Another Profitable Year at the Seforim Sale
The annual YU Seforim Sale is one of the largest events on campus each year. This year, the sale lasted from February 1st to March 1st, which was a week longer than the 2014 sale. According to Seforim Sale CFO Nathaniel Kukurudz, this year’s sale generated $722,000 in revenue, down about $10,000 from the 2014 sale. However, Kukurudz projects a similar net income to the 2014 sale, which was $46,000, but it is too soon after the sale to determine the exact net income. Coming off a profitable 2014 sale, the management of the sale hoped that the sale would grow in 2015 due to some of the changes made, but the revenue and income remained stagnant. Nonetheless, it was a positive sign that the sale was profitable in consecutive years, which was not always the case.
After losing $57,000 in 2013, the Sy Syms faculty began to advise the student leadership on how to best manage the sales’ finances. Last year, Professor Leonard Fuld advised the sale as part of a Sy Syms course, and this year, Sy Syms Associate Dean and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Michael Strauss was the faculty liaison to the sale. “Dean Strauss was presented the budget and major expenses, which he approved and contributed great inputs to. I speak for the team when I express our thanks to him for all his help,” said Kukurudz. Having the Syms faculty as part of the team has helped the Seforim Sale become profitable once again.
Planning the sale requires months of preparation and a committed management team to ensure that the sale runs profitably and efficiently. The Seforim Sale management team started planning for this year’s sale at the beginning of the academic year. They coordinated with various YU departments, determined what titles to stock, coordinated with over 200 vendors to receive merchandise, set pricing, and worked on the budget for the year’s sale .
The management team allocated money from the previous year’s sale in order to ensure that the sale would have enough cash to pay the various upfront costs incurred during the planning stages. This year, the sale faced an expense they did not face in years past; the furniture used in the sale had been made available at a lower price due to the generosity of donors, but this year the sale had to pay about $7,000 upfront to pay for the rental. This type of expense is covered from money saved from last year’s sale and allows the sale to operate without going into debt. Another key method that management used to remain debt-free was by exclusively selling merchandise on consignment. This arrangement minimizes upfront costs for stocking books. As part of their agreement, the books remained property of the author, publisher, or distributor until they are sold. Once sold, the Seforim sale remits a pre-negotiated sum to the publisher. Additionally, at the end of the sale, and extra books are shipped back to their owners, ensuring that the sale is never left with inventory.
The Seforim Sale’s prices remained cheaper than even some of the largest booksellers, including Amazon.com. For example, a copy of Shlomo Brody’s newly released book, Guide to the Complex, which retails for $29.99 on the publisher’s website and about $25.00 on Amazon, was priced at $20.59 at the Seforim Sale. According to Kukurudz, “The main reason our prices are so competitive is because of the incredible relationships we have fostered over the years with our many suppliers, who understand our mission, and thus make every effort to provide us with their most competitive prices.” Another reason the sale is able to maintain low prices is because of the low staffing and overhead costs. Though the sale employs over 100 people, most of the people working at the sale, including the Section Managers and cashiers, work as volunteers and are given a $300 gift certificate to the sale as a gift. This allows the sale to remain profitable while offering low prices and enables the sale to hire a large staff, contributing to its effective customer service. When talking about the volunteers, Kukurudz said, “What we give them in no way does justice to all they contribute to the store.”
Each year, the sale attempts to identify new opportunities to grow and increase sales. One of the ways the sale hoped to grow this year was through the expansion of online ordering. Under the direction of sale CTO Ari Hagler, the sale introduced a new point-of-sale system that integrated the sale’s in-store inventory with online orders. This new system decreased the sale’s technology and credit card processing fees, while allowing for growth in online orders. This year, the sale generated $47,000 of sales online, which represented 6.5% of total sales. Though this did not represent such a high proportion of sales it year, it was a significant increase from previous years’ orders. Kukurudz added, “We are projecting online sales to make up an increasing amount of the total sales in the coming years. Our current model necessitates an expansion and we see it as coming from our tapping fresh markets in states beyond New York and New Jersey.” Because of the online ordering, the sale was able to deliver merchandise to California, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In a year plagued with as many snowstorms as this one, the online shopping option was also beneficial to local customers, providing them with an alternative way to shop. Additionally, having a strong online presence helped the sale’s overall visibility, and provided additional publicity.
The sale also hoped to increase sales through new marketing strategies and product offerings. Altaras began working on a gift card campaign around Chanukah to sell Seforim Sale gift cards. Additionally, the sale reintroduced a music section and began selling more non-Seforim items as a way to diversify its product offerings to attract more customers. “Every year, we face the challenge of re-introducing ourselves to the scene and making people aware that we are back, and the music and Judaica offerings, which we had stopped a couple years ago, were used in our marketing efforts in that regard,” said Kukurudz. Though neither of these departments contributed a significant amount to this year’s sales, there is hope that the foundation established at this year’s sale will grow these departments in future years.
Summing up the sale’s accomplishments, Kukurudz said, “We are proud to have again produced a significant profit, cementing our positive turnaround. This is even though the nature of this Sale is not to maximize profit, but to serve the community with the best prices on Jewish books, serve YU with publicity and bragging rights, and also serve the student body by giving the profit back to them.” The sale once again proved that it is operating with a sustainable model that will allow it to be profitable and grow in future years.