Barefoot Books was launched in 1993, by Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland. Nancy wanted to stay at home with her first baby. She had a degree in Business and had worked in Design as well. Tessa Strickland had been an editor at Penguin and Random House. Together, they came up with the idea of launching a publishing house for children’s storybooks with art-quality illustrations that would encourage multiculturalism.
They started out their venture as a home-based business in England, but seven years later, Nancy grew tired of flying around the world to book fairs with her four children in tow, all under the age of 6. She moved to the United States to expand the business and now operates out of their US publishing house in Cambridge, Massachusets. Barefoot Books now has its own bookstores in Concord, Massachussetts, and Oxford, UK, along with the Barefoot Books Boutique at FAO Schwartz in New York City.
This multicultural publisher has titles in Spanish, English and French and also publishes bilingual books. Some include a CD with the songs or the words of the story, which reinforces the learning experience for young readers.
The books were initially sold through a variety of channels, including national book retailers. Unsold books were returned to the warehouse, oftentimes damaged, so Nancy and Tessa decided to pull out of the large chain bookstores.
Today, there are over 7,000 Ambassadors, who come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and many are multicultural and bilingual, such as Monica Paredes. Monica is a writer, photographer, and yoga teacher. She stumbled upon Barefoot Books after her son, Gabriel Alejandro, was born. She and husband, Pedro, read the bilingual or Spanish books to him. Monica also used the self-improvement titles at her yoga classes for children.In 2003 Barefoot Books launched its Ambassador Program, through which grandparents, parents, teachers, or anyone else can sell the books for a profit and incentives, such as free titles and discounts.
“I became a Barefoot Books Ambassador in 2009 after calculating the enormous amount I was spending for their books for my kids’ yoga classes,” she says. “Even in my Parent & Toddler Yoga Classes, it is important to include books that complement my lesson themes, whether it’s about nature or a different culture. Barefoot Books were my go-to selections in my library, especially the ones with musical CDs included.”
Her initial reason to sign up as an Ambassador was to obtain a discount on the books for her classes, but when parents started to ask her where they could get the books, she saw the opportunity. She is very happy that she did.
“Since then, I have hosted book parties for my moms club and have held several big book fairs for independent schools. In all of these instances, I had to only mention the books and my enthusiasm was so infectious, I felt as if I never had to market my events or myself. Many people were already familiar with the books through my yoga classes or somewhere else.”
Monica likes that the books tell about different countries, other religions, and the natural world through engaging and interactive storytelling.
“Mostly I appreciate Barefoot Books in other languages, such as French and Spanish. We own every Spanish title in our home. When my son first began reading at the age of 3, Spanish words were easier to read and say because it is a phonetic language. Also, since starting my Barefoot Books business, I have not had to purchase any more books for our library.”
She recommends becoming a Barefoot Books Ambassador to busy moms who need a flexible schedule. The books may be sold at events, home parties, book fairs or even simply through a website, as an online sales business.
“Schools like the fundraising aspect, libraries like that the books are so unique and can’t be found in bookstores. Many language programs appreciate the selection of books in Spanish and French, and various cultures and churches like the variety of niche books. It is important to know your audience—their age group, interests, culture and economic challenges, which will help you select the right books that will sell well.”
Best of all, according to Monica, you don’t have to be a pushy salesperson to make Barefoot Books work for you.
“You can start small with just your circle of moms, and as you get more comfortable, you can approach schools and libraries and even have a booth at a farmer’s market. The possibilities go as far as your imagination,” she says.
Direct sales are a great opportunity for self-driven women to supplement their income or even make a living. To make your business thrive, it helps to have a passion for your product. If you love reading to your kids, Barefoot Books may be a good fit for you.