Admit it, every reader has a secret hankering to own their own book shop, I know I do! So when I friend of mine told me she was planning on opening one I practically begged to help her set it up … ok, not practically, embarrassingly!
Luckily I had some time off which coincided with her getting the keys to her new shop and she took pity on my BookEating self and said I could help out a bit. So here’s the secrets behind the glamour!
The book shop is Woodbridge Emporium … a lovely and unique venture. My friend, Jules Button, has owned successful retail businesses before so I have absolute faith in her abilities. She knew straight away that this wasn’t a venture that would be successful without a good team and she got that into place immediately. Her daughter Jessie is the shop manager, she also has two other staff members that she’s worked with before and knows she can trust. Together the team span the generations and have a wealth of knowledge and variety of expertise so they should be able to serve every customer well.
But of course the staff is only one part of the experience and what customers really want is to find things they want to buy! Jules realised that she would need to offer more than books if she was going to have a profitable shop. This was already a bookshop before she took it on but it sadly wasn’t very successful and taking on a failing business is an obvious risk. She needed to offer something completely different than was there before, but without putting off the customers that had stayed faithful! In a previous shop she had sold a selection of Mind Body & Spirit books so she already knew that the profit margin on books is much smaller than on most retail items. She began by adding in a gift section, this ties in nicely both with the books – as people often by books as gifts – and with the range of cards and wrapping papers already offered.
But her knowledge of the local area also led her to adding in an extra range – high quality loose teas! There are quite a few coffee shops and suppliers in the area but nowhere to get loose teas locally. And as we all know there’s nothing better than a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other!
There was a lot of hard work to be done before re-opening. Some of the problems the shop was suffering from before were cosmetic, I had been an occasional customer but the building always had a slightly damp and dingy feeling to it which made it hard to feel comfortable in for long. It doesn’t have big windows like most shops so there is little natural light. So the first thing the team did was to refresh the decor – outside the door and window frames were painted in the bright red and black of the new brand colours, the counter was moved to a new location, the old carpets were ripped out and replaced them with a light laminate wood floor, they repainted the walls in a bright white, added more shelves, added a red trim to each bookshelf, used blackboard paint and chalk to make directional signs and got a lot of extra lighting put in. Now it’s easy to read the blurbs on the backs of the books!
The other major task was to go through the stock that came with the business and this was the part she let me help with. The first day she set me to going through the books in the stock room to see which were worth keeping, which might sell well online and which should be given away. I quickly discovered that there were some books that were unlikely to sell particularly in the quantities there were. Jules wisely decided that these could go into lucky dips for customers on the opening weekend.
After the back up stock was sorted I was allowed out to play with stock already on the shelves. You know when you go into a book shop that you’ll find different genres on different shelves, but have you ever stopped to think how long it takes to get those shelves so neatly ordered? The Woodbridge Emporium has around 10 thousand books, which is about average for an independent book shop, I organised and reorganised those books four times in the run up to the opening! I promise it’s not because I’m an idiot but until the first organisation was done it was impossible to see where we had too many books or where we didn’t have enough. And as we were adding new genres and wanted the shop to have a natural flow so that lovers of one genre might notice books nearby that might also appeal to them, we had to play around quite a bit to get it looking good! For the record though, as an avid bookshelf organiser I loved every second of organising those shelves!
By now the shop was almost unrecognisable but Jules knew that more was needed to make sure the business would be a success. Publicity is vital for any new venture and Jules made sure there was plenty of it. She started a Facebook page and Twitter account before opening to keep potential customers up to date with developments, spoke to the local press and organised a big launch!
The shop was opened in the presence of the towns Mayor and Mayor-in-waiting by local author and actor Hugh Fraser.
There were balloons, free gifts a chance to sample the teas and the wonderful Hugh (best known as Captain Hastings in Poirot) stayed all day signing his books. (Read our review of his first book here.) Jules has since also been featured in the Bookseller Magazine.
The Woodbridge Emporium has been open for two weeks now and I’ve had the pleasure of popping in to help out a couple more times, yesterday I asked her what the perils and pleasures of the experience had been to date. It was no surprise to me that she admitted one of the biggest perils for any bookshop owner is the cost of the stock and the small profit margins available. The cost of stock is quite substantial and like any other business she has staff costs and rates etc to spend on top of that.
But what heartens me most is what she told me the biggest pleasure has been. She’s run lovely local retail businesses before but even though that’s true she said she’s never experienced the amount of support that she has with this venture. Customers have had wonderful things to say but she’s also received a lot of industry support. Publishers and authors have been in touch to offer help with events, suppliers have gone the extra mile and so have the Booksellers Association. All in all she’s very happy to have her own book shop and we’re very happy too!