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If you’ve got lemons—make lemonade.
We get too many copies of some books. It is a mission here to keep as many books as real, readable books if at all possible.
Former bestsellers and blockbuster books are usually over represented in the secondary market. People have already read the book, or it is no longer fashionable. We end up getting 10, 50, 100 copies for every one we can remarket to a reader or collector online or in our stores. Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, and recently even Harry Potter…
Hardcovers can usually find a place in our Books By the Foot department.
Before you snicker or express outrage…getting pulped is the only other option for these books. Charities don’t want them. We BUY them from charities all the time! If we can’t sell them to readers or collectors, we can sell them on Books by the Foot.
Who buys them from Books By the Foot? Interior Designers most often. They also go to television and movie productions as props. If you see books in a hotel lobby or in a retail store display or in a TV show, movie, or commercial…well, they’ve got to come from somewhere.
AND we have preserved those books as "books" for at least a little longer.
What about books that aren’t hardcovers? They are more difficult, but what follows really happened.
We always have had too many kids books. Our stores have large kids book sections, and we put as many online as possible, but more have always come in than can be processed. Plus if they are less than near perfect, they just don’t sell online. We’ve always been glad to donate what we can.
In the mid 2000s, we shipped a number of container loads to Nigeria. It worked well for a couple years. The goal was to break even on labor and supplies. But we didn’t. I think the last unpaid invoice stayed pinned above my desk for 6-7 years before I finally wrote it off.
In 2012, we teamed up with PNC Bank to get a book to every student in Frederick County, MD to take home for summer. About 19,000 books were given out.
In 2016, we were given the Corporate Donor of the Year from Family Services, Inc. just because we let them come and take all the kids books they can use.
In early 2013, we came up with the idea of offering kids books by the box to help us find homes for the surplus kids books. This invention was partly inspiration, partly desperation. The program bumped along for the first months. We’d sell 10 or 12 boxes a week and tried to break even on the sorting and packing to offer inexpensive books shipped around the country. The price then was $12.99 for a box stuffed with kids books. Typically, each box would hold over 100 books.
Then one weekend in July 2013, I was working in the warehouse (big surprise) and received an email from a manager.
"[W]e have over one hundred orders, and they are still pouring in."
Apparently, the program had gotten some popularity on Pinterest. The traffic on BooksBytheFoot.com went crazy.
When we opened Monday, orders were still pouring in. In the beginning we kept up.
"We’ve got tons of kids books, right?"
Right…suddenly the cupboard was bare.
"We can hit the stores and strip out overstock. There are thousands of books there!"
My math must have been fogged by the excitement of "success." A thousand kids books would only fill TEN boxes.
We struggled to find enough kids books we could sell for about 20 cents each. I reached out to remainder dealers. They had books they’d sell cheap, but they lacked variety. We wanted 100+ DIFFERENT books in each box.
And the orders kept pouring in…
I resisted turning the orders off—putting a "Kids Boxes Sold Out" sign on the website.
Where could we find 10,000s of very inexpensive, kids books outside our usual sources?
A light went off! The recyclers who took our trailer loads of pulp paper also get excess books from the huge charities in the region. These organizations get so many books they can’t process them. They sell them by the ton to brokers who cull what they can sell online then sell what they can in bulk—overseas and domestic. Unfortunately, most of the books the brokers receive end up getting pulped. I recalled one of them had told me once they would sometimes create Gaylords (corrugated bulk boxes, see picture on right) of children books that they’d sell to guys who would export them in containers to sell in Africa.
"Do you have any on hand?"
Yes they did. They had about 10 Gaylords. "Would I be interested at…"
The next day I was driving our 24 foot box truck in the heart of Washington DC. (I hate driving in the city. Driving the big truck down to southeast DC was brutal.)
I parked out in the street and went in their warehouse. It was a dark, old, dank place. Stacks of Gaylords lined the wall. I made the deal. The warehouse manager hopped into a forklift and zipped 10 Gaylords out to the Wonder truck, and back I went.
"This is a vast amount of books! We should be okay!"
Again my math skills were blinded by the passion of filling all those orders for kids books.
One of the managers here kept her senses.
"We get about 20 boxes from each Gaylord."
"Uh, oh. 10 Gaylords is only 200 boxes."
Photo credit: Caryn Code
"We have over 1000 orders, Chuck."
Oops. A hard lesson in scale smacked me in the face like a 2×4.
We turned off the ordering mechanism as quickly as possible. But not before the orders had crept up to 2000+ boxes. 200,000 kids books…
We sent out polite and humble emails, "Can you wait? Or would you like a refund?"
We ended up refunding a LOT of money. And a lot of people were unhappy. They WANTED THEIR BOOKS!
A lesson well learned. I still get a little breathless thinking about it.
When the dust settled, we reopened for business but put a filter in that would mark out "Sold Out" after 100 orders. It had to be manually reopened before we could accept more orders.
Flash forward to now. September 2017. I’ve made sure we won’t run out again. (Famous last words.)
The program has grown, and we now sort children’s books by age groups (toddler, K-2, 3-5, young adult), religious/inspirational, Christmas, and Jewish. All available (REALLY!) at BooksBytheFoot.com.
We sort through the Gaylords the charities sell us by the ton. Some books go online. Some go to the stores. Others go to books by the box orders.
We fill up some Gaylords with books to give away as well. Regional charities and teachers come by and can take what they want for the kids they serve. Over 20 teachers were in this August pulling books for their fall classes.
Books that are too far gone for any use get recycled as paper. We recycle all books that we can’t find homes for. AND we are always trying to find new ways to rescue books "no one wants." Asia, Africa, Europe…but that will be a future Book Story.
AND rarely…we even find a rare book. This is exciting not just for their value but for the pure joy we have in finding a treasure in what would otherwise be destroyed. #BookRescue
We get bulk orders as well. We are currently building a 20 Gaylord container order for an English language children’s bookstore in Korea.
It is a HAPPY ENDING for 100,000s of kids books that would other wise be destroyed. The process is daunting, time consuming (read: expensive), sometimes crazifying.
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