Notes From the Sidelines: Bracelets, Banks, Albums & More

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Whatever a bookseller calls merchandise other than books -- sidelines, gifts, or non-book items -- the effects are still the same: The addition of non-book merchandise to the inventory mix can add significantly to a bookstore's bottom line. Gifts buyer Judy Flam of Massachusetts' Brookline Booksmith said that the bookstore's cards and gifts section has "grown enormously to the point that, during the busier weeks of the fourth quarter, it has been known to contribute up to 24 percent of the total gross income of the store!" Flam and several other booksellers from around the country recently shared some of their sidelines recommendations with BTW.

Just because gifts are non-book items, it doesn't mean they can't be book related. Flam listed Carolyn Forsman's Banned Books Bracelet among customer favorites. The bracelets, in two sizes, feature a postage stamp-sized "slide show" of banned book covers, including titles such as King & King (Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, Tricycle), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Howl (Allen Ginsberg, City Lights), and The Color Purple (Alice Walker, Pocket). Between the book covers are squares that say "I Read Banned Books." Bracelets featuring artwork of famous artists, such as Frieda Kahlo and Salvador Dali, and images from nature, ranging from horses and dolphins to bugs and flowers, are also available. Another popular Forsman product line is bug, compass, and clock rings. (Flam generously offered a number of sidelines tips that have been organized in a list at the end of this article.)

In Tempe, Arizona, part of the strategy at Changing Hands, which has an extensive sidelines inventory, is to keep things new. Gifts buyer Nancy Zangari said one of the store's latest bestsellers is a "silicone potholder made by a company called Fred." The potholders, called Hotheads, are the heads of green frogs, pink mice, or red dogs. "They have been extremely successful since their arrival about three weeks ago," said Zangari. "I've already had to reorder them." Hotheads retail for $10.

Changing Hands has always done well with wind chimes from MEE-sub Enterprises, which draw attention hanging in the store's front window. A new line of chimes, from Blue Handworks, has also sold consistently. Pieces of beach glass hang from a driftwood rod and retail for $18.50. "One is in the colors of nature, with the glass pieces in the shapes of leaves, while the other is in blues and greens and the glass pieces are long rectangles," Zangari said.

A new line of retro metal banks from Blue Q is perfect for the current credit crunch. "Each bank has a different saying and coordinating graphics," Zangari explained. "There is 'Saving for Valium,' 'Saving for Therapy,' 'Saving for Jesus,' and lastly, 'Saving for Some Good Weed,' which is our best seller." Banks sell for $10.

Karin Wilson from Page & Pallette said she has found the mother of all sidelines. "No other sideline has ever come close," she said. Webkinz are plush animals that come with a code that gives buyers access to an online Webkinz World, where they can care for their virtual pets, answer trivia questions, and play games. "We've sold thousands, and I've never seen anything like these sales in my life with any book, toy, or sideline," said Wilson. "If a publisher will make early readers (and young adult for that matter) books tie into an interactive website, this would be bigger than Harry Potter."

At Brooklyn's WORD, Christine Onorati likes the $10 Book Owl book lights and uses one herself. "I stock the one-LED lights, which come in many colors," she said. "Customers of all ages love them. It's a great impulse buy."

In the notebooks and journals category, Moleskine products are always a popular bookseller recommendation. Another source, said Onorati, is Miquelrius. "This Spanish company makes high-quality flexible notebooks in various sizes and colors, and I sell them like crazy," she told BTW. "The pocket-sized journals come in about six different colors, and I can't keep them in stock. They retail for $4. I also carry a full selection of their spiral-bound notebooks in various sizes and colors."

For hand-bound photo albums, Onorati raved about Rag & Bone. "This Rhode Island business produces gorgeous hand-bound books, ranging from scrapbooks to photo albums to journals," she said. "I requested a ring of swatches, which I display near the books so that customers can special order their own fabric and style for just $5 extra. They are not cheap, but they are a keepsake item of high quality and people often buy them as gifts." Rag & Bone also offers a Digital Photo Album that comes with 100 percent acid-free inkjet pages.

For a bookstore with a large sidelines selection, one last important impulse-buy recommendation from WORD were gift bags from the Giftbag Factory. The bags are "high quality with gorgeous artwork, hand-sewn handles, and rip-resistant paper," Onorati said. "These bags are really something special, and people love to buy them for their extra-special gifts. Again, not cheap but worth it."

"Sidelines add another dimension to a bookstore," said Brookline Booksmith's Flam. "Done well, they can add a different aesthetic and texture to the shopping experience, make it possible to do more add-on selling and keeping customers in the store longer, hopefully enticing them to buy more while they're at it!" --Karen Schechner

Judy Flam's Sidelines List:

Sidelines sources mentioned in this story:

Additional sidelines sources can be found in ABA's Booksellers Resource Directory.