Toby, King of Shops

On Monday, someone turned up at our shop at lunchtime, asking if we needed any help. I'm always up for extra help at this time of year - particularly if the person doesn't need paying - so I heartily agreed. He also stated that he had some 'trade experience', so - after taking off his coat and accepting a cup of tea - he set to work.
The visitor, of course, was Toby Mundy of Atlantic Books, and we had 'won' him for the day courtesy of a brilliant initiative from the Faber Alliance entitled "Hire a CEO". So how did it work out?

Well, Toby was hard-working, friendly and - I have to say - a crackerjack salesman. We had what might euphemistically be termed a 'busy day' on Monday, and there were plenty of people seeking help for gift ideas - and Toby was very happy to help out.

It turns out that he comes from a family of retailers, which definitely showed itself in the easy way he assisted customers in their purchases.

Toby also kindly stayed around, and we ran an evening event in a packed shop. He talked about the origins of Atlantic, the ethos (and philosophy) of independent publishing, and the opportunities that now exist for indie publishers as an unexpected consequence of the end of the Net Book Agreement (amongst many other things). As always, Gaskella has written up a vastly superior account of the evening on her blog, which I would suggest should be essential reading for anyone interested in publishing, retailing, or indeed anyone 'in the biz' if only as a refresher for things you *think* you know already...

For me, however, the chance to spend a day in the company of someone with such experience and perspective in the books industry was both hugely enjoyable, instructional - and absolutely priceless. During the course of the day Toby had comments to make on different aspects of the shop, from merchanising and stock selection to the and potential directions for the business in the future. All of these were made obliquely, and offered up with a genuine desire to help us do better. Nicki and I have already made some changes to the shop, and these have been having an impact.

For us, it was a bit like having a visit from "Mary Queen of Shops", and I hope this marks the start of a lasting relationship between us and Atlantic...


  1. Wow - that sounds like a wonderful and worthwhile day.

    Not that you weren't being incredibly innovative already of course - he'd need a genuinely bad bookseller to make really great TV! ; -)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours. Lx

  2. Looks as though you had a fantastic, if hectic, day.

    I definitely think that Toby's visit will have been much more beneficial than one by 'Queen Mary'. She would have rearranged your entire stock, ousted books which hadn't sold in the last week and upset all the staff, to boot!!! She is such an irritating person.

    Toby looks much more fun.

    Happy New Year to you all and hoping for your continued success in 2011.


  3. Although you have to say that Mary does get things done. And quite often subtlety just wouldn't cut it either as entertainment - or getting her points across to people entrenched in their ways!

    Happy New Year everyone - Mark