Buy The Book

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What if you could sell a product that took up very little space in your store, kept customers there longer, made them feel welcome, inspired them to add more to their home and backyard and was available to you at an attractive discount off the MSRP? If this sounds appealing, adding a selection of books may be just the ticket.

It may seem like an odd combination — a book department in a pool and hot tub store — but the reality is that specialty retailers (that's what the publishing industry calls retailers that are not booksellers) sell a lot of books. It's pretty commonplace to find books in lawn and garden stores. Even pet stores carry books, and Home Depot and Lowe's carry an ever-expanding selection of books and magazines.

"People are generally buying books other places as much as they're buying them at the bookstore," says Allison Howlett of The Taunton Press, the Newtown, Conn., book and magazine publisher that promises "inspiration for handson living" through such magazines as Fine Gardening and Inspired House and book titles like the recently released Pool Idea Book. "Our specialty business is about half of our overall business. So half of our readers are buying the books at a bookseller, and the other half are buying at a Home Depot or the knitting store, or garden center," says Howlett. "Retailers are realizing the benefit of offering them. People are coming to almost expect it in many categories.

"If you're looking for ideas for the backyard and you have to go get a water test for your pool, and if they have books, you're not going to leave the pool store to go to Borders and buy a book on pool maintenance or on planting around your pool."

Successful retailers from coffee shops to lawn and garden stores to home-improvement giants like Lowe's and Home Depot have discovered that a carefully chosen selection of books is more than just additional inventory. Books help sell other products and your business itself, as well.

Just One More Page

How often have you found yourself engrossed in a book or magazine, unaware of how much time has passed?

"It'll keep them there!" says Howlett. "Give them a comfortable chair, coffee — the longer you can keep people in the store, the better, and if it's holding their attention, whether or not they buy the book is secondary."

Keeping customers in the store serves at least two proposes. The more customers are exposed to a product, the more likely they are to develop an interest in it. And when customers feel comfortable and welcome, they are unlikely to see a trip to your store as a chore or a pesky errand to be run.

Plant The Idea

Merchandising and retailing experts have recognized for years that most people have a limited ability to imagine what their living spaces could look like. This is why furniture retailers display their wares in completely accessorized vignettes, and why spa retailers should do the same.

But having books full of sparkling examples that show how a hot tub could be installed and beautifully accessorized, or how a backyard benefits from a paved outdoor kitchen area with a grill — in addition to the pool the customers had in mind — will provide plenty of additional upsell inspiration at a fraction of the floor space.

"If you're surrounded by ideas and examples in the books, you think, 'Wow, I could do that!'" says Howlett. And that gives the retailer the opportunity to introduce additional amenities. "For example with our pool book," says Howlett, "the hope is that the customers will spend more time in the store, get more ideas, spend more money."

A beautiful coffee-table idea book would also make a useful throw-in gift for a customer who buys a hot tub, for example. Not only will the customer be pleased with the gift, but everytime he pages through the book, he'll see ideas for additional purchases.

Books represent another area where the independent, service-minded retailer can outsell the warehouse super-stores. Those giant home-improvement warehouses can only change their book and magazine offerings twice a year, and then only after a lengthy corporate review.

Specialty shops can stay up to date with the latest titles, and be a little more bold in what they offer.

Getting Started

Entering the bookselling business is relatively uncomplicated. "Browse a bookstore, go on and look at what are the most popular books in the category," says Howlett. "See who is publishing the books you want to carry."

Once you've decided on some titles, there are several ways to purchase the inventory. "You could buy from a distributor, which means you could buy different publishers all at once and get a discount," says Howlett. "Or you can go direct to the publishers. You can buy 'returnable,' which means you buy it, but can send it back for the full refund if it doesn't sell," she says. "Or non-returnable which would get you a better discount, but you can't send back what you don't sell."

Most publishers also are happy to help retailers promote their titles. "If a store has a good mailing list and has some sort of event going on and they want to bring an author in for a book-signing, we're happy to do that," says Howlett. Publishers can also provide counter displays, posters and signage.

And publishers are enthusiastic about the backyard-living trend. "We hear from our retailers that what are really selling are the landscaping titles. Tying the lawn to the house, hardscaping, outdoor living, outdoor kitchen, entertaining areas," says Howlett. "Landscaping, pools, backyard category; we're looking to expand more into that area."

Adding a book section doesn't make sense for everyone, certainly. But for the right store, books can be a successful add-on or impulse-buy item, while adding to the store's ambience, creating customer loyalty and helping increase ticket totals.

Ready to get started? 

A distributor offers one-stop shopping with access to many different publishers. Alternately, most publishers will sell direct to retailers, usually with a bigger discount than distributors. Individual publishers also may offer more attention to beginners.

This list of book distributors and publishers will help you on your way.

Major Distributors

Baker & Taylor Ingram

Book Group

Publishers Group West

Independent Publisher's Group

Selected Publishers

Better Homes and Gardens

Clarkson Potter

Firefly Books

Harper Design International

Hearst Books

John Wiley & Sons


Rizzoli International

Sagamore Publishing



Storey Publishing

Sunset Publishing Corporation

Taunton Press

Time-Life Books


Whitney Library of Design

Suggested Reading

Landscape, backyard living and shelter are hot categories in publishing these days. And there are increasing numbers of pool- and hot tub-specific titles as well. Following is just a small sample of the types of books that might appeal to hot tub and pool customers.

Architectural Plants: What to Grow and How to Grow It Christine Shaw • Harper Design International ISBN 0-6073-3373 • $12.95

At Home In The Garden: Creating Stylish Outdoor Rooms Becke Davis • Sterling Publishing Co. ISBN 1-56799-733-3 • $29.95

Classic Garden Structures Jan and Michael Gertley • Taunton Press ISBN 1-56158-241-7 • $19.95

Complete Guide to Water Garden Plants Helen Nash • Sterling Publishing ISBN 1-4027-0954-4 • $17.95

Complete Swimming Pool Reference Tom Griffiths • Sagamore Publishing ISBN 1-57167-523-X

Deck & Patio Idea Book Julie Stillman and Jane Gitlin • Taunton Press ISBN 1-56158-639-0 • $19.95

Garden Getaways: Havens at Home Michael Glassman, Ann Zimmerman and Scot Zimmerman • Sterling/Chapelle ISBN 1-4027-1061-5 • $24.95

The Garden View Tara Dillard • Sterling Publishing Co. ISBN 1-4027-1405-X • $24.95

House Beautiful Pools The Editors of House Beautiful • Hearst Books ISBN 1-58816-022-X • $24.95

Landscaping Makes Cents: Smart investments that increase your property value F. Campbell, R. Dube • Storey Books ISBN 0-88266-948-6 • $16.95

Master Built Pools and Patios Tina Skinner • Schiffer Books ISBN 0-7643-1747-4 • $44.95

New American Swimming Pool James Grayson Trulove • Whitney Library of Design ISBN 0-8230-3175-6 • $55

Outdoor Living Room Martha Baker • Clarkson Potter ISBN 0-609-60646-8 • $40

Outdoor Water Features Alan and Gill Bridgewater • Storey Books ISBN 1-58017-334-9 • $17.95

Pond Retailers Bible Aquascape Designs • The Pond Guy Publications 

Pond Specialist Alan and Gill Bridgewater • Sterling Publishing ISBN 1-84330-676-X • $9.95

Pools and Spas: New Designs for Gracious Living Alan Sanderfoot • Rockport Press ISBN 1-5649-6941-X • $45

Pool Chlorination Facts Robert W. Lowry • self-published ISBN 0-9746234-0-7 • $29.95

Pool Idea Book Lee Anne White • Taunton Press ISBN 1-56158-665-X • $29.95

Pools (Good Idea Series) Haike Falkenburg • Loft Publications ISBN 0-8230-2097-5 • $24.95

Reflections on the Pool: California Designs for Swimming Cleo Baldon et al • Rizzoli International ISBN 0-8478-2014-9 • $45

Spectacular Pools Pere Planells • Harper Design International ISBN 0-688-17240-7 • $35

Swimming Pool: Stylish and Inspirational Ideas for Building and Decorating Your Pool Martha Baker • Clarkson Potter ISBN 0-6096-1076-7 • $50

Small Space Gardens David Stevens • Harper Design International ISBN 0-6056-7600 • $29.95

Swimming Pool and Spas Jim McRae • Sunset Publishing ISBN 0-3760-1609-4 • $19.95

Water Gardener Anthony Archer-Wills • TODTRI Books ISBN 1-57717-194-2 • $24.96

Waterscaping: Plants and Ideas for Natural and Created Water Gardens Judy Glattstein • Storey Books ISBN 0-88266-606-1 • $18.95 

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