By: Judah Stiefel  | 

Seforim Sale Marks Third consecutive Year in the Black

For the third year in a row the Seforim Sale is in the Black, a massive achievement considering the fact that only four years ago in 2013 the sale had lost a not so insignificant $57,000. This tri-consecutive trend suggests that financially stable Seforim sales are the new reality. While the numbers are not finalized, according to the sale’s CFO Natanel Brakha, in 2016 the sales increased by approximately “10%” from last year despite the fact that the sale was an entire week shorter, or three weeks instead of four.

According to last year’s CFO Nathaniel Kukurudz, the 2015 sale generated $722,000 in revenue and a net income of “approximately $46,000,” which suggests that this year’s sales broke $50,000 in total revenue. The growth in sales is likely to attribute to the significant increase in transactions this year. According to 2016 CEO Nissim Franco, this year’s sale recorded approximately 6,600 transactions, many coming from the sale’s expanded online division.

The Seforim Sale’s dramatic turnaround from financial nuisance to successful business is due mainly to the incredible effort and diligence the sale’s managers have invested. According to Franco, the sale managers spent approximately 7 months preparing for this year’s 3-week sale. Each year the staff considers the various financial and management decisions of the previous years’ sales and attempts to add to and improve on them.

This process began between the 2013 and 2014 sales. Sy Syms Dean Michael Strauss pointed out that the sale had previously lacked process and business function while also having no real inventory or consignment. The sale is now run as a legitimate business, balancing its excellent pricing with financial stability. Beforehand the sale lacked even a website. Now it boasts an excellent one.

While the sale has acquired a new financial vigilance, it remains a 501(c)3, not for profit. “The main goal of the Seforim Sale is to make seforim available to as many people as possible,” says CFO Natanel Brakha. This mission was as apparent as ever this year as the sale used its online division to spread sales to shuls (synagogue) across the United States. For the first time the sale attempted to market to shuls in order to broaden its client base. “We offered a credit back program to shuls across the country where a shul receives 5% credit to the sale of every purchase their congregants make in their name. This encourages the shul to market the sale while increasing their desire to purchase from us in general.

“We also launched shul and wedding registries,” explained CEO Nissim Franko. This new program led to many more online sales and opened a wider range of people the sale reaches. Said Franco, “This was our best year yet for online sales perhaps due to our efforts in branching out. We strive to improve the website and online sales every year.” Chief Productions Manager Baruch Schonbrun ensured that online ordering went smoothly.

Of course, while the main goal of the sale is to sell as many seforim as possible, balancing pricing with responsible financial practices is very difficult. According to COO Sami Ginsburg, “We spoke a lot about what our markup for the year is going to be and went back and forth about whether we could go lower or if we had to go higher to cover costs.” Ginsburg continued, “at the end of the day a lot of our pricing depends on how good of a deal the vendors can give us.  If they give us the products for cheaper, then we sell it for cheaper.”

The positive relationships the sale has built with its more than 100 vendors have allowed the sale to maintain stability while keeping prices as low as possible. Being that as one would expect, the purchase of seforim is the sale’s largest expense, Sami emphasizes that the managers heavily consider sales and orders from previous years in order to select what to purchase and in what quantity.

This year saw many other creative initiatives to cut costs and raise sales. According to Dean Strauss, the sale offered a 5% discount to alumni during YU Basketball’s big home playoff game. As well, the number of student volunteers was cut due to the fact that at points during previous years’ sales, says COO Sami Ginsburg, “there were more floor managers at the sale than customers.”

Head floor manager Ofir Afenzar suggested future floor managers hire more than this year’s approximately 100 volunteers and also suggested there be more communication between volunteers and the board. To drum up more buzz, there was a great deal of advertising done for the sale.

Advertising was lead by Sarah Sheps, Head of Marketing. The sale advertised by placing ads in local papers, placing a large ad on YU Torah, and launching a Dan’s Deal, a website that highlights well priced sales.

Despite the healthy revenue of this year’s Sa’e, it was not without a bit of controversy over the decision refusal to sell Rav Kahana’s books, which even drew a minor, one man protest outside of Belfer Hall.

According to CEO Nissim Franko, “The Seforim Sale Board of this year and last made a collective decision with YU Administration that selling books containing content of Rav Kahane is not fit for the Yeshiva University crowd. There is a discussion every year whether certain seforim and books should be sold.”
This year’s successful Seforim Sale is due to the countless hours of work the managers put in to ensure the sale was fiscally stable while also true to its mission to spread seforim to as many people as possible at the best prices possible. Each year the managers seem to leave their own impacts on the sale. The dedication and innovation introduced each year suggests the sale will continue to see success in the future.