Saturday, December 27, 2008

Closing Out the Year at Offutt

Since this is probably my final blog of 2008, I thought I might tell you more about selling at the Offutt BX (base exchange).

This was my first time in a pure retail environment on my own. Sure, I've done bookstores, but they've done networking, advertising, store signage and word of mouth to publicize my visits. But in the BX, I was truly on my own - I had to set up the table every morning and spend the day there, putting together an eye-catching display while also trying to make eye contact myself.

I don't come from a sales background, but I almost immediately began getting into the psychology and physics of sales. I was always sizing up shoppers as they came near my table, looking for likely history enthusiasts (generally seniors) or spouses of them (generally middle-aged wives). If they'd look with interest at my book poster, I'd have a look ready that said "Come on over - let's talk about it!" I'd get signage on my poster at eye level that I hoped would further interest them, such as "Featuring Fort Crook" (the original post at Offutt).

I also found myself getting more aggressive, not necessarily with the other temporary vendors since we didn't have similar products, but in fighting for my "turf." My original spot was right in the middle of the BX - people couldn't help but see me as they came in and sales were good. When I got moved to a less visible spot and saw an immediate reduction in sales, I fought with management to get moved back. I even took issue with an aggressive VFW recruiter who was stopping shoppers and blocking the view of my table!

After a few weeks of selling just the book (I was there off and on about 12 times from mid-November to Christmas Eve), I got frustrated and began looking for additional items to sell. My publisher balked at my selling other books in their catalog, so I came up with note cards featuring the forts and even developed my own poster for the forts of Nebraska. Both of them sold pretty well!

I loved talking with the customers. A number of them said the book was just what they were looking for, and others couldn't wait to present their loved ones and friends with the book. THAT was quite an unusual feeling on Christmas, knowing that people were getting my book under the tree!

I also enjoyed talking with the temporary vendors. I learned quite a bit about the profitability and the struggles of making a living that way, but also met some enjoyable people in the month and a half. I'll probably try this again, maybe for Father's Day in June.

Thanks to all for checking in. Hope you had a great Christmas and I wish all of you a very Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Call from "The Godfather"

I am really getting bad at keeping the blog up to date! I guess that could be translated at been busy, which I have been. Much of my time on the book has been in appearances, lately at the Offutt Air Force Base BX - quite a few military personnel, dependents and retirees have an interest in the old forts, so I've been enjoying selling in the new base exchange. NOT the hundreds which a colonel back in July told me I'd see, but enough to keep me coming back through Christmas.
What REALLY jogged me to write this morning was a call I received last night from "The Godfather." Herb Hart wrote THE books on the forts back in '60s and '70s when he was a major in the Marines. He retired as a colonel but is still active in the preservation and promotion of the forts, only just recently retiring as secretary of the Council on America's Military Past (CAMP) and editor of its newsletter at age 80.

But anyway, the unexpected call from my friend was to make sure that I had plans to attend the biennial history conference up at Fort Robinson in April, since he was to be the Guest of Honor this year! I had already planned to attend, but knowing that honor was awaiting Herb makes it even more special.

I need to give you some background before I tell you more about the call: The conference is a BIG deal among those with an interest in the Old West, attended by historians, writers, museum people, history nuts, etc. Only 185 can attend because of the limited space at the fort, and those spots go FAST. They have a theme for the conference whenever it's held and in 2009, the theme is "forts." Of course, the theme was selected a couple years ago, before I even knew about the conference schedule. To have the conference and my book coming around together is kind of a "perfect storm." I immediately called the conference organizer to see if I could present, even though the agenda was set up back in 2007; he did find a half-hour spot for me and I plan to do my Westerners presentation on the "Lost Forts of the Northern Plains."

The funny thing about the phone call from Herb is that although it was just a simple check to make sure I was going, it of course turned into an hour and a half of talking about forts (I know, what could we POSSIBLY say about forts for an hour and a half?) But in addition to making sure of my attendance, we ended up talking about CAMP and its newsletter, about the conference, about people, about our books, just everything we wanted to. He naturally wanted to know what forts I was calling the "lost" forts since he felt he documented about everything out there. I went down the list and he naturally had his stories to attach with each one, and great stories they were.

Anyway, it's going to be fun to see him again. Our only meeting was in Oct. 2005 (photo attached), again out at Fort Rob, where he was attending a cavalry conference - I figured if he came all the way from Virginia to Nebraska, I could at least drive a few hundred miles to meet him! But we've swapped countless emails and the occasional phone calls and I'm very proud to call him a friend. And I can't wait until April!