Changing Hands Offers Professional Development to its Booksellers

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When Cindy Dach, co-owner of Changing Hands bookstores in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona, wanted to help her booksellers learn skills that could be used in both the industry of indie bookselling and beyond, she decided to launch a professional development program that offers sessions on time management, technology, sexual harassment, and more for both her employees and the wider community.

Part of the impetus behind creating the professional development program at Changing Hands is the stores’ ongoing mission to find opportunities for its booksellers to learn new skills; while industry events like the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute and the annual BookExpo trade show are helpful, funding to send every one of the store’s booksellers is not always available, said Dach.

“We realized that there’s a lot of other skills that [booksellers] can learn and use in our store, but it’s also okay if they’re learning skills that will help them later in their careers, or even help them establish [other] careers,” Dach told Bookselling This Week.

For booksellers who have been with the store for a long time, the job can become routine, Dach noted; to combat this, Changing Hands offers professional development in areas outside of bookselling as well. “One thing that occurred to us over the past couple of years was that not everybody was going to be with us forever, no matter how much we want them to be, and not everybody should be,” she said.

With that in mind, Dach began by sending a Google survey to her employees to ask what topics they might be interested in receiving more information about. A popular topic among her staff members was time management, Dach said. The session was held twice: once at the Phoenix location, where it was open to the public for the price of $5 to $10 and free for employees, and due to how well-received the first session was, it was held exclusively for employees a second time at the store’s Tempe location.

While the opportunities are free for employees to attend, Dach noted that they are on unpaid time because that’s what the store is able to afford. “I wish we could [pay], but we did the math and we couldn’t,” she said. “It’s not just paying people to attend, it’s also adjusting everybody’s schedule to keep them at a 40-hour workweek and not go into overtime.”

So far, the program has been a success. Dach is planning more sessions on Excel, Google Suite, and dealing with sexual harassment from customers.

Booksellers have the opportunity to participate in these opportunities throughout their career at Changing Hands, but Dach said that it seems to be most popular with employees who have been with the store for a year or more.

“They’ve got the store down, and now they want to know what else they can do,” Dach said, adding that it’s best for employees who want to learn beyond the scope of bookselling alone. “We don’t pay people to attend...but it’s something of value that I look at as a possible morale-booster. I look at it as an added benefit to what we offer our employees.”

For booksellers who are interested in implementing a similar program in their own stores, Dach gave a few pieces of advice.

She noted that those who are running the program should send a survey to staff to gauge interest; not only is it helpful in gathering potential topics, but it helps managers and owners make a distinction between what should be offered as professional development and what is actually basic training.

“It’s really interesting when I send out a survey and I see something like, ‘I need more training on the POS system,’” said Dach. “That’s not professional development, that’s training. I really see this as extra stuff.”

Payment — for both staff and guest speakers invited to appear — is important to take into consideration as well, Dach added. While she considers this an added benefit that she can offer her staff, speakers do need to be compensated in some way.

“We’re looking at our customers to be the teachers; they’re in our community already,” said Dach. “Most of the time, they’re excited to take a gift card to the store to help our staff.”

Dach also recommended that booksellers decide whether they’d like to open sessions to the public. In her experience, sessions like the one on time management seem to be popular with the community, while she believes a session on Excel is better suited as an exclusive event for her staff.

“I think my staff would have specific questions,” she noted. “When I’ve offered [sessions] to the public and invited my staff, it’s less exciting for my staff than when they have an exclusive one to themselves.”

Scheduling is another important aspect in planning these sessions. “It does take some thoughtfulness because you’re not just organizing your staff’s schedule, but you’re organizing with the speaker’s schedule,” Dach said.

Booksellers should also consider at what time during the year they’d like to schedule their sessions. “There’s a string of events I always do in January. I always do a decluttering event, managing your money, and now I do a time management event. In January, they’re really popular,” she said, adding that if she were to do those kinds of events in the summer, she might not be able to drum up the same amount of interest.

Now that the store is approaching the holiday season, time for sessions is limited. But in the coming years, Dach would like the professional development program to become a true benefit. “We’re in an industry that doesn’t pay a lot. These are the benefits I can offer that don’t cost me very much,” she said.

Dach will be leading a panel titled “How to be a Highly Effective Bookseller, Manager, or Buyer” for booksellers who are interested in learning more about time management at Winter Institute 2019 (Wi14) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.