Almere Library and the retail concept – Marga Kleinenberg

Marga Kleinenberg
The retail concept is based on a customer survey that took place in 2003. The reason for the survey was the construction of a new central library in Almere Stad. The key questions of the survey were: What function should this new library have and what do our customers expect of us? And, perhaps even more important, who are our customers exactly? Nationwide there was a downward trend in number of memberships. Why? Did we not live up to expectations? Did we solely focus on supply instead of demand?
The line of questioning in the survey was not limited to general questions like: How often do you lend, how many, what do you lend etc. To really get to know our customers, questions were added to map socio-demographic characteristics. The results showed us that we were dealing with a greater variety in customer groups than we originally assumed. Similarities were detected in life style, interest, age etc.

The results showed us that our classification of the collection did not correspond with the interests of these customer segments. Adding to that the fact that 80% of our customers do not visit the library with a specific idea of what they want to lend and make their choice by browsing the collection, we wondered why we should not arrange books according to the different areas of interest.
We decided to try this new concept in one of our branches. ‘Shops’ were created, carrying a mixture of fiction and non-fiction corresponding with the interest profiles of the five customer groups. The shops also underwent a facelift to address another outcome of the survey, the rather boring interior of the particular library. We made extensive use of pictorial references, amongst others in the signage, we attracted an interior designer and bought new furniture. Our purpose was to seduce customers to extend their stay in the library. The survey revealed that the average duration of stay was very limited. We figured that the longer customers stayed in the building, the more they would see and lend. Customers would get excited and promote the library in their own social network which would result in an increase in the number of visitors. One of the techniques we applied was displaying. Following the example of bookshops, we used frontal display as much as possible. The cover should entice the customer to take it out. Books by one author were stacked so customers could get an overview of an author with a single glance.
Despite our enthusiasm and good hopes our experiment was not widely accepted within the branch. However, the first results surpassed our expectations.

The results (2004-2009)
Customers 2004:41.636 / 2009:59.745 – +43%
Loans 2004:1.288.119 / 2009:1.562.000 – +21%
Visitors 2004:797.066 / 2009: 947.500 – +19%
Inhabitants 2004:170.725 / 2009: 180.077 – + 9%
% inhabitants/patrons 2004:23,6% / 2009:32,2% +36%

Later surveys amongst members and the general population of Almere also proofed that we were on the right track. The segment classification underwent a few changes but generally remained the same. Due to some extra effort in communication we saw a few shifts within the customer groups. The red segment (Fresh) increased in size, partly due to the arrival of institutes of Higher Education. More and more students started to use the library facilities. We concluded that we needed to implement the retail concept in the rest of our libraries as well.

We attracted interior designer Concrete Architectural Associates, who implemented our wishes in a shopping model. Based on this model we chose the most appropriate shopping style (browsing, being seduced, business style) and design. We took fun shoppers and run shoppers into account with the arrangement of the bookcases and kept space in the centre of the shop for related events. All this took place in the front office.

In the back office personnel were schooled in marketing, customer service and retail techniques. The organisation structure was adjusted whereby floor managers were made responsible for the customer groups. These managers advised on collection, events and promotional actions. Now that the customer formulas have been perfected their role is mainly that of monitoring. Furthermore we attracted a database and marketing manager and invested in communication tools and formation.

The opening of the new library on the 27th of March 2010 naturally has contributed tot the increasing use of our facilities. Two months later we had already attracted 100.000 visitors and over thirty colleague libraries requests for tours. The effects of the new building have not been fully recorded yet but will sorely continue to influence our statistics in a positive way.

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