Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trader Joe's: What Authors Can Learn from Their Growing Pains

The Trader Joe’s in my hometown is having growing pains. They have closed down one of their stores in a kind of nondescript strip mall and opening another with a lot of pizzazz. And they’re hoping that we won’t notice too much. Ahem.

The LA Times business page explains: “…after decades cultivating an image as the cozy neighborhood grocer, the 14,670 square-foot store …highlights the conundrum facing the Monrovia company: how to maintain the eclectic, friendly vibe that has garnered it legions of faithful shoppers, while expanding at a brisk pace.”

Mmm. This sounds like a problem facing retailers and other business people in the fast-growing 90s. But it happens now, too. In fact, I’d bet that most anyone in business (and that includes authors, whether we like the idea or not!), will face it at some time. I remember when my husband and I moved one of our retail stores from one end of the mall to another because we were out of space. Some of our customers thought we were getting too fancy.

I remember the day I decided to write a little e-book for my UCLA students that turned out to be the multi award-winningThe Frugal Book Promoter (http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo ), now in its second edition. That’s a far cry from being a novelist and poet.

I remember when, after the success of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers, I decided to do a HowToDoItFrugally series of books for retailers (www.howtodoitfrugally.com/retailers_books.htm) because I had started speaking at national retail tradeshows and, heck, I needed handouts anyway, right?

As you can tell, I believe in taking opportunity when it steps up and plops itself in my lap. Having said that, once we’ve made the momentous decision to veer from our intended path or to grow, we need to immediately think about branding.

Here are some of the things that I think can help people or business in situations like this. Mind you, these are not the result of huge marketing studies. They’re all just seat-of-the-pants lessons learned from trial and error—though some are based on tried-and-true marketing principles.

  1. Drag out your mission statement and paste it to your bulletin board (or make computer wallpaper out of it). You do have a mission statement don’t you? If not, write down the goals you’ve had since you started in your career path and use it instead (until you get your mission statement written.)

2.      Look at your idea for your new project. Write down the reasons you want to do it. Then write down the pluses and minuses—and weight them. This list will help you make better decisions for the entire project as well as the marketing of it.

3.      Now make a list of how you think your present customers (yes, readers, too!) will view these changes.

4.      Using the benefits you found for your present customers in the above list, plan a marketing/promotion campaign around those benefits.

5.      Now make a list of the benefits you see for the new customers your upcoming project will attract. Draw up a marketing campaign for these folks, too. I know it looks like double work but…well, you’ll see why.

6.      Now see if you can find similarities between the two lists. That’s where you start. You can branch out to target the fringes of the two groups later.

These are general planning aids, but here is a Web site tip specifically for you. Think very hard before you open a completely new Web site for your new project. Consider instead using one site with different sections for your projects. Think how there might be crossover between customers. Keep your branding similar (maybe colors from a similar palette), but not necessarily identical. Don’t expect too much in crossover sales, but don’t discard the possibility. New efforts need support from whatever quarter we can find them. If you decide against that, at least make links from one site to the other plentiful and obvious. And make sure you’ve given your visitor reasons (benefits) they will find when they click to the new section—or the new Web site.
If you would like to see how smarty MaAnna Stephenson helped me get all my projects from consulting and editing to my books (from poetry to how-to books!) arranged on one Web site, go to www.howtodoitfrugally.com.  And find her at MaAnna@Blogaid.com.

Reprints of all my articles are available at no charge. Please contact me at HoJoNews@aol.com for a suitable credit and add a byline and links where appropriate.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second ediction of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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