Last week, thirty people representing twenty new independent bookstores gathered for Bookstore Boot Camp. Most were in the planning stages. Some were exploring whether bookselling would be the right next step in their careers. All of us were deep into the business of bookselling.

Author Jeff Kinney inspires the newest indie bookstore owners during Bookstore Boot Camp.

Author Jeff Kinney inspires the newest indie bookstore owners during Bookstore Boot Camp.

We took the Bookstore Boot Camp on the road this time, traveling to Massachusetts to take a field trip to An Unlikely Story, the bookstore opened in 2015 by Jeff Kinney, author of the fabulously popular Wimpy Kid series. Also, the retailer that won the Specialty Store Silver Design Award from the Association for Retail Environments.

We expected this would be a special Boot Camp, but you never can actually predict the magic of the moment.

After touring An Unlikely Story by Deb Sundin, the store’s General Manager, we were invited up to Jeff Kinney’s studio where he welcomed us to “Wimpy World”. All of us delighted in seeing the life-size graphics from the Wimpy Kid series and the colorful and creative space where Jeff writes, draws, and navigates the worlds of book publishing, film-making, playwriting, licensed products, and now, bookselling.

We had entered a place where children are honored and the biggest success is defined as the time when a child learns to read for the fun of it. Given the millions of Wimpy Kid books that have sold in dozens of languages around the world, Jeff has enriched many lives.

As we were winding down our visit and Jeff congratulated everyone and wished them well, he offered these heart-felt words: “there’s nothing more sacred than putting a book into a kid’s hands.”

Heads nodded, “Yes”.

Later in the week when we were wrapping up the workshop and discussing our next steps, our youngest colleague … a twenty-something who said she came because she wasn’t clear what to do with her career … said she’d found clarity: Bookselling.

Success can be defined in so many ways. In bookselling, success is often measured by finding your tribe and performing sacred acts.

After spending three very full days with Jeff Kinney’s crew to prepare for the opening of An Unlikely Story, a bookstore cafe in Jeff’s hometown of Plainville, Mass., we toured the store together to admire the work that had been accomplished and learn more about the inventory selection.

What evolved was a beautiful conversation about why we so love to spend time in bookstores.

Mealtime fun! Many of these items came from Fred & Friends, "Airfork One", "Dinner Winner", and "Mealtime Masterpiece" paper placemats were some of our favorite picks.

Mealtime fun! Many of these items in Jeff Kinney’s new bookstore cafe came from Fred & Friends, “Airfork One”, “Dinner Winner”, and “Mealtime Masterpiece” paper placemats were some of our favorite picks.

Early on, when we began developing the non-book inventory, Jeff asked us to look for items that represented: “quality, imaginative, unique, not overly expensive, not pretentious.”

We watched price points (staying under $20) and looked beyond the typical items carried in the bookstore. Thinking about the people who live in the Plainville area, we searched for items that provided for “Family Fun” and items kids could purchase with their allowance money.

The goal is to make customers smile.

Birthday party items on display in the "Family Fun" section at An Unlikely Story

Birthday party items on display in the “Family Fun” section at An Unlikely Story.

Fun and weird books were put on display (otherwise found in the depths of the “Reference” section). Brightly colored journals (“Little Book of Awesome” and “Thoughts & Doodles”) prompt us to plunge into the creative side. Retro bicycle bells and “Mr. Bill” dolls went onto the Father’s Day display table. Colorful socks with amazing graphics filled an entire endcap at the far turn of the traffic path. And a whole side panel was devoted to birthday party fun.

When Jeff and his family came into the store to see how we were coming, our best initial feedback came when we overheard the boys say, “Wow!” and “Cool, look at this!”

As the team gathered to talk about the next step – officially opening the doors – we discussed what it really is that we want to accomplish. We agreed it’s about how we make people feel when they are in the bookstore.