March 17, 2018

Activate Partners To Grow Circ | Brand Insider

ljx151001webbrandInsideHead2The aim of merchandising is to make each library’s collection as effective as possible. Great merchandising forms the bridge between the library and the patron—it helps readers discover books beyond the best sellers on the holds shelf.

The challenge for libraries is that merchandising is a specialty in its own right. For a library, it may sit alongside collection development, Maker spaces, literacy programs, Internet access, and a host of other missions. Yet from Bloomingdale’s to Sephora, IKEA to REI, there are businesses that live and die on their ability to merchandise and display products for their customers.

These customers are library patrons, too. They’ve been trained to respond to great displays. If libraries don’t merchandise well enough to attract them, these folks will simply use the library as a staging point to pick up books they reserve remotely, and the library will lose the opportunity to interest them in titles they didn’t know they wanted.

There are two obvious ways to compete. First, train existing staff in basic retail merchandising tactics. This will give insight and begin to reshape space to be more patron-friendly. Still, there’s no substitute for deep expertise. So, second, hire staff with professional retail merchandising experience.

Yet there’s a third way to enhance merchandising smarts and draw more directly on the abundant retail expertise that resides in nearly every community in North America: build partnerships.

The value of partnerships

As I’ve traveled around the country visiting libraries over the past two years, I’ve been impressed by how effective most of them are at leveraging partnerships for programming. Whether it’s an author event or the kickoff for a Maker space, libraries from California to Maine do an excellent job of bringing in partners to share expertise with patrons.

One of the reasons individuals, businesses, and institutions are happy to work with libraries is that it satisfies an altruistic wish to contribute to the community. Another is that libraries are a great source of associative branding. When businesses or other institutions collaborate with libraries and have their names featured in the library or in conjunction with the library’s name, they benefit from some of the trust that people feel toward the library.

This is exactly what happens when an author does an in-house reading. Having the event in a library is an implied endorsement of the author’s work, which is why libraries choose visiting authors with care. But partnerships can reach beyond programming. By exercising the same care, libraries can find great partners for merchandising and dramatically improve the impact and effectiveness of displays. Here are two ideas.

Unite with a local university

My graduate marketing students at New York University are required to ally with a nonprofit, start-up, or small business each semester for a major project, and they are not alone. Universities nationwide are sending students into the community to work on practical projects with the oversight of a trained professional or academic. These aren’t just untested undergrads either—many have years of experience in marketing and are looking to burnish specific skills or make local contacts with their degree.

If you have a local university that offers a design or visual merchandising degree, you’re in luck. Contact the school, and see if you can get one of its best students to work on a display project for you. Even better, consider hosting a regular internship in which the students can take responsibility for display planning and implementation, bringing in new ideas and taking some stress off your staff. If you interview prudently, you could land some great expert help.

Relate to local retailers

Whether you have a local university or not, you almost certainly have commercial enterprises. Identify the shops that have the best, most creative displays. Then ask if they’d like to get some exposure for their business in the public library. Invite them to sponsor a library display.

Here’s how it can work: you choose the theme and provide the books and audiovisual materials. The retailer builds and dresses the display. You put a sign out that says, “Display designed by Julia’s Curios—11 Main Street” and perhaps add a mention in your newsletter. For this kind of effort, it will be helpful to build it deep: use the techniques I described in my last column (LJ 4/1/15, p. 46; to gather enough copies that the display will last at least a couple of weeks in your branch. If it works, consider a longer-term sponsorship whereby the store is responsible for resetting the display every few weeks. It’s a valuable opportunity for them to boost local awareness, show off their retail savvy, and get some credit for helping the library. As well, it can add excitement to your branch.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

David Vinjamuri About David Vinjamuri

David Vinjamuri, President of ThirdWay Brand Trainers and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Marketing at New York University, facilitates LJ’s Lead the Change program Transform Your Stacks To Drive Circulation



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