Archive for book buyer

Book Buyer in Three Parts

Posted in Book Buying with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2013 by jaclemens

I’ve resorted to posting on a Saturday night, as I am at a loss for time during the week. Recently I have taken on the responsibilities of three book buyers, so my work week is three times as hectic. It began on April 30th, which is buyback time at the University Campus Store. That was the day our outgoing store director decided to eliminate the position of trade book manager. It came as a welcome relief to said manager, my friend Drew Goodman. Since his full time staff was reduced by two thirds (see Book Buyer, pt. 2), Drew also had to do the jobs of three people. Sales declined, part time help was scaled back, service suffered, and sales declined further. Drew was maligned as the manager, and his morale sank. That affected his job performance, which didn’t help the decline of the department. Drew knew the axe was coming, and was glad when it finally fell.

I didn’t share the sentiment. I was glad that he could escape a stressful and unappreciated situation, but I knew that stress would roll my way. As the once and future trade buyer, there was no one else qualified to assume those responsibilities. Yet the associate director and outgoing director didn’t realize that there were many aspects of the business that Drew did not train me to do, and I no longer have him as a resource. Drew taught me everything I know about book buying, but that doesn’t mean he taught me everything there is to know.

I now handle trade and text buying for the store, which has been a considerable challenge the past few months. The summer semester started in mid-May, and at the end of the month I set up a pop up store at the Grand America Hotel for the Congress for the New Urbanism. That sale was an unexpected success, for which I was given an Employee Excellence Award. I had no time to rest on my laurels, however, as inventory followed a week later. This past week we underwent the transition from our summer set up for textbooks to the fall set up, and it was apparent how much I’ve overlooked my textbook buying while tackling trade.

At the same time I picked up my third buyer role. The outgoing director retired at the end of June, but the lengthy search for a replacement came up empty. Our associate director was named interim store director; he in turn appointed the lead buyer to interim manager, and me to interim lead buyer. It’s a promotion for the next six months, at which time I may have the opportunity to apply for the position on a permanent basis. I accepted the promotion, even though it will increase my responsibilities yet again.

Why did the store eliminate the trade buyer position, put those duties on the trade manager, only to eliminate the trade manager and return those duties back to me? It certainly wasn’t because I do it better than Drew; it’s because I’ve been cross-trained to buy both text and trade. The two departments were combined last summer, so Drew and I were able to share an office again. Drew was given text buying responsibilities, but his trade duties were not shared out to the other text buyers. He had his hands full already, and couldn’t give any attention to text. My transition from full-time trade to text facilitated the necessary training I needed to be able to do both. The more you can do for a company, the more you will be expected to do. With this chance at a promotion, my multiple roles may pay off.

Book Buyer, pt. 2

Posted in Book Buying with tags on May 22, 2009 by jaclemens

Becoming a Book Buyer has had steady hits over the past 15 months, making it one of the top five most viewed posts on my blog.   Enter the phrase as a Google search and my post is one of the top results.  Given the level of interest shown and the economic downturn, I decided to post an update.

According to an Association of American Publishers report book sales dropped 17% in March and are down 6.8% year to date.  Many stores are surviving by cutting costs, and a few are even thriving.  No, I’m not talking about Barnes & Noble, which had a net loss of $2.1 million in the first quarter.  Books-A-Million fared better, with a net increase of $2.1 million, although their sales were a tenth of Barnes & Noble’s and they were not obligated to pay a CEO her salary during that span.  But regardless of first quarter performance, there aren’t many options for becoming a book buyer at a corporate bookstore.  I am talking about the independent bookstores that have developed unique identities and are located within communities that have rallied around them.  These stores won’t compete with the chains when it comes to total sales volume, but they do offer the best opportunities to become a book buyer.

A successful independent bookstore will already have a qualified book buyer who is instrumental in the store’s success.  Ideally one would become an assistant buyer in such a store, learning the trade from an experienced hand as a modern apprentice.  There aren’t many openings for assistant book buyers in this market, not when stores are forced to scale back on inventory and personnel in order to offset declining sales.  The trade book department in our store had to cut two full-time positions, including the buyer position.  As such I am being reassigned as a textbook buyer.  I am fortunate to work in a store with that option, as opposed to the limited alternatives other stores are currently facing.  When I started working in the store there wasn’t a trade book buyer position.  Now that it has become untenable I’ve been given another book buying opportunity.  I’ve only had these opportunities because I was hired to run the candy counter.  You have to get your foot in the door, even if that means working as a barista in the cafe.  You may need to gain some experience working in a chain store before moving on to an independent store.  You have to work your way up.  In my case that is both figurative and literal, as the textbook department is on the second floor of our store.  I’ve gone from one end of the conveyor belt to the other!

Lost in Books

Posted in Book Buying with tags , , , on April 16, 2008 by jaclemens

This tends to be a busy season for a book buyer – it is for me, at least. We’re in the process of culling our inventory for the books that haven’t been selling as well as combing catalogs for books we think will fare better. Between the stacks of incoming catalogs and cart loads of clearance crammed into my work space, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the books! At home I’m usually reading a book, so my family acts like I’m not there. It’s as if my body is entombed at work and only my ghost makes it home!

There is a character in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (available soon in paperback) known as the boundary maven who ensures that the ultra-orthodox Jews of Sitka, Alaska do not cross any figurative or literal lines on the Sabbath. By creating, mapping, and maintaining a collective of eruvs the boundary maven is able to accurately guide the Verbovers through the world they inhabit. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a book with so many layers I found myself wishing I had a book maven to help me keep it all straight!

I’d really like a book maven to assist me with all of my many catalogs, too. Typically I have an account rep going through the catalog with me, which is great, but what I need is one maven who knows all of the catalogs to keep me from getting lost in world of books I inhabit. Then a realization settled gradually and inexorably on my shoulders: I am my customers’ book maven. This is a significant responsibility, and one I do not take lightly. You’re in my world now!

Becoming a Book Buyer

Posted in Book Buying with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2008 by jaclemens

It was a long and unpredictable road from the Preservation department at the Marriott Library to the General Book department at the Campus Store, in spite of the fact that the two buildings are neighbors at the University of Utah. I loved my job in Preservation but it was only a work study position, which meant I had to leave when I graduated and I had hardly begun the training necessary for a career in the field. I already had a family to support when I graduated, so more schooling wasn’t a very attractive option. Neither was going into the foreign service, which had been my plan when I decided to study History and Russian. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew I needed a steady income, so I took a job with Hertz, the first company that offered. What do books and rental cars have in common? Unless one gets left in the other, not a whole lot!

I applied myself nonetheless, becoming a rising star (entry level to branch manager in less than a year) that quickly burned out (I quit less than a year later). I assumed that my education and work experience combined made me a desirable candidate for a multitude of positions, so I quit without lining up a new job. Huge mistake! My education actually priced me out of multiple opportunities, while my experience wasn’t nearly as valuable as I anticipated. I couldn’t get a job! I sold cell phones for a couple of months, picked up some substitute teaching gigs, and spent a summer basically unemployed. One of my more memorable job applications was for a position at the county library: I filled out the application, took the skills test, and waited for an invitation to interview. Instead of an invitation, I received a letter informing me that I ranked 11 out of 13, and that the top five candidates would receive interviews. That was a blow to the ego! I could live with not being in the top five, but I certainly didn’t expect to finish near the bottom! A couple of weeks later, I received another letter from the county. It explained that a computation error had resulted in a mistake in the rankings. Aha! That made a lot more sense! The letter went on to explain that my new rank was 13 out of 15! They actually used more of my tax dollars (okay, cents) to send me a letter notifying me I was even further from consideration! I still have the letter, naturally!

Our finances reached a critical point, and there was nothing else I could do but take an entry level position at Target. There I was, a college graduate, mopping the Bakery floor alongside high school students making the same wages. I started working again (the only point that mattered to my family) on September 12th, 2001, so I couldn’t feel too sorry for myself right then. That crept in later, as I spent four years working in different departments, always on the grocery side of the store, with no hope of advancement. What do groceries and books have in common? More than rental cars, as I will shortly explain!

My book Orlando and Geoffrey was published while I worked for Target, and I tried to get them to stock it, but they rarely carry items of “regional interest.” I decided to go to graduate school for an MFA, but then I ruptured my Achilles tendon, and that plan was set aside. I applied for more jobs in the book industry – I had a lunch interview with Gibbs Smith Publishers which seemed promising but never went anywhere, and a fine interview at Barnes & Noble, but they only offered me a position in their cafe (although they did stock and sell my book!). I didn’t know how I would make the switch from food to books. On a long shot I answered an ad for a position in the Merchandise department at the University Campus Store. Had I been able to work in soft goods at Target I’d have felt better about my odds of getting the job, but I went for it anyway. The interview went extremely well (Jaima Dyer, the Merchandise manager, also had rental car experience), and I was offered the position! As it turned out, the position was responsible for running the candy counter in the store, so I had the necessary experience after all.

That got my foot in the door of the bookstore and brought me back to the university campus, nearly full circle. From Merchandise I moved to Shipping and Receiving, and then, after our store dropped its contract with Ingram, I was able to move into a newly-created Book Buyer position! Now I work in General Books with Drew Goodman, a fellow History major and published author, who likewise started in this store running the candy counter! Yet another example of the truth being stranger than fiction!