Monday, December 18, 2006

Trying not to ruin Christmas

We kind of assumed that customer orders would start easing up this week as we get closer to Christmas Day - but they are still coming in thick and fast. This presents us with two worries: 1) will the orders themselves arrive before the big day, and 2) what to say on the phone when the books come in. The first problem is fairly straightforward. Aside from the wholesaler (where an order typically comes in within a day or two, if it's in stock), we source books from a variety of other sources. Since mid-way through last week, if an order isn't in stock with the wholesaler, and we have to go elsewhere, then we've adopted a "best endeavour" approach to fulfillment (i.e. we'll do everything in our power to get the book in, but it might just not make it). At this point there's a bit of a struggle in the mind of the customer, depending on whether they'll take a risk on the delivery date versus how likely it is that they might get the book elsewhere. The second problem is handled through the patent-pending Mostly Books Customer Order Master File in which we record any complex instructions for phoning up once the book comes in (e.g. "now, if my husband/wife answers the phone, give them your name, but don't mention the shop, and just say that 'the item' has arrived and is awaiting collection." or "if it's before Wednesday next week, phone this number, but after Thursday you'll need to phone my son, but don't leave a message if you get his answering machine"). For the last few weeks, whenever I've been making phonecalls, I have had in the back of my mind that I have the power, if not to ruin Christmas, at least make a dent in the overall enjoyment factor. Back when we first opened, a customer ordered one of our Penguin-design deckchairs. When it arrived, muggins here left a message on the answering machine to the effect that "your deckchair has arrived" then, realising there was a note about it being a birthday gift, compounded the problem several minutes later by phoning up and leaving another message to apologise for blowing the gaff. Just in case the first message was missed...this experience left an indelible impression on me about the importance of not blowing the gaff where presents are concerned. Talking of not ruining Christmas, this morning was a bit touch-and-go about the shop opening at all. Whilst no-one has ever said as much, I've kind of picked up on the fact that not opening your shop is one of the major no-nos in retailing at any time - let alone one week before Christmas. What had happened was this. Last week Alex got a nasty 24 hour bug, but when Nicki and I went down with it over the weekend, things looked pretty grim, particularly as a) we knew none of our staff were able to make it on Monday, and b) we'd hyped up today's storytime as being the last one this year. Without going into the gory details, I managed finally to get to sleep at about 3am, and to be honest when Alex woke up at 05.30 this morning I can safely say there are times when I've felt better. However, with hastily arranged babysitting (courtesy of Nicki's Mum and Sister) we struggled down to the shop and opened at about 9.02. Nicki had to leave at just after 10 - and when at 10.30 four little children had turned up for storytime, I had to explain to them and their parents that it wasn't going to happen. However, at this point the bookselling gods smiled on us. In what was a very busy day, by a curious quirk of footfall fate, no-one else (aside from postie) came into the shop for 20 minutes. Asking their parents to watch the front of shop for me, I rolled out the big storytelling rug, and we did the show right there. Relying on some old stalwarts: v.hungry caterpillar, dear zoo, dinosaur roar and owl babies, and finishing with some liberally dished-out chocolate santas, I returned to the till just as the next customer came in. Perfect. I almost feel Christmassy. Or at less a heck of a lot better than I was feeling last night... Anyway, the last big event before Christmas is the joint bookgroup Christmas meeting this Wednesday evening. We'll be discussing Amelie Nothomb's "Fear and Trembling", then having some appropriate festive celebrations. It'll be a nice end to the year, and Nicki and I are looking forward to it...

1 comment:

  1. alastair11:45 PM

    I think it is best to go for a reasonable endeavours policy not a best endeavours. Best endeavour might mean driving up the motorway and dragging the wholesaler out of bed with a shotgun.

    Have a Very Happy Christmas. Its a great shop.

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