“Fred” still works at Barnes and Noble

2718I know that there is a lot of hype in the media and in the industry about the future of brick and mortar bookstores. But one of the things that still makes going to the bookstore special are the people who work there. Some of them are Fred’s.

At our store there is one in particular. We met her during the kids’ storytime on Saturday mornings. I asked my wife to describe why we liked her and why our kids connected with her so well. She said: “It’s like Betsy [our former daycare provider]. Remember why we picked her? We knew that she loved our kids as much as we did. Mary Ann is the same way. We just knew she really cares about our kids and all the kids at story time.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself (which is why I quoted my wife saying it).

Growing up I loved books (I’d eventually read 50 of them in 50 weeks), so when I had kids of my own, I headed to Barnes and Noble to instill the same love of reading in them. Part of their love of books came from attending “storytime,” hosted at our local Barnes and Noble in Colorado. There is a wonderful woman who works there, Mary Ann Cortez (name used with permission), who was the first storytime reader for us and is still there to this day.

Mary Ann is a Fred.

When author and speaker, Mark Sanborn wrote The Fred Factor in 2004, he defined a “factor” as one of the elements that contributes to a particular result or situation: “It is, in essence, a mind-set that looks for and seizes opportunities to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary,” Sanborn (23).

With bookstores under the pressure of the e-book media and industry hype, the people who work at the brick and mortar stores are more important than ever before. As Sanborn says, word of mouth can hurt your business but word of mouse can really sink your boat (Sanborn 25), as United Airlines learned in the YouTube clip, United Breaks Guitars.

One of the things that sets Mary Ann apart is that she embodies the Fred Factor principles, of building better relationships and creating new value (Sanborn 30). She learns the names of the kids and their parents and takes great pride in keeping the kids section neat and orderly – which is quite a feat with it being the kids section! But most importantly, she builds GENUINE relationships with the customers and their kids. There is no faking sincerity.

While storytime’s are a normal occurrence at B&N’s across the country, Mary Ann looks for ways to add value – she’s always acquiring more craft materials, stockpiling or retrieving materials that have been tossed aside, and coming up with fun ways to engage the kids. Far more than just reading a book and calling it a day, she takes an extra step, which makes a mile of difference. That extra mile by the way, leads to higher revenue for her employer – after story time parents stick around to buy books for the kids and themselves.

Recently, during a Lego Movie promotion, far more people than expected showed up. Not only was she ready with extra activities to do, she improvised and figured out ways to engage all of the kids to maximize the experience. She could have just handed out some posters and called it a day, but that’s not what Fred’s (and Mary Ann’s) do.

I think another important quality of a Fred, is that they consistently find ways to be Fred’s. Over the years, management has changed at the store a few times, as it will, and there are always different edicts coming down from corporate, as will happen, but Fred’s (and Mary Ann’s) will always figure out a way to add value, build relationships, and continue to be extraordinary.

Some people resist becoming a Fred because they “aren’t paid enough.” In a perfect world pay would equal performance but that’s rarely the case. Rarely is anyone paid more until they do more, (Sanborn 32). But doing more doesn’t always guarantee you’ll get more so why should you do it?

“Ted Williams famously took each at bat as seriously as the one before William famously took each bad as seriously as the one before,” says Sanborn. “He said he knew there was always some kid in the crowd who was seeing him play for the first and only time. He wanted that kid to see what Ted Williams was all about, so he applied himself fully at each at bat.” (Sanborn 34)

Being a Fred doesn’t just help out your employer, it helps you out as well – YOU are rewarded by being a Fred (Sanborn 32). How does being a Fred help you?”

  • It enriches others, adding value to your relationships with family, friends, the boss, co-workers and the people you see every day (Sanborn 34)
  • It expands who you are as a person and changes the way you view and treat people (Sanborn 35).
  • It puts more life into your living – you’ll actually live a happier life! (Sanborn 35)
  • It breaks the “all about me,” mind-set. (Sanborn 35). Now, you might be saying: what’s wrong with it being all about me? Have you ever hung out with a person whose only all about themselves – they are fun people aren’t they. No, of course they aren’t. They also aren’t people you want to help either. Is being that kind of person your goal? Is that how you want to be remembered?
  • It makes you more employable (Sanborn 35). Who wouldn’t want their company represented by someone who is motivated to go above the job description, shows initiative and is creative (Sanborn 35). Face it, the only person who likes a sourpuss are other sourpusses.
  • It offers you a way to overcome obstacles, solve problems and face setbacks (Sanborn 35). Being a Fred reduces stress which allows you to better think through problems. It also opens up more opportunities for others to come to your aid.
  • You can pay it forward. When you’re a Fred it inspires and authorizes others to be a Fred. The impact you have ripples throughout others for the rest of the day (Sanborn 35). I’ve even seen it come full circle.
  • Being a Fred is just more fun. People will be glad to see you and may even want to return a kindness (Sanborn 36).

Technology will continue to change our lives, but there is one constant and that is people still value genuine relationships with others. It’s woven into our gene code – we want to connect with other people. It makes us feel more secure and better connected to the world around us.

I want to say thank you to Mary Ann, and also Paula, Bob, Sharpe, Michael, Brent, Mike, Melissa, Fancy, Pam, Megan, and Megan (there are 2), Colleen, Erin, and Sarah who have all worked at the store a long time and have been a special part of our family and our community for many years – thank you also to Aaron, Catie and Lauren who used to work there but have since moved on (and my profound apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten! I know the second I hit “Publish” I’ll remember someone else). Thank you for joyfully always helping me with my numerous requests for books and the special orders, and for walking me around the store, right to the book I was looking for.

You all have made our local B&N a special place to be. Truly, you are all Fred’s and I appreciate all the help you’ve given me on this journey to read 50 books in 50 weeks.

Sanborn, Mark. Fred 2.0: New Ideas on How to Keep Delivering Extraordinary Results. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013. Print.

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15 Responses to “Fred” still works at Barnes and Noble

  1. Mary Ann is my Aunt and I am so proud and so thankful that you all get to see what an amazing person she really is. Thank you for writing this and for taking the time to recognize the people who make a difference in your community! 🙂

  2. Mary Ann is my cousin although I have not seen her in some time thanks for FB I now can keep in touch . As a child I remember Mary Anna loving and caring with a warm smile. I sure storytelling and working with kid is part of her Journey in life. Thank you for recognize her and the others.

  3. I am teary and emotional reading this article. I know how deeply kind words penetrate into her and inspire her. She is not only a wonderful woman at work. She is also a wonderful woman at home. Mary Ann is my mom. I am so proud of her. She puts so much thought, effort, creativity, and love into what she does. She loves her story time kids like she loves me. Thank you for recognizing her with your family and with your public voice. It means more than you know.

  4. I can second every comment and point you have made. We started our kids very young with Story Time at the library. But we didn’t stop there we taught them about Barnes and Noble (which happen to be one of my kids favorite stores). In the summer time we will ride our bikes up to this particular store, just for something to do (and because the kids want to visit Mary Ann). I am biased because I have known Mary Ann most of my life, but she just makes the experience so much better for my kids (who are now teenagers). When she moved away to Nevada, both of my kids saved their money with the intent we would seek Mary Ann out at her “new store” on our next vacation so they could see her and buy some books. They were ecstatic when she moved back (and so were we!) She has always been a wonderful person. But being in the Customer Service industry most of my career, it is people like her that really really make the lasting impressions!

    • I remember when she moved to Nevada as well. My kids were very sad and my wife and I talked about trying to connect with her when we went on vacation several years ago. Mary Ann is truly one of those special individuals and I love our Barnes & Noble!

  5. Mary Ann is an absolute joy to work with! Her positive attitude, work ethic, and willingness to go above and beyond what her job description calls for, helps all of us want to go above and beyond. I love working with her, and all of us at Barnes & Noble are grateful, honored, and humbled by your very kind and generous words! It has been our great pleasure working with your family, and every other family that walks in our doors! It is our goal to provide exceptional customer service every single day. Thank you again, Jeff!

  6. Thank you Jeff, I am humbled by your kind words.It’s been a pleasure to watch the kids grow over the years. I always look forward to seeing you and your family at our storytimes and events. B&N Store 2718 is lucky to have customers like you who feel like friends. 😉

    • I sometimes feel like ours is the B&N that could. It’s not as big as many of the stores I see throughout the country but it has a huge selection of what people want.

      You’ve become like family to us Mary Ann (as indicated by being on our Christmas card list as well!) Thank you so much – you’ve helped instill a love of reading in our kids that we know will help them their entire lives.

  7. I’ve known Mary Ann all my life. She is my sister and has always amazed me with her resourcefulness and her loving, caring nature. Her primary motivation has always been children but it doesn’t stop there. Her determination to do the best she can with what she is given to work with is what drives this beautiful lady. And she does it all with joy in her heart. So it is no surprise to me that she has been given the recognition she is so deserving of. Congratulations, Sissy… You rock!

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