- After George Floyd’s death, Danny Caine, the owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, said he “didn’t want to be silent,” so he announced on Instagram that his store would donate a part of a day’s sales. to anti-racist research and two bond funds.
- The 33-year-old store broke its sales record that day.
- The bookstore’s campaigns supporting Black Lives Matter and attacking Amazon have made Raven a nationally recognized brand that now sells in all 50 states.
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On a hot Tuesday in May, Danny Caine’s Twitter feed filled with a video of George Floyd’s dying breaths during an arrest by Minneapolis cops.
On social media, he saw the outrage and protests, but at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, the streets were quiet. Like thousands of other businesses closed across the country, the store Caine owns, called the crow bookstore, has been temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Caine said he knew he “didn’t want to be silent.”
“An image from 2020 is scrolling on Twitter and is horrified,” Caine said. “Selling books is inherently political. I wanted to use my business and my platform to create a fairer and more equitable world.”
A few days later, Caine announcement that his shop would donate 5% of a day’s sales to the Center for Antiracist Research and two bond funds in Kentucky and Kansas City. The store raised a total of $ 1,730 and broke its sales record that day.
Caine says this kind of customer support has kept the Raven alive as small businesses across the country struggle to compete with Amazon, currently valued at. $ 1.6 trillion, and like 100,000 American companies have closed since the start of the pandemic. As the busiest shopping season of the year peaks this weekend, the remaining small businesses are working in a crowded shipping landscape to fulfill customer orders by December 25.
As the Raven’s 20,000 Instagram followers and 15,000 Twitter followers know, the store has doubled its campaigns against Amazon and its efforts to support the USPS and Black Lives Matter this year. Amid daily photos of store cats or quirky products, this work has raised the profile of the crow far beyond its own city. Sales are on the rise, as are press appearances and the number of employees; the pandemic-induced pivot to e-commerce has revealed customers in all 50 states.
“A lot of people pay attention to what the Raven is doing and it’s a privilege I don’t want to waste,” Caine said. “Staying silent is not an option, I feel compelled to use the platform for good.”
Business is political
For many business owners, advocacy can be personally rewarding, but it’s also a smart strategy. Brands that support social causes are more popular with consumers, said Tülin Erdem, professor of commerce and marketing at the Stern School of Business at New York University.
“Consumers want to choose brands that reflect their own values,” said Erdem, whose survey of thousands of Americans has shown that quality products, treatment of employees and aligned values are important to buyers. “The most authentic brands are those that have always embraced causes,” she said.
By the time Caine was hired as a bookseller at The Raven in 2015, the store had already built a reputation for expressing itself. Original owners Mary Lou Wright and Pat Kehde – who opened the business in 1987 to specialize in mysteries – publicly opposed the arrival of a new Borders bookstore in town in the late ’90s and protested against the Patriot Act in 2001, Caine said.
Since purchasing the Raven in 2017, Caine’s advocacy has matured beyond what he described as “photos from books with witty captions.” Its most recent campaigns are linked to the financial success of the store, ensuring a sustainable future for the company and its advocacy. He will promote books for sale under the banner “reading is resistance” or offer to donate a portion of sales to a cause. After all, if the business fails, so will its efforts to make changes.
A tipping point in Raven’s national profile came in April 2019 when Caine took to Twitter, fed up with hearing a comment from a customer that Amazon’s prices were lower. His first tweet in the thread, which explained why independent bookstores can’t afford to sell at Amazon prices, has been retweeted over 24,000 times, garnered over 50,800 likes and got him in a rush. . The Chicago Tribune. He then turned those tweets into a 16-page zine titled “How to Resist Amazon and Why” which sold 10,000 copies for $ 3 each online and in bookstores around the world.
“Pat has spoken to newspapers and has done so through editorials,” Caine said, referring to the store’s co-founder. “And I do it through Twitter and zines, but they’re just different ways of doing the same advocacy.”
This advocacy helped keep the bookstore afloat during a catastrophic time for small business owners. Sales at the Raven have increased 10% to 20% this year and since the start of the pandemic, customers in all 50 states have placed orders online, according to documents viewed by Insider. Caine also hired more booksellers, but declined to share the exact 12-person business income figures.
“One of the reasons people like to support small businesses is because they are clear about their values and what they stand for,” Caine said. “And we have found a truly united community through this advocacy.
—Raven Book Store #SaveTheUSPS ✉️ (@ravenbookstore) April 17, 2019
Define your “store voice”
Entrepreneurs who wish to take advantage of this type of support should start by examining the issues that affect their community, said Karen Narefsky, lead organizer for Fair Economic Development at Association for the development of neighborhoods and housing, who works with small business advocacy groups in New York City.
Caine says he’s compelled by the issues that plague his friends, fellow activists and other small business owners. Salute efforts to oppose Amazon educate customers on the economic reasons why they should support a threatened business model that has an emotional impact for many – the independent bookstore. Anti-racism activism resonates with customers and staff, and the USPS is a crucial partner for small business owners who depend on shipping and online sales.
“Once you’ve developed your community’s values and your business values, try to express them as loudly and persistently as possible, and you’ll find a community that supports that,” Caine said.
Narefsky advises relating a cause to a feeling. “I think any successful campaign is going to touch people emotionally,” she said. “A lot of people already have an emotional association with small business, so people can build on that to get people involved.”
However, not all campaigns have to be a call to arms. In July, the Raven published a 52-page zine titled “The sound and the purry“Written pointedly by one of the cats in the bookstore” using a visionary automatic writing technique called “Nap on the Keyboard,” “the website says. All profits from the sale of the zine are shared among the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Lawrence Humane Society.
“Advocacy is part of the store’s voice, but the funny jokes on the [store’s] cats, ”Caine said. “It’s important to use the platform to stand up for good, but it’s also important to give people a feel for the Raven without them being there – that has been a strategy for me this year.