Before You Arrest Us, Would You Care to Buy a Book?!

UNC Press recently partnered with the Kenan-Flagler Business School to combine bookselling and leadership training for a group of MBA students. We were delighted by the students’ approaches to the challenge, and of course were thrilled to have a hardcore two-day sales team. One of the participants, Anthony Lewis, describes his experiences in this fantastic guest post. Thanks to Kenan-Flagler for creating this project, and thanks to all the participating students for your enthusiasm, your energy, your diligence, your leadership–and the book sales!–ellen

Read any good books lately? Why not crack the cover of Real NASCAR, a book that describes the “riveting yet controversial history of NASCAR”? Better yet, why not help my group market and sell 300+ of these books to strangers throughout America! And oh yeah, we only have 36 hours (tick tock). Crazy you say?!? No not crazy! This is “par for the course” in Leadership Immersion Land. That was the gist of our Apprentice-style challenge. In partnership with UNC Press, my MBA classmates and I were “broken down”….umm I mean broken into four groups to help the University publishing company develop and refine its marketing strategy. Each group was responsible for selling a book somehow tied to UNC or the state of North Carolina. The books ranged from a photography book of  UNC’s campus, to a book documenting last year’s Tarheel Basketball championship journey, to a BBQ recipe book, to Real NASCAR.

This was a seemingly “lose-lose” endeavor. One Monday morning we were handed 4 books we had never seen, and told, as a group, we should be able to reasonably sell 1000-1500 copies in all! Sheesh! My first thought was what have I gotten myself into; will these Leadership Immersion “Apprentice-Style Challenges” turn out to be futile experiments or edifying investments? Turns out the latter!

We were thrown in to an abyss of ambiguity that we had to strategically navigate our way out of. This took facing fears, taking on responsibilities, not over-thinking, and coordinating a sound strategy (tick and tock)! Beyond calling every enthusiast group, track gift shop, racing association, and motorsport hall of fame, my group ended up going off campus because our book had “range.”

We went to Winston-Salem, and outside of my teammate Kristin’s run-in with the law for not having a permit to sell on the street and our group’s donut of a sales effort in downtown Winston, it was surprisingly awesome! You haven’t lived until you’ve made the strategic decision to cold call 1000 Trails Camping LLC’s gift shop in Advance, NC for a possible bulk order, tried to sell 10 books to your mother, considered tipping the Hooters girl $25.86 (the book price + tax) if she buys a book, and almost gotten tossed in the Winston-Salem paddy wagon along the way. No Book Sale, No Peace!

In the end, our group was able to get 4 All-Star race tickets donated to us for raffling purposes, individually we were forced to overcome an ambiguous problem while confronting individual fears and insecurities associated with the task. We didn’t win the competition (must be nice to sell a photography book) but ended up selling 103 books!

As a whole, the class made UNC Press $13,000 richer over the course of three days, and I have a new appreciation for the NASCAR history and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s ability to take such an ambiguous exercise and tactically use it to enlighten one of the most intelligent, creative and ambitious groups I’ve ever been a part of!  Thank you Leadership Immersion for handing us the lemons; I hope you enjoyed the lemonade as thoroughly as we did. Also, thank you for the bail money (just kidding–no one served any time for the solicitation of Real NASCAR)!

Anthony Lewis
MBA student
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School