Grocery stores? Really? by Radine Trees Nehring

Almost ten years ago the general manager of the grocery store where the Nehrings shopped regularly asked me if I’d like to do a book signing in his store. (This store is part of an independent chain in my area, with over 90 locations.) An author friend of mine once talked about doing grocery store events in Houston, so the idea was already slumbering in the back of my head. After short consideration, I decided to give bookselling among the groceries a try.

Here’s how it worked for me. I made an appointment with the head of the chain’s department over non-food items. At our meeting he looked at my books and asked a number of questions, finally deciding I had a good product to sell. I signed a non-food vendor contract with the chain. Shoppers who wanted a signed book could put it in their cart and it would go through check-out like the potatoes and canned peas. At the end of a signing day I would give the store an invoice for books sold, and they’d be in charge of sending my invoice to the home office. Not long after, a check for books sold, minus a small percentage for the chain, would be mailed to me.

I was given a list of the stores in my area, and I could pick any store I wanted, deciding when I’d like to sign there. After trying out the idea with some trepidation, I now hold fairly regular Friday and Saturday book signing events in the chain’s grocery stores. In preparation I notify my contact in the General Merchandise office, she notifies her contact in that store, and I visit the store early, taking copies of the books (usually 4) I plan to sell on the days of my visit so they can put the UPC codes in their system.

On signing days I am allowed to set up inside the front entrance of the store where I will be for seven or eight hours each day. I take in a small table, two chairs, a colorful cover for my table and set up books on easels and also any free hand-out material I am presenting—book cover postcards, bookmarks, and business cards. I stand most of the time, and I am usually the first person customers see when they enter the store. You might say I act as a greeter, offering a cheerful hello. If people hesitate or come to look at my books, our conversation continues.

Grocery customers are a huge cross-section of humanity in any area, much more varied than those seen in any bookstore or at advertised signings. If you want to learn how people in an area look, sound, and live their lives, sign in a grocery store. I continue to be amazed at the number of men who shop alone and, more than any other group, enjoy finding someone to talk to, though they are not often book purchasers. Older women are excellent potential customers, and also like to talk. I hear many stories, some are incredibly sad. I have even shared hugs and tears with a few of these women. I have spoken with people, usually younger, who say they love to read and obviously want a book but explain they haven’t the money to buy one. An example is the young mother who showed me a $20.00 bill and said that was all she had to cover groceries for herself and her son for the week.

The opportunity to own a real book signed by the author catches many. I also present books as excellent gifts, very easy to wrap and mail, and quite a few of my books are sold for gifts, though the purchaser often plans to read it first. A number of my customers have never been in a bookstore or even know if there is one in the area.

Other differences between these and traditional book signings?  The surprise element among those entering the store when they see my table. The number of people who want a friendly chat. Questions from those who are wanna-be writers or have even finished a book and wonder how to get it published. The number of people, generally middle-age or younger, who are in too big a hurry to acknowledge a greeting.

So, if you are a published author, I recommend grocery store book signings. Grocery stores are a very good place for profitable impulse sales!

(Note, I always write a positive report covering general observations and happenings in any store I visit, and send it to my contact at the office. This, it turns out, is greatly appreciated.)

Radine Trees Nehring, 2011 Inductee, Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame

For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home.

In 2002, Radine’s first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, was published and, in 2003 became a Macavity Award Nominee.  Since that time, she has continued to earn writing awards as she enthralls her original fans and attracts new ones with her signature blend of down-home Arkansas sightseeing and cozy amateur sleuthing by active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King.

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6 thoughts on “Grocery stores? Really? by Radine Trees Nehring

  1. This post renews my excitement in signings, and inspires me to pick an unexpected location 🙂

  2. radine says:

    Thanks for sharing, Nancy. For me, there is nothing like face-to-face interaction with individuals while promoting my books. In these grocery stores, many people stop to chat or ask questions and I really enjoy that.

    I know many authors, myself included, sign in locations specifically connected to a book. But I would love to hear from other authors who have also signed in locations that were not specifically associated with their books. I know craft fairs are one place authors sometimes set up, and I have done that, but A Fair to Die For is set largely at a craft fair. Of course the first consideration has to be how many people will come through a location while the author is there. That, I guess, for example, that would keep an author who has written a book featuring a puppy from signing at a veterinarian’s office. Where else might she go?

  3. EARL STAGGS says:

    Radine, I like your idea of signing at grocery stores. I have also been thinking about approaching craft stores, particularly those specializing in knitting and crocheting materials. My wife crochets and belongs to a group that meets weekly. They are middle-aged and beyond women who area, I believe, are in the largest groups of book readers. Thanks for the tips and best wishes to you.

  4. wonderful! Glad it and your book writing are still working well for you!

  5. sharonervin says:

    Great idea and thanks for the boost (encouragement). I may step out into this new potential “market.”

  6. Hopefully, we can count on our parents to impart us with the tools we need to do it.

    Sometimes your past parable, I see myself in the role of the widow.
    This change of heart was tricky to acknowledge.;u=165125

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