I seem to have shifted (at least in the short term) to doing two days at the Red Cross (though it's more like a half day on Fridays). The manager has allowed me to start sorting all the books that were packed into boxes, and, as I suspected, as soon as I started going through them I was able to save some space by binning at least a quarter of them. Tatty old ex-library paperbacks aren't going to be bought by anyone, neither are out of date reference books, etc. She's also going to try and make sure that no one else prices non-fiction (though, I don't much mind other people pricing cookery/gardening because you can't go far wrong there). Some books have been very badly mis-priced recently. I rescued a collected set of about ten military history paperback books which had been put out at a fiver for the whole box. I've already sold one of them at £2.50 and another at £2... Military history is one of our best selling subjects.
We've been making a lot of money on non-fiction this week, typically £30 - £40 a day. This is almost entirely due to the generosity of a local person who donated us about 50 books (and a load of leaflets) on local history, all in good condition.
The only subject that sells better in our shop than military history is local history. I've been pricing these very aggressively from 50p for leaflets, up to £15 for rarer books on specific subjects with an average somewhere around £5-£6. They're going like hot cakes.
It's annoying when other staff over-price books (they usually have the quaint idea that new-looking biographies of celebrities are worth more - they aren't. There are so many copies printed that they lose value very quickly as the second-hand market is flooded), but when they under-price them, the book may be sold before you can change £2 to £5.
The problem in one sense is that I'm a victim of my own success. When I started at the Red Cross a couple of years ago, we had four shelves for books in the back room and we were often short of stock. Now, we have four times the number of shelves and we have loads of books. It's one of the basic rules of charity shops. People either donate to the shop that is easiest to get to - or the one closest to their heart - or the one that they feel will make best use of their donation.
If you have good stock on display and sell it at sensible prices, then you score on the third factor. We've definitely been getting more books donated through the shop in the last six months.
I added several features to the way the shop handles non-fiction (the credit goes to a couple of training courses I did with Oxfam many years ago). I sorted the books into subject categories (seems amazingly obvious, but it wasn't being done at the time). I actually went out and bought my own bookends and book rests so I could position some of the books to display the covers. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it makes the display a lot more attractive and encourages people to take a look. Secondly, it allows you to display high-value books or those with thin spines (as the latter are invisible on the shelf otherwise). Thirdly, it allows you to highlight where different subject areas are. If you have a section of gardening books, then you put a gardening book on a book rest in the middle of them.
My two remaining frustrations are that I don't have any shelf edge category labels (haven't been able to find any I like myself and the Red Cross keep vaguely promising to try and get some but haven't succeeded yet) and that I still don't have access to the detailed sales breakdown figures.
The till records every sale by category and date.
The data I need are weekly sales totals for fiction and non-fiction and the fiction/non-fiction sales as a % of total sales in the shop. Between the two, it's possible to work out what innovations in display or pricing are successful and which are not. You can also see whether things like window displays have an impact.
The manager is going on a course in March and getting data out of the till will probably be one of the things covered. The other thing she needs to study (I find it a little disconcerting that I know more about charity shop financial patterns than she does) is sales per six ft unit. Display units come in fixed sizes and for wall units in particular, you can calculate how much you're selling per unit and then look at whether you make more money on a unit of books/women's clothes/bric a brac and adjust your units accordingly.
So, I'm looking forward to seeing what she comes back with. She's fairly new to the job, but she's well-organised and I like working with her.
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