No turning back

It's been an exciting week as we finally have our grubby mitts on the lease and a verbal agreement to take over a shop in a rather innovative and exciting way that we hope will work well. We are going to take control and transition an existing shop over a 3-month period in a way that should ensure we can both continue to trade with no downtime for either of the shops, and will allow us to get to grips with learning the ropes before we make much of a song and dance about the fact we are there (I may have mentioned our lack of retail experience - this is one way to quickly plug that gap). In short, we have found a brilliant leaseholder who couldn't have been more helpful about helping us get started. (Sorry that we can't yet reveal where the bookshop is actually going to be - but there are still a few hurdles to negotiate, so bear with us for a few more weeks.) It was certainly all enough for us to realise this thing is going to happen, so first step was Mark letting his company know his plans, and give his notice. Cue a somewhat stunned silence, followed by lots of 'are you sure you're doing the right thing?' conversations. Probably not, but we're going to do it anyway. On a sad and worrying note we also got news this week that one recent bookshop start-up we'd been watching with interest has closed after less than a year's trading. It's a serious business to try to get things right. We realised how green we were about the whole thing when we vaguely mentioned we should get some bags sorted to put all our lovely sold books in when our friendly leaseholder pointed out it had taken her more than six months to get hers arranged. Oops. And we are opening on July 1. We had better start getting organised. So what are our first steps? Aside from the business admin part of things (company, bank account, etc.) we need to get an account set up with a wholesaler, and this ties in to the EPOS system that we will eventually get. No-one we've asked in the booktrade can agree on who is the market leader here, we've had recommendations for Bertrams, Gardners, THE, etc. and this usually goes hand-in-hand with the kind of stock management/ordering technology you select. So it's a big decision, we haven't really got the luxury of 'try before you buy'. (We have taken steps on an EPOS system as Mark is all keen to be computerised from day one. We are hoping to save some money and get a second hand one, but the person we were negotiating with has suddenly gone very quiet on us, so I hope that deal isn't going to fall through.) So we haven't been idle. Just a bit overwhelmed. We also need to decide on oh, small things like shelving (type/height etc) and get the whole thing fitted, although we are hoping to do this gradually and initally sell books alongside the current shop stock (this is the innovative bit I mentioned earlier). Then we have the fun/daunting task of deciding exactly what stock to put in. Here's your chance to live vicariously through us - what would you buy with £10,000 of the bank's money to spend on books? (That's something else for the list - negotiating a business loan with the bank) That's quite a list. And I haven't even started on the whole 'which font are we going to use' discussions in our house. And someone was asking how the no-book buying rule was going. Well, so badly, I may have to do a confessional soon just about how badly and get it off my chest in the next blog. WTS. Finally. Yes, there will be coffee. That's a definite. In fact, the way things are going and the tight deadline we have set ourselves there is a small that on the first day there will be coffee but no books. But hopefully we can get our act together and that won't be true by July 1! We are prepared for a very steep learning curve and plenty of mistakes along the way. But so far our experiences could not have been more positive, particularly in terms of the support and help from everyone who has heard of our venture. category tags: mbbookshop


  1. Hi Nicki
    Congratulations on getting so close to opening day. My son and his wife had an educational toyshop in Worcestershire for 3 years but have recently decided to carry on with just the internet business - the cautionary aspect of this, from your viewpoint - is that they just didn't get enough passing trade. Hopefully in Oxford you'll have a different experience, but it's worth calling in all the favours you can when it comes to publicity etc, and make sure it's ongoing, not just for the opening.

    My book, Scuba Dancing, is published by the Oxford based publisher Transita Ltd (they are also HowToBooks) and I'm sure they would be interested in talking to you. If you wanted any Transita authors to help out (mutual benefit!) I for one would be happy to do a signing.
    (And on a practical note, the Ikea Ivar shelving range works well. And if you have enough room for even a tiny coffee corner and perhaps a play area by the children's books, these can be a big attraction.)
    Good luck anyway, keep us posted.

  2. Good luck with the adventure ... the odds are always stacked up, no matter what we do, so we might as well just choose the things that are exciting and new. I think if there's the spirit and energy, anything is possible. I also believe people will always be attracted to services that have a personal touch ... and the Internet has not cracked that one yet. All the best.

  3. Dealing with customers face-to-face you are always going to find it easier to persuade people to buy books that the two of you really love. One problem with your "no new books" discipline is that you won't have read as many of the books that customers will be asking you about.

    Of course, when you get your stock you will be able to read that, if you are careful near the coffee.

    A small independent bookshop is not going to be able to compete with the big shops on and around Broad Street on either range or price so you will have to find other ways to add value. You will do that by knowing your stock, and making sure that it is all the best in its class, so that people can come in not knowing quite what they want to read, and leave with three or four books that they had not previously heard of, but which you know they will enjoy.

    So focus on the types of book that you usually read. If neither of you reads SF, then keep the SF section relatively small, with the obvious big names, but without too many less well-known authors. On the other hand if you both read crime, then you will know which authors to stock, and you can expand the section with all the underrated authors that you think customers will like, if they try them.

    You're probably in touch with the Oxford Times already. If not, drop me a line from the link on my blog and I will give you a name. Ditto, I think, for an indirect introduction to the owner of Wenlock Books.

    Good luck.