The bookstore industry in Nairobi, Kenya has seen significant growth in recent years driven by an expanding middle class and increasing interests in reading both for education and leisure.
However, bookstores still face stiff competition from cheaper secondhand books as well as e-books and online retailers.
To successfully market a bookstore in this environment requires a nuanced understanding of local customers and creative approaches to positioning your store as an indispensable community resource.
By specializing in certain genres, hosting public events, or even just cultivating a welcoming atmosphere, Nairobi booksellers can differentiate themselves and thrive.
This article provides key considerations and proven techniques for promoting your independent bookstore in Kenya’s capital and largest city.
We discuss defining your target audience, harnessing social media, forming community partnerships, competing with online sales, and continually optimizing operations.
Whether you are planning to open a new store or boost an existing one, apply these marketing insights to engage more customers and cement yourself as a beloved neighborhood fixture in Nairobi.
Understanding your target audience
The first step to successfully marketing any business is understanding the target customer base.
This is especially crucial for bookstores in Nairobi catering to a diverse urban population.
Begin by asking questions to analyze and profile existing and potential shoppers:
Who are your most frequent current customers?
- Age, gender, occupation, interests/hobbies, location, shopping habits
- Identify common attributes to create customer avatars
What underserved audiences exist that your store can cater to?
- Students, parents, professionals, retirees
- Research expanding demographics in Nairobi
What are their motivations and desires?
- Education, knowledge, personal growth, entertainment, passion for reading
- Also consider availability, convenience, atmosphere
What genres and topics are in demand?
- Educational, professional development, business leadership, local authors
- Consider popularity of both fiction and non-fiction categories
How do customers prefer to shop for books today?
- Browsing shelves, seeking personalized recommendations, convenience of online
Once you understand your target customers, craft messaging and promotions tailored specifically to them.
- Offer study guides and test prep books
- Create study spaces and lockers for convenience
- Host family story time and book clubs
- Curate selections of children’s books and parenting guides
- Showcase career guides, business insider tips, biographies of industry leaders
- Host book signings of local authors, thought leaders, celebrities
- Cater to their hobbies with niche book categories and merchandise
Promote curated selections across all segments showcasing personalized picks based on interests
This deeper understanding of your customers also allows you to tailor store layout, events, community partnerships, and more to their preferences for an exceptional customer experience.
Creating awareness through social media
In today’s digital age, an effective social media presence is critical for building awareness and driving traffic for any local business, including bookstores in Nairobi.
With low barriers to entry and high potential reach, social media marketing should be a cornerstone of your strategy to promote your Nairobi bookshop.
With over 7 million users in Kenya, Facebook remains one of the most widely used platforms.
Create a Facebook Business Page for your bookstore to establish a consistent presence.
- Post updates showcasing new inventory and promotions
- Share visual content like book covers and photos of in-store events
- Go live with videos of author talks or children’s storytelling sessions
- Engage followers by asking questions, running polls, contests
Leverage Instagram to showcase your store’s aesthetics and highlight titles through an enticing visual feed.
- Post book cover images arranged creatively or themed to seasons/holidays
- Capture shoppers browsing beautiful book displays with great lighting
- Use Stories and Reels to give “behind-the-scenes” peeks at store operations
- Partner with “bookstagrammers” to promote your shop to their niche following
Although less visualize, Twitter enables real-time engagement with book lovers and writers.
- Tweet about newly arrived inventory and open box sales
- Share blog posts recapping successful author events
- Retweet and chat up local readers, reviewers, bloggers and book clubs
- Live tweet book club meetings, new releases, readings in the store
TikTok opens fun new creative avenues for bookstores through viral short videos.
- Film booksellers theatrically lip-syncing to audiobook clips
- Rapid fire “Guess this book based on emoji” challenges
- DIY book craft videos like book folding art
Cross-promote content across all platforms and make it easy for followers to transition from social media to actually visiting your store via consistent branding, location tags, and discount codes.
Partnering with schools and libraries
Beyond your everyday consumers, two major institutional partners exist in Nairobi for furthering the community impact and visibility of your bookstore – schools and libraries.
Schools present a strategic opportunity to promote reading and shape the next generation of book buyers.
Consider partnering with both private and public schools in the following ways:
- Sponsor reading programs and donate books to school libraries in low-income areas
- Offer discounted books and supplies lists for teachers and parents
- Host field trips to introduce school kids to the shop through storytelling hours
- Organize school-wide writing contests or art competitions with bookstore gift certificates as prizes
- See if schools will allow you to leave catalogues and flyers for parents or insert promos in newsletters
- Ask teachers to champion your store as a field trip destination or resource for projects
Equally important are public and university libraries.
Partnerships can raise your profile while providing valued services to library patrons:
- Sponsor library activities like summer reading initiatives with prize donations
- Co-host author talks, book clubs, or writing workshops
- Offer themed displays with relevant selections during awareness months or campus events
- Arrange for pop-up satellite shops or carts inside larger libraries
- Cross-promote services and coordinate special extended hours during key finals/exams periods
- Print discount coupons for the bookstore on library receipts
Affiliations with schools and libraries can pay dividends through increased local authority, promotion to captive audiences, and serving the greater community.
Make sure to track any resulting upticks in store traffic or sales.
Consider offering all teachers, librarians and administrators special “partner” discounts to further incentive positive referrals to your store.
Hosting events to attract customers
Beyond simply putting books on shelves, independent bookstores in Nairobi have found great success in positioning themselves as invaluable community spaces by organizing engaging public events.
Hosting author talks, writing groups, children’s programs, and more can significantly raise your store’s profile while attracting new customer segments.
Consider organizing recurring weekly events like:
- Local author speaking series – Give unpublished neighborhood writers a platform to share works-in-progress and connect with potential readers. Offer coaching workshops.
- Story time hours – Read children’s books aloud or organize storytelling activities perfect for parents and young kids.
- Coloring clubs – Provide pages, coloring supplies and refreshments for relaxing art therapy sessions.
- Board game nights – Encourage friends and families to play fun, literary-themed games at your shop.
Leverage major annual cultural events happening regionally for themed programming:
- Kenya Year of Reading 2023 – Spotlight local writers with panels tied to growth/education.
- February 14 Valentine’s Day – Romance novel readings, speed dating for book lovers events.
- June Shakespeare Day – Staged scenes from classic plays, sonnet writing contests.
Or celebrate major literary events globally:
- April 23 World Book Day – Free books for kids, author reading marathon
- April National Poetry Month – Poetry slam competition
- December Charles Dickens’ Birthday – Victorian Christmas tea, Dickens costume contest
Publicize all events through website listings, newspaper community calendars, social media, and partnerships with schools/libraries.
Offer attractive discounts or free limited edition merchandise to drive attendance. Capture photos and videos to promote on social afterward.
To further monetize events:
- Charge affordable entry fees with discounts for early registration
- Sell additional books or relevant merchat the event
- Raffle off donated items for charity or future program funding
- Recruit sponsors to assist with costs in return for event exposure
With creativity and cross-promotion, in-store events create opportunities to significantly boost book sales and awareness while cementing your shop as a beloved community anchor.
Competing with e-books and online bookstores
While the convenience of e-readers and online book shopping has increased access to literature globally, these digital formats still threaten the viability of physical bookstores worldwide.
As an independent shop owner in Nairobi targeting real-world foot traffic, you need strategies to co-exist and compete.
Counter the e-book trend by focusing on print’s remaining advantages:
- Highlight picking up tangible books as an immersive retail experience
- Enable browsing extensive curated selections not replicable virtually
- Leverage higher design aesthetics with beautiful covers and art
- Share the environmental benefits of paper books as more sustainable
- Offer personalized recommendations based on customer conversations
Still, you can gain by embracing e-readers to an extent through:
- Selling popular digital books as gift codes for local delivery
- Feature free preview excerpts via book sampling terminals
- Host e-reader training seminars or troubleshooting for seniors
- Support author e-book release events with online audience participation
When competing with major online retailers like Amazon or eKitabu, lean on strengths of being a local Nairobi store:
- Provide stronger curation to local readers’ interests
- Offer faster delivery and order pickup flexibility
- Enable community connections between local authors and readers
- Host in-person events and activities unavailable virtually
Promote these benefits aggressively through all marketing channels along with the importance of sustaining local businesses.
Offer discounts or loyalty programs for customers that purchase a certain number of print titles yearly.
Seek local media coverage positioned as an underdog keeping community spirit alive versus faceless global conglomerates.
If you later decide to sell online, maintain focus on the in-store experience as your prime differentiator.
With creativity and tenacity, neighborhood bookstores can certainly withstand the digital onslaught.
To successfully market a bookstore in Nairobi, you must:
- Understand your target audience – Cater to students, parents, hobbyists by featuring niche inventory
- Harness social media – Establish strong presence across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok
- Partner with schools/libraries – Sponsor programs and host field trips to promote reading
- Host public events – Author talks, writing clubs to position as community space
- Leverage strengths as a local shop – Faster delivery, connections between readers and writers