details as it pertains to your store: the date of the event (Saturday, April 28, 2018), the hours your store will be open that day, your social media handles, the day's hashtags (#CIBD #CdnIndependentBookstoreDay #BookstoreDay), and any key pieces of information.

    • Are you serving food from local businesses? Ask them to tease pictures of the food, offer a promotion the same day as the event so your customers can head over and support their business, or just hand out flyers in their store and talk up your event.

    • Ask that any participating authors broadcast their participation in the event and send a call to action to their fans to visit your store (or other independent bookstores on April 28 and beyond).

    • Mention the event to every customer who visits your store this week and hand out flyers promoting the day and your plans. Ask them to come back on the day-of to celebrate with you and take advantage of the offerings you have in store.

    • Your staff are some of the most dedicated participants in your store's success so encouraging them to own the day as much as you do will help you tap into a major marketing force. Ask your staff to spread the word during their shifts as well as through their personal social media and face-to-face communications. Encourage them to welcome their friends and family on the day — it's as much a celebration of their work as it is your store!

  • Decorate! Of course, most of your decorations will be hung on the day-of but you can always spread out the work by adding decorations incrementally as the day approaches, which also slowly creates a party feel that can build excitement among your customer base, particularly the young ones!

  • Make a trip to the bank: If your tills are busier than usual, you might need more change than usual.

Rocket ship

Blast off: Saturday, April 28, 2018

Now that you've done most of the work in advance, here's what you need to think of on the day-of:

  • Final decorations go up.

  • Tables stocked with event-specific stock and in-section shelf-talkers and the like displayed.

  • Food laid out or ready for delivery (with serving utensils, cocktail napkins, and a plan to collect refuse). If you're serving alcohol, ensure the necessary permiting and procedures are in place.

  • Mics, lighting, and technical checks done before authors and VIPs arrive.

  • Take pictures (lots of them!) and share on social media during set-up and when things get going. Even if the store isn't open yet, shots of it all gussied-up will excite your patrons and encourage them to drop in. And remember to tag your staff, authors, and customers in pictures when you can and the event will show up on their personal feeds so they can attract the attention of their friends and followers.

  • Ready your thank-yous: You will see a lot of social media and in-person love on the day-of from customers and fans near and far. Thank them (personally, if you can), effusively.

  • Finally, don't forget it's a celebration!

Are your Independent Bookstore Day plans already well underway? Comment below or share on social media with the day's hashtags (#CIBD #CdnIndependentBookstoreDay #BookstoreDay) and get the word out!


*Rocket vector created by Macrovector - Freepik.com