In a recent entry, I discussed my reasons for securing a part-time job at a local Barnes & Noble store. I appreciate the comments and questions. Now I will share some answers, a little bit of my experience and my thoughts about that experience.
When I decided that I wanted the job at Barnes & Noble, I approached managers at stores in Boulder, Thornton and Broomfield, Colorado (All suburbs of Denver). I decided it was best to walk in and ask for the manager, rather than just apply online. It’s ALWAYS better to meet a manager face-to-face so you can smile at them and so they can see who you are.
Neither Boulder nor Thornton were hiring at the time, so I walked up to the customer service desk at the Broomfield store and asked for the store manager. As it turned out, he was standing near the counter. I introduced myself and ask if he was hiring.
The store I worked at
I was glad to hear that they were in need of a part-timer. My timing was perfect.
I explained that I had my own business and wasn’t in it for money. I just wanted to do something different one or two days per week. I didn’t want any more than ten hours per week, maximum.
He handed me an application and said I should ask to have him paged when I was finished with it.
A job application! I hadn’t filled out one of those in a long time.
Needless to say, I breezed through it in a few minutes, just as the manager was walking up to the counter. He told me that they had an interview process and that they would be in touch.
We spoke a bit longer about books, business and life. I let on that I was an author and a marketer, and that they likely carried some of my books in the store.
He looked at me and paused for a moment. Then he invited me back to his office. My application had been instantly turned into an interview.
I asked what needs the store had and he indicated the position would likely be customer service and cashiering, depending on the day.
We spoke for fifteen more minutes and he said there was no need to put me through the process. He extended his hand and asked me if I wanted the position. I said yes, of course.
My training took place over the next couple weeks. They put me through a self-guided cash-register training procedure, taught me how to use a PDT (a device for scanning barcodes to determine inventory and where a book is shelved) and brought me up to speed on how things in the store were done.
I was told that this particular store had a number of employees who had been there several years. They loved books and enjoyed their jobs.
Everyone at the store was very nice. I didn’t encounter any problems with either managers or co-workers. And I was willing to do whatever was needed and asked of me.
My first few shifts were evening shifts spent at the customer service counter and doing “recovery.” At the CS counter, you simply help people find what they are looking for, whether in person or by phone. I learned the layout of the store fairly quickly and was able to track down most books within a few weeks. Most of that layout is learned the last two hours of the evening during recovery. This is where you go through the store, pick up misplaced books and help them find their home (called “spitbacks”… gross…), and make the shelves look nice and full by facing books as needed.
I really enjoyed helping customers find what they were looking for. I’m a people-person and I would much rather deal with people than things.
That’s why I really came alive when they put me at the cash register, which they refer to as “cashwrap”.
Holding down the fort at cashwrap
Working as a cashier has been my absolute favorite part of being at the store. I get the opportunity to interact with customers as they check out.
You can learn a lot about people in the brief time you have with them. I always attempt to strike up friendly conversation and welcome each person. Sure, there are the grumpy people who treat you as though you are invisible, or that you are an obstacle they must overcome in order to proceed with their day. I get that. Heck, I’ve BEEN that person before! (A sincere apology to any store employee I have offended as a customer. I’m likely to do it again, but I’ll try not to!)
Most people are warm and friendly, especially when you are warm and friendly to them.
It’s great fun to see what books people are purchasing and enter into dialogue about the book.
Got a book on site-seeing in Hawaii? I’ve been there! Be sure check out the locations where they shot the show, Lost.
Snagging a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey? I’ll let you know that buying the trilogy will net you one hundred and fifty shades in all!
Slipping a copy of Penthouse onto the counter? Um… how about we skip the small talk and I ask if you’d like me to put that in a bag? Uh-huh… I thought so.
I really have seen all kinds in just a few months.
In fact, I have created a list that categorizes the kinds of people who buy books at B&N.
- “They Come, They Eat, They Leave” – This is the person who is looking for a specific item. They enter the store, find the item, purchase it, and they are gone.
- “Tell Me a Story” – These are the fiction readers. Whether romance novels, thrillers, science fiction, horror or any other niche, they love a good story and absorb books like potato chips. You can’t stop at one!
- “Keep it Real” – These are the non-fiction readers. There are so many topics of interest. Whether civil war buffs, gardening enthusiasts or music afficianados, these people read to get knowledge.
- “Shop ’til You Drop” – I enjoy the shoppers / gift buyers. They fill their basket with goodies for others.
- “For the Children” – Having been through the parenting of two children, I appreciate B&N’s kids’ section. Colorful and inviting, parents of all kinds enjoy coming to the store and stocking up on titles for their little ones.
- “The Bargain Hunter” – These people browse the store’s large selection of discounted titles. There are some great bargains to be found! It’s not unusual to check someone out with a stack of discounted title and nothing else.
- “I’m Just Looking” – These are the browsers. They enter the store with time to kill and no agenda. If a book jumps out at them, they might just buy it. I fall into this category more often than not.
- “Minnie the Moocher” – B&N has created an atmosphere that invites people to come and stay a while. Find a book, grab a seat and enjoy your time. There is a small segment of the population that treats the bookstore like a library. They read, but never actually buy anything.
Like many retailers, Barnes & Noble has a loyalty program. For a $25 annual fee, you can become a B&N Member. This entitles you to 40% off all hard cover best-sellers, 10% off everything else in the store and free shipping from BN.com.
As a cashier, it is my job to ask people if they are a member. If they are, I make sure they receive their discount. If they aren’t, I have the opportunity to introduce the program to them and see if it is a good fit.
I’m sure the store would like to sell memberships to every person that walks in the door. But the reality is that not everyone would save money by purchasing a membership. As in all sales, the goal is to help the customer purchase something they would benefit from and NOT sell them something they neither need or want.
With a $25 annual fee, a person would need to spend at least $250 per year at Barnes & Noble in order to make the membership worthwhile. As I help people understand how they can save money over the long term, it becomes very simple to welcome them into the program.
I put my people and sales skills to the test while behind the cash register, becoming the store’s #1 converting membership sales rep within a couple weeks. I must admit, I’d be disappointed in myself if I hadn’t accomplished this. After all, I cut my teeth in direct sales back in the late eighties and early nineties. Surely I hadn’t forgotten everything I had learned?
This is why it is essential to have outgoing, personable people at the point of sales. Smiling, happy people make customers smile and feel happy. Smiling, happy people leave the store with warm, fuzzy feelings, and more likely to come back again. There’s a lesson here for all retailers, but I don’t think it needs to be spelled out any further.
I understand why the store charges a fee for their membership program. Besides enjoying the profits from the membership fee, Barnes & Noble understands that people who pay for a membership have a vested interest in using that membership.
In other words, something given for free has little value just because it was free. When people pay for something, they are assigning a value to it and seeing it as a good investment. Amazon.com charges a steep fee for the Prime Program (which is worth every penny for me), so why shouldn’t Barnes & Noble charge a fee for their program?
It’s no surprise that retail sales were sluggish this past holiday season. More people are shopping online. The “big box” bookstore leaves a massive footprint overshadowed by massive overhead.
So how will the bookstore survive?
I think the store could make some aggressive moves that would position them to own larger market share and create even greater loyalty.
I could talk about reducing the size of the store, spending less on signage or being more aggressive with their promotions… but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll make two recommendations in case any B&N Execs read this and are open to a new perspective…
1) Drop the price of the loyalty program to $10/year. The trade-off for the $15 drop in price would likely result in a 300% increase in new memberships. The loyalty created from those new memberships is worth way more than the cash revenue from the membership itself. You want people to shop at your store? Make the offer irresistible.
2) Give cashiers responsible for signing up new members a $5 commission per membership. Apart from recognition, there is little incentive for a cashier to sell a membership. It may be important to the store managers, but most cashiers are there for their hourly wage. The position may be called “cashier”, but it is actually a sales position. Cashiers should be trained in how-to sell and rewarded for successfully doing so.
Note to B&N execs: I am happy to consult with you on my observations and help you increase sales across your entire chain of stores. Fly me to your corporate headquarters and spend a couple hours speaking with me. It will be worth your dime and your time.
Proof that I worked at Barnes & Noble
I have more stories from the bookstore, but perhaps I’ll save those for another post.
Have you ever worked at a bookstore? Do you shop at Barnes & Noble? Do you have a membership? Does this article make you want to try something different? Will Barnes & Noble corporate call me?
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