I 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.