• Susan Hefley

Follett Book Fairs: my review

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

I was so excited when I heard about Follett getting into the Book Fair game. Finally a strong choice and competition for Scholastic. I watched rave reviews come in through social media, all of my librarian Facebook groups, Twitter and blogs. After so much positive feedback, I decided it was time for us to give them a try. Little did I know that I was one of the first in my area to host a Follett Fair. (I don't set out to be the rebel, that is NOT me!) . That only fed my excitement. Follett was great about communication, there is a lot of well designed online trainings and resources. We got our fliers, I printed up wish lists, they have an amazing Facebook group which helped me with more questions and resources and I really MARKETED our Book Fair to families ahead of time. I jumped ALL in trying things like Lunch with a Loved One, extended hours, teacher wish baskets, raffles, and talking it up with students and teachers. Then it was delivered (they were even great about that when I asked them to delay delivery for an hour due to an unexpected special event in the library), rolled in and I got even more excited. I set aside several hours to set up, but I did set up alone and it was SO easy. They get huge points for ease of setup. Most of my time was spent trying to adapt MY space and tables to this new fair and figuring out the cash register. Then it was ready for a Pizza and Preview event with teachers and local librarians and it was beautiful! I was so happy with the book selection, LOTS of great titles that I was sure students and teachers were going to love.

Then Book Fair week began and let me be honest, it was a ROUGH week. I knew it was going to be crazy when somehow we ended up with MAP testing, Book Fair preview, our biggest family event of the year, our monthly awards assembly and Field Day all in the same week (on top of normal Book Fair shopping, the extended hours I advertised and Lunch with a Loved One each day). However, I was only going to see that as opportunities for us to get parents into the fair and books into the kids hands! Then I discovered that the cash register would not accept the gift cards we also advertised. Nothing insurmountable right? The average librarian would probably tell you that is just another Book Fair week and a fair test for Follett's new fair. Then my baby got sick, like we spent Tuesday admitted to the hospital sick. Now I was REALLY putting Follett to the test. Here are the results and my insights as I reflect on the fair.

Setup and Design: This is where Follett SHINES. The cases are easy to move, well designed and just right for Book Fairs (although I admit the metal bar blocking you from seeing some titles bothered me a little). I LOVE LOVE loved the smaller floor units that you just unwrap and roll into the middle of the fair. The table top units are all perfectly packed in racks that you just slide out and place on the table. This makes setup and cleanup both a BREEZE!

Trinkets: I am not a trinkets and junk fan. It is one of the things that bothers me about Scholastic. I BEG them not to send it, and although they have stopped sending a CASE of junk I still spend a gross amount of time sorting through and moving boxes filled with junk aside. Follett does not have this issue. They sent one extra table top unit with journals ($10-15 each) and another larger table top unit with the pens, erasers, mini-notebooks, etc. ($0.79 - 4.99). It was so nice not to have to worry about this! Another bonus with Follett: VERY few books had toys/junk attached! There was a Lego book and a Roblox book both with toys inside but nothing attached with plastic. I spend SO much extra time with Scholastic’s fair either taping the toys down to prevent theft or moving all of the books with toys to one central location so I can watch over them better. It was nice not to have to move things around and spend time with theft preventative tape.

Cash Register: It is NICE. I admit I have never been lucky enough to use the newer Scholastic registers to compare apples to apples, but Follett's cash registers are fancy and simple all at once.

- Easy to do basic sales, void transactions or items, add discounts and see your profits as you go.

- I contacted my tech department AND Follett to try to figure out why we could not see the gift card button. I have an amazing tech department. They were on top of it. They went above and beyond to test things and troubleshoot. In the end, especially after learning that Follett was having this issue with other fairs, we concluded it was Follett and there was nothing we could do. Follett was in communication with me the entire time, sent me some work around instructions and had this convoluted solution to do manual payments. Can I be honest? I just stopped promoting them and luckily with my population it was a non-issue. Not one single kid tried the gift card option. That being said, with the Title 1 population: gift card options are not the positive draw I thought they would be.

Restock: This is where the tale starts to turn. I normally do two days of preview, a HUGE sale day on Wednesday (including a big family event at night) and then two more days of sales. I knew going in their method of restocking AS we sold might be an issue but hoped that I could call with a list of books I "thought" we might need more of based on wish lists. I never made this call on Monday. That is on me. Then Tuesday the baby ended up in the hospital. Follett had been calling to check up on me daily and in constant contact by email, so OF COURSE I reached out to Follett at 4am as I am scrambling to cover everything from the hospital. I was blunt and asked "Is there anyone in the area that could come TO the school and help figure this out and train my aide to use the register? Second, is there anything you can do to help with a restock of the most popular titles and what you predict would sell? We do two days of preview and then Wednesday is our biggest sale day along with Thursday and Friday. We have family events Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday and I worry about how waiting for the register to recognize low stock will work with this setup."

I got this great response that said they would take care of it and work with my aide. Luckily my aide REALLY STEPPED UP and ran with the 5 minute training we did together Monday. I was also blessed to have a few librarians from other schools in the district donate their time to help run the fair that day. Follett did not send someone. I don't think they spoke to my aide at all. They did not submit anything for restocks. I return on Wednesday and we are STILL trying to determine the problems with the cash registers and I am starting to ask if they are even going to see what needs to be restocked with this connection issue. After playing phone tag with my only contact at Follett all day...... by Wednesday afternoon she is hemming and hawing and admits that even if we submitted a restock order NOW it would not get to us in time. My book fair was NEVER restocked. I will say that it was stocked adequately to begin with. It SHOULD have been restocked. I had disappointed kids on Friday looking for specific titles. Restock was disappointing to me……….. but maybe it was just me and in the perfect fair would work great.

Book Selection: This was my greatest disappointment in the Follett Fair. Don’t get me wrong they had a lot of great titles. Many that kids and teachers were excited to see and would have loved to buy. Wish lists were completely filled with titles kids were EXCITED ABOUT. The problem was the prices. I am at a Title 1 school with about 75% F&R Lunch.

Here is how Follett’s fair works. Like Scholastic they base how many cases/books you receive on past sales. We normally sell about $3500-5000 worth of books at a Book Fair. With this prediction we were offered 4 large cases, two of the smaller floor cases (I LOVED these!) and a choice of 4 table top units. They have a lot of table top units to choose from so picking ONLY 4 was not easy. Each “unit” comes with 16 titles (mix of paperback and hardback). I selected gaming, favorite characters, K-2 bargain books and K-2 Spanish (I am a bilingual school) and regretted selecting favorite characters. My teachers and parents want to see more Spanish. I heard over and over how disappointed they were with the Spanish selection we offered.

Book Pricing: Did I mention we are a Title 1 school? It is not unusual for many kids to come in with $0.50, maybe $1, maybe $2. If their parents splurge to send in $5-10 it should get them off the bargain table. If they send in a $20 kids should be walking away with bookS. We normally have two large tables filled with bargain books from Scholastic, and these are what we sell most of. My goal when running a Book Fair is not to make money, it is to get books into kids hands and at my school this means we need cheap books. Follett Book Fairs really disappointed me here.

In planning the fair I stressed repeatedly how we NEEDED bargain books. At first they wanted to hold firm “you get what you get” but I pushed back and I got a phone call celebrating that they heard me and we would get extra bargain books. IF we got extra it was simply more quantity but still the same 16 titles that I would have gotten by selecting the bargain books table top unit. Because I only selected ONE bargain books unit it was limited to only K-2 books. Every single “bargain” book was $2.00. The only thing I had at the fair for less was emoji erasers for $0.79. Here is another catch: Follett will not restock anything under $3.00.

My greatest fear when switching was “would Follett have AFFORDABLE books?” I wanted to write this article to celebrate Follett’s Book Fairs and say they do have affordable books, the prices are reasonable and affordable for students. Sadly, I cannot do that. I created graphs of the book prices we found at our Follett Fair below (this is not perfect, but my best accounting). Keep in mind we DO have to charge tax so even the 9.99 books are more like $11 for our students. $4.99 is more like $6. There were ONLY 8 books, and no-- not ones that students wanted to purchase-- for $3.99. Obviously Follett’s sweet spot is 5.99 - 7.99……..which for more affluent schools may be just right. There were almost twice as many books OVER $10 as there were that students could buy with a $5 bill.

We overheard students saying “It is cheaper on Amazon” and how can I fault them from watching their pennies? We had VERY few teacher sales, and normally my teachers are big supporters.

Bottom line with sales, this was my worst Book Fair sale in 15 years.

Rewards: One key incentive for me to try Follett was the rewards offered. We make so little on our fairs that Scholastic’s cash option is little incentive, but their Scholastic dollars are simply frustrating to me. Everything in the “catalog” is overpriced or things we do not need. I searched this year to see if we could buy databases or classroom magazines, but no those are not options. I loved that I could get Follett rewards and use them on Titlewave for fairly priced library bound books! This is what I would consider a strength for Follett and something Scholastic needs to improve.

Bottom Line: Reflecting on the fair, I try to remember that Follett in the Book Fair world is still a newer company. They have something great and with a little improvement I would book a fair with them again. If I had different demographics and students could afford the book prices I would book a Follett Book Fair again. I am glad they got into the game and gave Scholastic some competition. I hope that BOTH companies continue to improve over the coming years. For next year, I will be returning to Scholastic. The bargain books and book prices were a deal breaker for me. Follett is a better fair for the LIBRARIAN but right now Scholastic seems to be a better fair for the STUDENTS, and I do this for the kids.

I asked Follett and Scholastic to contribute to this post and share what makes them unique. These are their responses.

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