Saturday, July 01, 2006

Better than we could have wished for

Well, the doors are locked, the till is closed. It's been a quite incredible day. Despite the lack of sleep and the emotional rollercoaster of the past 48 hours, I'm still very much 'up', so for everyone who has read this blog, followed us and sent their good wishes over the past few months, here's a proper blog entry with pictures and all about what happened on our first day.

After our 1am finish this morning, I returned to the shop for 8am. The credit card machine had yet to be plugged in, there was still cardboard and sacks of rubbish dotted around the place and - most importantly - there were still books in boxes. Our personal heroes Paul and Karen were also back in the shop, and they set about the books whilst I set about sweeping, carrying out cardboard to the car, and wrestling with the till float and HSBC as the seconds ticked by up to 9am.

The one thing we'd focused on the night before was getting the window ready - and there had already been a few people peering in whilst I stood behind the till.

I got increasingly nervous, and felt like I was going to be sick when I opened the door at 9am. (That slight grimace isn't fooling anyone...)

The first person into the shop was the postman (Roger) after about 5 minutes, who welcomed us to the street and wished us all luck. Then about 15 minutes later we had our first proper visitor (I think her name was Angela - I was a bit out of it, I must admit). She was a bit puzzled because the shop had been a cookware shop the day before. She looked around the shop, enthused about it, bought a book. She said some wonderful things about what we had done and what we were trying to achieve. In my weakened, slightly sick state I was a bit overwhelmed, but this was exactly what Nicki and I needed to hear.

It was a great start, and things just got better as the day went on. Our ploy was to sidle up to visitors and offer them some champagne as it was our first day - it worked a treat.

As the day wore on and the heat became more oppressive people started turning down the champagne in favour of water. We had a steady trickle of visitors, many of whom were as excited as we were about there being a new bookshop in Abingdon. One lady came in with her family and so enthused about the shop she phoned her husband, and they spent half an hour piling books up on the counter to buy, as well as and giving us lists of things we might want to stock (she's a teacher). Someone volunteered to come in and do toddler readings once a week (we took her name - thanks Belinda). Two people asked about part-time work. We took customer orders, people bought cards, mugs - and the cookware sold as well. Someone enquired about the deckchairs - did they do them with a Pride & Prejudice design? If they did - could they have one? We'll pass it on to the supplier.

There was a lot of things we didn't do - the Gaggia coffee machine never got set-up properly, but it was so hot offering cold drinks seemed much more appropriate. Nicki's parents and her sister Karen helped Paul and Karen sort out the sci-fi from the chick-lit, and the fiction shelves started taking shape as *all* we managed to do the night before (apart from still building shelves and opening and checking around 1000 titles) was get them on the shelf in no particular order. However, this didn't deter the shoppers who seemed to enjoy rummaging around while the shelves gradually took on some proper order throughout the day. Paul took on the role of "genre policeman", looking for offending rogue titles in the wrong section. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management under 'crime fiction' was a particularly heinous offender. Nancy Mitford's biography of Madame de Pompadour under chick lit was perhaps understandable given the heat/lack of sleep).

Nicki and I were stunned with the comments, but mostly we were stunned because people did seem to actually find things they wanted to buy and then we had to remember our Gardners training and work the till. Several times books which we had hand picked for table displays, or face-outs on shelves got, well, bought. I can understand some of the comments from Andy Laties and Anna Dreda now - as sometimes we felt like saying "excuse me, you can't buy that, it's a book we took a lot of time over and it looks just perfect where it is". In fact sales went so well the credit card machine blew up (OK, it was probably more down to the searing temperatures). Luckily it wasn't until about 4.30 and the football had started, as despite HSBC's heroics from their Indian call centre, it will never work again and we'll be getting a new one Tuesday. The customer whose card failed decently emptied the contents of her purse onto the counter, and I ran it through staff discount to make sure she could afford it.

Considering we weren't exactly sure we were ready for customers so deliberately avoided any marketing activities at all, we simply could not believe that there was hardly a moment in the day when there wasn't someone in the shop. Where did they all come from? It was the hottest day of the year, Wimbledon and the football were on and the rest of the town centre looked deserted. Thanks to every customer who came in and made our first day so exciting. We now have absolutely no idea how we will manage to sell coffees as well as books on a Saturday if we get that busy again. And the challenge now will be to try to get anywhere near that many people in every week, not just when it's new and exciting - and during the week. (But we've got lots of ideas.)

We finally closed up shop around 5.30. We'd sold books, as well as assorted cards, wrapping, mugs and cookware. Hooray particularly to Charlie and Lola, Rainbow Fairies, Captain Underpants and Jilly Cooper - her latest straight out the door in hardback. Admittedly, lots of sales were to family and friends who turned out in force to support us (thanks also for the champagne and cake, Jackie, it was about the only thing we ate all day), but we'd sold some great books, which just gave us enormous pleasure. We are elated, we are exhausted. We are stunned by the long way we have to go and the work still needed on the shop - this is just the start, and we've got to do the whole show again without a team of helpers. But most of all, we have a bookshop - and we're booksellers. It still doesn't seem real.

8 comments:

  1. Well done all of you, it sounds fantastic and it looks great. Just one tiny thing and what do I know .. but in the long run, I think you will have to get rid of that cookware. Not the great mugs, I buy every one of those they make, not the deckchairs..but . pots and pans ? I must get to Abingdon and sample the coffee.. NOT on a Saturday

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  2. Fantastic news! Congratulations.

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  3. Brilliant and lucky old Abingdon to have you there.
    The shop looks perfect and I like the idea of Mrs Beeton in the crime section, all that collared tongue and devilled kidneys stuff.

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  4. Himupstairs8:47 PM

    Well Done,

    It must be scary to strike out alone with no saftey net; but also exciting. The place looks great, good luck both of you.

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  5. Congratulations and all the best.

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  6. Well done, it looks marvellous! Hooray indeed; welcome to the club.

    The shop really looks gorgeous, I hope you are very proud of yourselves. Not sure re Susan's comments about the pots and pans? If they are fabulous pots and pans, then why not; it adds to your quirkiness, and although I can't remember now where I read this, there's a bookshop somewhere that has yoga mats by the Mind, Body, Spirit section; cookware by the cookery; childrens toys... etc etc, you get the drift. Oh, and I've even remembered where I read it, it was one of Judy Piatkus' pieces in the Bookseller about a wonderful bookshop in America. I know that if I had more space I'd sell things other than books; other products have so much more generous mark-ups and actually help us make a living! I think thoughtful and creative diversification is the way to go, so long as books remain the 'raison d'etre.

    Deeply impressed that you have a Gaggia machine by the way! Going for the best of everything, and why not!

    I'm so pleased and excited for you, and I think your blog has been really fascinating and a brilliant way to keep us all in touch.

    With very best wishes,

    Anna.

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  7. Thanks for all the supportive comments. After crashing on Sunday (well, we did *some* bookshop stuff Sunday evening) the worry was that Monday might have had an element of "after the Lord Mayor's Show". We needn't have worried - we had a small but significant number of customers both on Monday and today. Crucially, it's still been a lot of fun.

    I think there is still a lot of curiosity value (people walking past and doing a double-take) and a large proportion of our visitors come in looking a little bemused that the shop is now "full of books".

    We've sorted the books much better now, so some more photos tomorrow. And if BT finally get broadband sorted on Thursday as they say, our first in-shop blog should follow on Friday...

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