Books-A-Million is a chain bookstore
, mostly concentrated in the southeast United States
. Like Borders
and Barnes and Noble
, it mostly carries a wide variety of popular books. It is not as big as either Borders
or Barnes and Noble
as of this writing; it has an impressive presence in some southern cities (Jacksonville
, Florida has four stores!), but is not exactly widespread yet in most states. As of this writing the chain has just over 200 stores in existence. Its main headquarters and home office are in Alabama
Books-A-Million started as a newsstand in 1917. That is part of the reason why even today, they have one of the largest magazine selections in a mainstream store, on many subjects. They also carry newspapers, comics and whatnot. Some newsstand stores mutated into Booklands, while others became Books-A-Millions.
Most of Books-A-Million's books are provided by AWBC (American Wholesale Book Company). If a book is not available on the shelves at the store, it can be ordered for the customer for no extra charge (assuming the customer picks it up at the store when called). Books can also be ordered through the store to a customer's home, and many hard-to-find books can be ordered used or through the publishers.
Books-A-Million also has a Web site: booksamillion.com or bamm.com . The site does not tell what is actually carried in the stores, but it does allow customers to place orders for home delivery, and has a place to use the Millionaire's Club Discount Card.
The store offers a discount card called the Millionaire's Club. At most stores, the membership costs five dollars (some stores it is ten) and begins to work immediately, starting with the purchase the customer makes at the time of buying the discount card. It then saves ten percent on everything in the store (including the café and already-discounted items) for a year from the date of purchase, at which point the renewal is also five dollars. At the time the card is sold, the cashier will collect from the customer an address, to which the company sends announcements of special events and sales.
Gift certificates can be bought for use in the store, but they are not compatible with the Web site. The Web site has its own gift certificates.
Most (if not all) Books-A-Millions contain a Joe Muggs café. These cafés serve the usual pastries and variety of flavored coffees, plus coffee beans.
Most Books-A-Million stores have a Hallmark department, full of cards, gifts, and wrapping paper. Some Hallmark departments are almost as large as a Hallmark store.
At the front of any Books-A-Million store, there is a display of the top ten hardback bestsellers, which are 40% off with a discount card. These are not the same titles as on the New York Times list, but often they are the same books in a similar order. Besides the bestsellers, BAM stores have a "New & Notable" section, where the top 30 hardbacks are displayed, as well as featured and new titles, paperback bestsellers (the top ten of those are discounted too), and any displays for popular items.
Books-A-Million stores carry sale books, distributed by Book$mart. These are mostly arranged on tables by category, some marked down to very low prices. Also, they carry many sale-price toys and other materials (referred to as "Key 6 merchandise").
Books-A-Million stores have what is called the "Testament Shoppe," a.k.a. the Bibles and Inspiration section. The store carries a rather wide variety of bibles and inspirational materials and general religious books.
The store also has a section referred to as "Kids-A-Million." This is the extensive children's section, featuring toys and books for kids of all ages. The sections generally have a "train" (a train-shaped row of benches on which children can sit while watching movies on video) and a display Thomas the Tank set. The kids' section also carried educational materials for children such as workbooks and school aids, plus some books for parents and teachers. In some stores the family book section is included in the children's section.
The bookstore also has a small section of collector's materials, from which customers can buy coin-holding albums (and in some cases actual coins), sports and collector's cards (such as Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic) and a variety of books on the subject.
The travel section contains travel books and maps as well.
The audio section features books on cassette and CD, with many more that can be ordered.
Each store has a regional section in which the books of local authors are displayed, along with books about the region or books of local interest. This section is different in nearly every store.
BAM stores have a Business & Computers section, where you can find books on many subjects, such as certification and desktop publishing to corporate histories and how-to management books. There is also a section for investing and financial planning, one for real estate and personal finance, and a career resource center.
The store has a rather large Cooking & Health section, full of books on diets and weight loss, alternative health, cookbooks, and medical reference books. There are many books there on subjects such as mixing drinks, eating vegetarian, what to eat and do if you have various diseases, and international cooking.
Each store also sports a Nature Store. Here you can find books on gardening, pets, and various sciences. Usually a BAM Nature Store will also feature some "Nature Gifts."
A large paperback section is the standard in most stores. There they have general fiction, westerns, mysteries, romance and historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and horror. Some stores put their military history and true crime paperbacks in with the paperback section, and others shelve them in the hardback sections of their genre. Also, some stores include young adult in their paperback sections, while others merchandise it in the kids' section, depending on the availability of shelf space.
Other sections in the store include Hardback Fiction (which also includes large-size--trade--paperbacks), Poetry, African-American Nonfiction (the "African-American Fiction" got integrated into general fiction in a reset), Philosophy, Biography, Large Print, Social Science (including current events, political books, true crime, education, and books on women's studies and "alternative" lifestyles), Art (books on artists, techniques, and photography, plus the graphic novels and architecture books), Computer Games ("cheat guides"), Humor (comics, cartoons, joke books and books by comedians), Games & Puzzles (where you can get entertainment books and stuff like Scrabble dictionaries, crossword puzzles, and books on card games and magic tricks), Adventure Games (the roleplaying section), Beauty & Fashion, History (world history, American history, and military history), Weddings & Etiquette, Self Help (inspirational books, books on bereavment and addiction, psychology, success, self-esteem, relationships, and sexuality), New Age (Tarot cards, astrology, occult, dream books, extraterrestrial and unexplained encounters), Crafts & Hobbies (craft books, woodworking, needlecraft), Antiques (collector books), Home (interior design, home plans, domestic guides), Transportation (repair guides and various car, boat, and aircraft books), Sports (all the team sports, plus NASCAR, wrestling, and some martial arts), Study Guides (stuff on test prep and college guides), and Reference (dictionaries--for English and other languages--sign language, atlases, reference books, family history, and writing guides).
BAM stores do not generally carry music, videos, or DVDs. In this department they are different from most bookstores, which carry at least some variety of media. In the past, BAM was associated with Anderson Music, and had a small selection of CDs and tapes available, but when the association dissolved, music was no longer sold in the stores except for some promotional "sounds of nature" CDs and some classical or promotional items. As for videos and DVDs, some book-related (such as Harry Potter) or very popular items will be sold in the stores, and occasionally the stores receive marked down videos or promotional children's videos, but on the whole it is not a music or video-carrying store.
Each store's highest authority is the general manager, who has from two to four co-managers underneath. Each manager is supposed to be responsible for a certain aspect of the store, such as Specialty, Customer Service, and others. Under the managers, there are customer service specialists (also known as red-badges--no they don't have an actual badge) who have some privileges of a manager, and under those are the department heads (sometimes a red-badge is a department head too) and then the regular associates. In the café, they have one manager and several associates, usually part-timers. Often the café associates will know some things about the bookstore and the bookstore employees will be cross-trained in the café (so as to cover breaks appropriately), but they are on two separate payrolls. Several stores are under the authority of one district manager, and each district is in a region, with a regional manager. The regions are under the jurisdiction of the president and vice president.
Each store is supposed to have department heads for the following departments: Key 4 (Hardbacks--responsible for changing out the bestsellers and organizing displays), Paperbacks (just putting away and organizing the paperback section), Key 6 (the junky toy tables and whatnot), Hallmark (deals with ordering for and organizing the Hallmark section), Kids' (in charge of putting out and organizing the children's section), Community Ambassador (sometimes the Kids' specialist or a manager does this job, planning, advertising, and running events), Customer Service (in charge of customers' orders and generally helping customers), Magazines (in charge of--you guessed it--putting out magazines and boxing up the old ones), and SWIFT Specialist (the back room person, in charge of receiving, sorting, and processing the weekly shipments). Not all stores have specialists for the areas here, but someone ends up doing all the jobs; they just may not do as good of a job if their attention is divided among various projects. Also many stores have "regular" register associates, who do not have a department per se but mostly do nothing else.
The employee benefits for the workers there are the following: Associate discount of 20% on everything, plus "associate appreciation days" (the first of every month) where the employees get 30%; health care and dental care benefits and 401K; a "spiff" of 50¢ for every discount card sold at the register (plus special deals if 100 are sold in a week); and a book check-out policy where employees get to take books home and read them. Employees do NOT receive free coffee or cast-offs from the café, though on special events and holidays sometimes the company will provide food for the employees. Workers can also recommend books they personally like, and include a little write-up. When this happens the books are featured at 20% off. Employees can be identified by the black aprons with the Books-A-Million logo on them. Every employee wears a name tag.
Some of Books-A-Million's high points:
- A wide variety of materials to choose from
- No charge for shipping on books ordered to the store
- Discount membership is comparatively cheap
- Wide variety of marked down items
- Do not send junk mail when collecting addresses; only coupons and sale announcements
- Very yummy and LARGE pastries in the café
- Fabulous Kids' section (especially at store 398 Gainesville, the store where I worked from 2000 to 2006, when I used to be the department head)
- New and sure-to-be-popular books are often released at a discounted price and are available immediately at their release date
- Some stores have successful trading card leagues and events for children
- Good discount on new books
- Plenty of places to relax and browse through materials
- Open on holidays (good for the customer, not so fun for employees)
- Good deals on special event days (one-day sales)
- Open late (most stores from 9 AM to 11 PM, and during holidays until 12 AM)
- Has no political or religious agenda, so materials of all types can be found in the store
Some of Books-A-Million's faults (are you ready for this?):
- Store's organization leaves something to be desired
- Piped-in music ranges from generally sucking to so bad it's offensive
- Many stores understaffed
- Company communication problems lead to problems running the store
- Company's sign-makers are fairly ignorant about the English language, leading to many embarrassing typos and misused words on signs and in flyers
- Security system sucks
- The corporate system is set up in such a way that customer complaints and comments are very rarely taken to heart
- Technology is behind the times--no perpetual inventory
- Some signs are misleading (though most aren't, and are just misread by ignorant customers)
- Often a bozo at Home Office decides the store should have twenty copies of a book that doesn't sell, and none of a book that does. Often they decree that the store should carry only two copies of a book unless it is a bestseller, which (among other things) causes the first book in a series to more often than not be out of stock. The Home Office also chooses to send more books than the stores have fixtures for, causing many problems.
- Return policy is vague
- Events are advertised on signs, but do not actually take place (mostly due to lack of interest, but once in a while someone will show up expecting an event and there is nothing happening)
- Turnover is high, especially among managers, because the company does not provide very good incentives to stay
- Too much pressure is put on certain positions, such as the receiver and most of the managers. This also helps to cause the above-mentioned high turnover.
- Comparatively lousy employee benefits (certain other bookstore chains I won't mention--*cough*BORDERS*cough*--give their employees holiday pay for NOT being there while BAM gives no special treatment for working holidays, plus they have better health care and an ACCRUING ALLOWANCE of $25 a month to use in the store)
- I had to work there to pay my bills (but that is not the company's fault, so don't blame them too much)