Friday, May 4, 2012

Anatomy of a Book Sale

As can be deduced by my blog name, books have been the core of my business model for as long as I’ve been selling.  Oh, I’ve started working my eBay store fairly consistently, but every two weeks, when the money is deposited into my account, Amazon is King.

Therefore, I have to take advantage of every opportunity for inventory, and yesterday was no exception at the annual Houston County Friends of the Library book sale at the fairgrounds. It’s one of the largest sales in the state, and draws book dealers like flies to a picnic.

Dealers, including me and Ella, started lining up before 8 a.m. for a number and a hand stamp (Amigo) that would get us in the door at 10 a.m.  We were numbers 33 and 34 this year.  After getting our numbers, we retreated to the car, and went to breakfast, then to scout a local Goodwill, while we were waiting. I literally had to drag Ella out of Goodwill, which had everything in the store half price, to make it back in time for the start of the sale.

By the time we got back, about 9:45, there were approximately 150 people in line, most with some sort of rolling container and PDA/scanner combination in hand or on belt. We looked like the remnants of a rag-tag geek army poised for some digital battle.

The crowd was getting restless as the clock approach 10 a.m. The gentleman in the tan shirt with sunglasses (middle, left) glaring at me is one of my main competitors in this area, and was none too pleased with me taking his picture, or maybe it was because I was ahead of him.

As I waited and watched/listened to the crowd talk, I had time to reflect on the massive undertaking that a large book sale entails, since I’ve seen behind the curtain as a volunteer in past years.  Throughout the year, at least twice a week, the dedicated Friends of the Library volunteers sort and price donated books in preparation for the sale. Two days before the sale, borrowed and rented trucks are loaded with boxes.  The day before the sale, these trucks, along with trucks manned and loaded by prison labor, make their way to the fairgrounds.  By 10 a.m. the morning of the sale, break areas for the volunteers have been created; cashier stands have been established; and the equivalent of a small library has been organized and prepped for sale.  It’s no easy feat.

When the door opened at 10 a.m., the crowed swept in like a hoard of locusts.  I figured being No. 33 got me in about 45 seconds behind No. 1, and probably about a minute or so ahead of No. 150. It did allow me to stake my claim in the religion section, while Ella went to the media tables. As I scanned books, I could hear the shuffle of feet moving about, then an eerie quiet settled over the room, interrupted by only the occasional electronic beep, as the dealers concentrated on their task.

As usual for me, pickings seemed to be slim at first, and I had to fight back major performance anxiety as I saw other dealers throwing books in their boxes while my box was basically empty. However, I took a deep breath, relaxed, and got back to work. I started working the unboxed books on the floor to great success, and started typing in ISBNs on books that didn’t have barcodes, finding good books that the other dealers didn’t take time to pursue.

Three hours and two rolling totes plus two boxes later, Ella and I were finally ready to leave.  However, the media section was near the checkout line, and I got sidetracked looking over the VHS, CDs, and DVDs.  Again, I took my time, and found items that the other dealers, including Ella, had missed in their haste, including an unusual DVD that had no UPC code. Experience told me, though, that it had to be worth more than $2, and it was, to the tune of $150.

I also looked over the record albums, something I normally don’t do.  However, Ella found several square dance albums (yes, we can square dance), and I picked up several albums from a school library that featured schoolyard exercise/dance routines. I’m not sure of their actual value, but they made me nostalgic for grade school P.E. class, and nostalgia usually sells.

Checkout, as usual, was fast, despite the long line.  A mother and pre-teen daughter worked as a team to tally our purchases, and I was impressed by the daughter’s ability to fit our books back in the boxes in an efficient manner.  I remarked that the girl must be good at the video game Tetris, which just drew a blank stare (obviously before her time).  Her mother explained that she had been volunteering at the book sale for three years, and had it down to an art form.

We left book rich, but money poor, with aching feet from standing on the concrete for 3.5 hours. As much as I enjoy the big book sales, I’m always glad when they are over.

Now, if I can only find the time to list all the books.

As a side note, I learned that the Friends of the Library took in approximately $24,500 in one day from us dealers.  Not too shabby, and it means more books for the library.  Good deal.

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