Friday, January 25, 2008

Winter Institute--Part One

Yesterday's travel day went off without a hitch. I had a direct flight to Louisville, and shared it with a bunch of faces I recognized from other New England bookstores. I would guess, in fact, that of the approximately 30 people on board (it was one of those little 48 seaters), at least half were en route to Winter Institute. It meant that I payed even more attention than usual to what the people around me were reading while we were waiting for takeoff.

I had a bit of downtime after checking-in, and then headed over to the Muhammad Ali Center for the opening reception. I know how important networking is, and I know I'm supposed to use the opportunities presented to me to meet other booksellers and develop connections and all that good business practices stuff, but I have to say that I was just blown away with the museum and its exhibits, and spent most of my time exploring the Center. I'm not a boxing fan, but his is a fascinating story and I was completely intrigued.

This morning we had breakfast at 8:00, followed by a presentation by Danny Meyer, the owner of Union Square Cafe and Grammercy Tavern and all those other top-ranked Zagat's restaurants, based on his book Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. I really took to heart his point that our emphasis should not necessarily be on being the best at what we do, but being our customers' favorite. THAT is success.

I know that we can't possibly stock every book that every customer wishes we did. We can't be open every hour, give every discount, or utilize every new technology. And it kills me sometimes. But there are customers, all the time, who tell me when I'm at the register that we're their favorite bookstore. I don't think I've ever really listened to them the way I should. After listening to Mr. Meyer this morning it makes me want to really pay attention to those compliments and take them to heart as much as I do the complaints (why is it so easy to remember every complaint and dismiss every compliment?). What are we doing right for these customers? How can we do it for even more people? And how can we build on those strengths?

Mr. Meyer argues that to become a favorite you have to provide more than service-you have to provide hospitality. What's the difference? Service is a one-size-fits-all method of fulfilling expectations, while hospitality is a dialogue, a one-on-one method that makes someone feel heard and recognized.

Following breakfast was a choice of a number of panel sessions, I chose to go to one on handselling, which was a perfect segue from the topics Mr. Meyer was discussing as it is the art of putting the right book in the hand of each customer who comes into your store. I am still at the apprentice stage of handselling, but if you want to know what great handselling is then ask for Lisa or Paul when you come into the store. Listening to them recommend books, it makes it impossible to not want to drop everything and immediately read whatever it is they suggest. I dare you.

Then it was off to lunch where our speaker was Gary Hirshberg, the C.E.O. of Stonyfield Farm. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much, but his presentation was AMAZING. Like, really, truly, moved me amazing. He believes that business and the environment don't necessarily have to be at odds--in fact, doing the right thing for the environment can actually be profitable for the bottom line as well as profitable for world. And he puts his money where his mouth is. He writes about it in his book Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, which I don't think I ever would have read without hearing him speak and now can't wait to start. Mr. Hirshberg's dedication to doing the right thing isn't a front, or good P.R., but is a way of life for him that I think not only inspired me but a lot of other booksellers in the audience. I think there might be a movement coming in the publishing and bookselling community where we really look at the industry and exernality (this is a new concept I learned today at lunch) and environmental economic effects.

(By the way, a very cool and informative website is for Climate Counts, a non-profit started by the Stonyfield Farm people that makes it easy to make consumer decisions based on company environmental policies. Check it out!)

Well kids, it is midnight, and time for me to head to sleep. But I'll try to get up a bit early to write more while it's all still fresh in my head...


Book Nerd said...

Thanks so much for this recap, Lori -- it's the next best thing to being there! These sound like inspiring sessions -- can't wait to hear about the rest of WI, and I'll be linking you on the Written Nerd.

Gig said...

Thanks much for your kind comments about our CE'Yo Gary Hirshberg.

You might want to check out our blogs (yes, we're that cool)--at
The Bovine Bugle

The Baby Babble

Christine Halvorson
Stonyfield Farm's
"Chief Blogger"