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Strategy # 59: Sell Through Gift Stores
How To Sell More Books Through Gift Stores
Brian Jud

  Today's gift market is experiencing dynamic growth as consumers buy more gifts and home decorating products. These products are gaining more exposure to consumers through a wide-range of shopping venues including the national retail chains, such as Pottery Barn, Yankee Candle, Bath and Body Works, Bombay Company, Pier One, Crate and Barrel, and Kirklands, department stores, mass merchants and the Internet.

  In the face of these new outlets, gift shops offer an excellent opportunity to sell more of your books. This category includes major accounts such as Hallmark Stores and Spencer Gifts. It also includes regional chains, local card and gift stores as well as hotel and hospital gift shops.

  One of the major benefits to selling to gift shops is that books are sold on a non-returnable basis. Perhaps a less tangible benefit is that you are broadening your markets, reaching people where they would not normally look for books. In addition, one company can offer many opportunities for its subsidiaries. You can spend a great deal of time selling diverse products to one company. For example, if you target Hallmark as your central prospect, there are several opportunities to be found among its subsidiary companies:

  Hallmark Stories sells photo storage and memory-keeping products. If your book is related to this product line, you could sell them here. Or, if your title is related to commemorating special occasions, people, and memories, contact Keepsake Ornaments, another Hallmark subsidiary.

  Gift Books from Hallmark. In 1999, Hallmark began expanding from cards to books that help celebrate, commemorate, and communicate. If you have a title that warms the heart and enriches the soul, your opportunity may well lie here. You can find Gift Books from Hallmark at Hallmark Gold Crown® Stores and other selected retailers as well as on Gift Books from Hallmark categories also include:

Children's Classics, beautifully packaged editions of beloved children's books.
Just For Fun books, lighthearted titles such as Yelling It Like It Is by Maxine.
Comfort and Encouragement, Words to Live By, and Family and Friends, all featuring inspirational and motivational titles such as A Promise in Every Color, God Always Has a Plan B, Dear Mom: Thank You for Everything, and The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People.

  Party Express from Hallmark. One of Hallmark's most important missions is to help people celebrate and honor all the special days in their lives. Therefore, Hallmark offers party ware and accessories for birthdays, holidays, and other important occasions as well as everyday and seasonal entertaining. Party Express from Hallmark could be an excellent outlet for your title on partying, since they sell their products in party, toy, discount, grocery, drug, military, and specialty card stores.

  But in most cases, the gift market is highly decentralized and there are many small shops that place small orders. This increases the administrative burden, requiring you to ship and bill for many small shops.

  This also represents an opportunity because you can reach the decision makers readily. A good strategy is to start locally, calling on the gift-store owners and buyers locally. Go to the hospital gift stores and talk with the volunteers there. Most are very willing to spend time with you, describing their buying practices.

  A major decision criterion is the fit your title has with the store’s image and customer base, and the types of books that sell well vary by the chain’s image. For example, Hallmark generally deals in sentiment, Spencer Gifts in humor and Urban Outfitters in “hip” products for men and women. Titles that generally do not do well in gift stores are scholarly, text-driven and fiction titles.

  John Hanny has been a food consultant for two presidential administrations. His title, Secrets from the White House Kitchens (Rutledge Books, Danbury, CT) offers recipes favored by the incumbents of the Oval Office from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. It was a natural selection by the White House Gift Shop as well as hotel gift shops in Washington, DC.

  It is not appropriate to send galleys to gift-shop buyers since they make their decisions on the finished product. They want to see your book’s cover design, size, text and its general overall quality. People buying products in gift shops typically purchase on impulse. Therefore, price is important. Your book should be priced under $10 to penetrate the gift market. Although there is no standard size that sells best, hardcover is generally more acceptable.

  Gift-store sales are seasonal in nature, and if your title is appropriate to one of the major holiday periods you stand a better chance of acceptance. Buyers at key accounts will begin looking at seasonal titles six months before the holiday. Purchasing agents at local stores may purchase your books up to one month before the event. In most cases, distributors will accept submissions at all times. Send them a sample of the finished book with a marketing plan and a summary of your sales to date.

   Gift-stores also want to carry items of current interest, and can purchase quickly under the right circumstances. Checkerbee Books capitalized on this desire after the tragic death of racecar driver Dale Earnhardt. Says Checkerbee President Len Liebenhaut, “Ten days after the accident, we had a book about him on the (gift store) shelves, and sold over 400,000 copies in three months.”

   The gift industry is divided into sub-segments. In 2002, the top-selling segment in the giftware industry was Home Decorative Accessories, with $14.9 billion in sales, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. During 2002 – 2003, consumers spent more money on home furnishings than they did on clothes. With this new emphasis on home decorating, consumers are not just striving to make their homes more beautiful; rather they are seeking decorative items that can positively impact the mood and emotional climate of their home. Books that have a personal, emotional link to the consumer, such as collectibles or gifts, are in demand as consumers seek to make their homes more comfortable and comforting.

  Stationery, Greeting Cards, and Paper Products, the second largest segment of the giftware market, reached $13.3 billion in sales, up 10 percent over the previous year. Collectibles -- figurines and dolls – is one of the slowest growing gift segments. Seasonal Decorations is the smallest category in the giftware industry. While Christmas Decor still dominates the category, Halloween Decor was the fastest-growing segment.

   Learn more about the gift market by reading these trade magazines:

Giftware News, 20 West Kinzie, 12th Floor, Chicago, Illinois 60610; Voice: 312.849.2220, Fax: 312.849.2174, Email:
Gifts & Decorative Accessories, 360 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010; Telephone: (646) 746-6400 Fax: (646) 746-7431; (646)
Giftbeat, 317 Harrington Ave. Closter, NJ 07624; (t) 800.358.7177 (f) 201.768.3894

How to reach the gift market.

1) Direct marketing. Timing may be as important as content in gift-store mailings. Once you locate your target companies, implement your direct-mail campaign well before the major holiday period for which your title is appropriate. Create a high-quality catalog listing your titles that are appropriate for the gift trade and include it in your mailings and personal visits.Be prepared to leave behind sample books with the potential buyers. Payments are typically made in net 120 days, but you can try to negotiate more favorable terms.

2) Sales-representative groups. There are independent sales rep groups that market books to the gift trade throughout North America. While there are some national organizations, most cover a territory comprised of several states. They usually seek a 15 - 20% commission on all books sold in their territory. Find these people at the major gift shows, the biggest of which is the New York Stationery and Gift Show, usually held in May of each year.

3) Trade shows. Your rep group may exhibit your titles at the top trade shows, but you should attend anyway for the networking opportunities. The major shows are national or regional in scope and include: National Stationery Show, Boston Gift Show, California Gift Show, New York International Gift Fair, Dallas International Gift & Home Accessories Market, The Gift Fair in Atlanta, The Gourmet Products Show, San Francisco International Gift Fair, Mid-AmericaSeattle Gift Show, Toronto International Gift Fair and the Washington Gift Show. For a list of all major shows go to

4) Gift Marts. For a list of gift marts go to

5) Distributors. There are some publishers that also distribute to the gift trade, such as Sourcebooks and Workman. Andrews & McMeel specializes in best sellers, humor collections, general non-fiction trade, gift books and calendars. Cogan Books is one of the top wholesalers. They are located at 15020 Desman Rd., La Mirada, CA 90638, Office: 714-523-0309 or 800-733-3630 Fax: 714-523-0796 or 800-233-2392; Email:

Discounts to retailers will be about 50%, and distributors look for 70% or more. Some distributors have minimum order sizes. For example, Source books’ minimum order (from the retailer) is $100, but others require up to $600 or more.

6) Co-op catalogs. Contact companies such as
Gift Creations Concepts or Ideation ( These firms act as a buying group and produce catalog advertising for independent gift & collectible retailers. Part of their service is negotiating with manufactures to produce items exclusively for retailers participating in their advertising programs.