Commonality Among Books

Joanne Klappauf, founder of Common Ground Distributors, intimately knows the ins and outs of buying books. Speak to her, and you quickly discover she is a bibliophile through and through, and that this passion has fueled her success of providing books to retailers across the nation. “Having worked in retail bookselling in the past, I especially understand what a buyer goes through day-to-day when ordering books. Knowing the challenges of your customers is the heart of any service business,” Klappauf explains. She believes it is important to know customer expectations and needs even before one places an order. This kind of synergistic relationship cements a strong foundation for selling the right books to the right retailers.

Common Ground has been distributing books for almost 25 years from its warehouse based in Asheville, NC. The book categories the company offers are diverse, spanning a wide range of specialized interest subject-matter and a long list of publishers. Thus, the company’s name is a tell-tale of its overture. Klappauf says green titles are an emerging category of books with broad interest sought by retailers and end-consumers. Other categories include interior design, garden design, cooking, nature, children’s picture books, and gift books such as those of inspiration, humor and animals. But, in all these categories, criteria for the chosen books are simple and twofold: quality and salability, meaning, “The overall book package has to be as wonderful as the content.”

For retailers ordering books, Klappauf suggests considering the specifications such as the colors, sizes and shapes. Prior to ordering, it is helpful to visualize how the books will look in the space in which they are to be sold. Then, when the order is received by the retailer, she recommends displaying the books upright and facing outward with their covers clearly showcased for consumers to view. Other ideas for retail display include grouping like books together and cross-merchandising various books with related products. ”It’s simple and powerful; retailers can increase book sales by creating unique environments,” according to Klappauf.

Her advice rings true in Common Ground’s other location, a permanent showroom at AmericasMart Atlanta. The environment is soothing, and the books are stimulating. Klappauf had glass walls with broad, wood columns put in surrounding the space to encapsulate the area and help reduce noise. Her concept was to create a cozy sitting area for buyers to examine prospective purchases.

Hundreds of covers jump off the shelves like a colorful Dr. Suess tale in the children’s section, a new gardening title featuring magical-looking plants, a beloved Paula Deen gracing a southern recipe book hot off the presses, and a large design book boasting famous Hollywood interiors. The sections are organized in a maneuverable manner so buyers might round the shelf of books about breath-taking homes to discover a neighboring shelf lined with books about cabins, barns, tree houses, and western lifestyle.

Once retailers or designers do choose books, orders can be placed in the showroom, online through Common Ground’s website, or by phone. It could be an order for one book or 50. With no minimums or limits, Klappauf ensures the process is a solid means to match customers with the most applicable selections. Klappauf calls it hand-selling, the ability to know the books as much as possible to suggest personal favorites or trendy titles to customers. It is something on which Common Ground prides itself. “It’s one of the many fun parts of bookselling,” she says with a smile.

With books evolving in the current marketplace from e-books read on handheld devises to the surging importance of photos versus words, Klappauf believes there is still a place on the shelf for printed books. No doubt, beautifully bound books filled with engaging visuals and page-turning adventures can help retailers build desirable inventories that entice customers in ways unlike any other product.

~ ECPR Team

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Don Eberly


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