Lets talk about January

  … Lets talk about you and me. Lets talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.

Leanne just said to me… “there’s been some high points in January”, “Like what?” I enquire, for the purposes of the blog. *Blank face*. I suppose the high point is that we won’t have to work too hard next January to do better. I jest, every day is a joy in the shop, we’re still finding wonderful new customers who react with glee when they discover us and we had record numbers attending some of the classes and Book Club continues to be an invigorating experience.

January in retail is dire. Everyone knows this and why wouldn’t it be? Everyone overspent in December and are now seeing the enormous expanse that is the January Pay gap ahead of them. I’ve been warning Leanne since before we opened “December will be manic and January will be hideous”. Everyone warns you of this and every bookshop I’ve spoken to this month that kindly asks “How’s your shop going?” nods sympathetically in agreement. I think the issue with us is that we certainly didn’t double our takings in December so the cushion we were hoping for wasn’t there. It’s OK though, don’t panic (Mr Mainwearing!), what we do is ride it out and get busy engaging with schools.  

I guess it didn’t help me that my year began with a bit of a tour of amazing Bookshops. Upgrading their Till systems and performing stock takes with them. Starting at Sevenoaks Bookshop, I had a lovely couple of days there which I made full use of by visiting nearby Uni buddies and their children. The highlight of which was delivering and reading a shop favorite, the philosophical phenomenon “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse” by Charlie Mackesy. They very kindly listened intently to the whole thing.

 

Sometimes you need to spend a bit of time in a bookshop to get it’s essence. I knew Sevenoaks had a great reputation and know Fleur the owner well but being there on a Monday in January was a revelation. You start to understand what a real community bookshop offers and the value of longevity. It’s all about people. When you have a team of experienced booksellers bouncing ideas off each other for a customer recommendation and getting it right for them they will come back and Sevenoaks has had 70 years of trusting their Bookshop will get it right for them. I don’t care how good the algorithm is there’s nothing that will beat a conversation about books with someone that really understands. And the community respond with love and loyalty. Whilst I’m getting texts from Leanne about our worst day to date (we’ve since beaten it!) Sevenoaks Bookshop was heaving! You don’t match that kind of loyalty in 5 months of trading. Sevenoaks bookshop has been there decades and this was a real lesson to me NOT to panic. We are on an upward trajectory and that is all that matters.

Next on my UK tour was a Book-ish in Crickhowell, Wales. Since being lucky enough to enjoy a Booksellers conference in Detroit with Owner Emma Corfield-Walters and persuading her to take the system I support we have become close friends. I often get asked if I’d like to stay at fellow booksellers homes when I am on my travels but for the most part I don’t feel like I want to impose but Emma is such a welcoming person I stay there every time I visit now. Her family are so lovely and it’s lovely to be able to be so far from home but still feel at home. Hotel rooms can be pretty soul destroying. Emma’s shop is something else! It’s half incredible bookshop half incredible cafe (I have cravings for their sandwiches). Emma punches above her weight, Crickhowell is not a big place. You could walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes but Book-ish is smack bang in the middle and serves a much larger area in the Brecon Beacons. Emma consistently sells out huge Author events with over 300 attendees, arranges festivals and is on the board of the BA. She is possibly the hardest working bookseller I know and deserves the plaudits she receives. Crickhowell won High Street of the year 2019 and there’s no doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t have without Emma’s drive and determination. OK, Bookseller crush gush over. But seriously, go there. The place and the surrounding area is stunning.

After counting all of Emma’s books it was onwards to what is, in my view the finest pure bookshop in the world. I don’t say this lightly, I’ve been to a lot of bookshops worldwide but I know there are some amazing ones in other countries that might take the crown aesthetically. I go back to my previous comment about it being about people. Before I gush about the people, let me just say that Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath has got it right in every aspect. It takes your breath away. I’d not been since they renovated and expanded into next door and created a new children’s area last year. We actually took a lot more inspiration (although on a smaller budget!) from them than I realised, their moving eyes tree is genius and the Imaginarium is sublime. Back to the people. I remember visiting Mr B’s a few years ago and marvelling at one of their legendary Book Spa’s in action (such a clever, simple concept to offer in Bath). You talk to a bookseller in a Spa style environment about books, likes, dislikes etc and they then come up with a reading list for you which you can buy as part of the package. Hearing their team of expert booksellers talking books with each other in response to the spa is an education in itself. I am very aware now that I have been learning all the time in my 11 years in bookshops doing tech support but I am very much in awe of what they do and can’t wait to fully qualify as a bona-fide bookseller. I’m reliably informed you very have to earn your wings in this industry, there are no short cuts. Having the privilege of chatting to Mr B’s owner and current BA president Nic Bottomly for a whole evening while I played about on their computers and fixed a few bits is where it’s all at for me. The seminal moment being the revelation that they started on the same value loan that we did and had no savings! YES! This is exactly the news I needed to hear in such a desperate month. Watch out Mr B’s, we are coming for you. But seriously. Thank you for everything!

Other shops visited this month include John Sandoes Books in Sloan Square. Bookshop to some pretty impressive customers. After counting their 30,000 books Johnny sent me away with one of the most unusual gifts I’ve ever had… a quarter wheel of Blue cheese that a customer had brought in for an event. We like to joke in our house about which particular celebrities cheese we are eating. I’ve also been to Hungerford Bookshop, London Review Bookshop and Primrose Hill Bookshop this month, all of which I have known for my entire 11 years in the book industry. I then had the pleasure of assisting a brand new children’s bookshop in Olney open. Rose there has more energy and drive than anyone I’ve met for a long time and her experience in child welfare means Olney will be well served. She also has the coolest little Book Bus that she can take out to events and lesser served villages. Pop along to her modest premises on the main square and you’ll see “The Snug Children’s bookshop” is a gem.

So, Leanne tells me that for a bookshop blog this hasn’t been much about our shop. Sorry not sorry. When I have hung up my Bookshop travelling boots and am full time employed by Bookbugs and Dragon Tales I promise to only write about our shop but in the meantime I’m loving writing about the inspiration I find in other shops. I make sure that I come back with 1 new book to stock from every shop. People often ask us where we find such a diverse and interesting selection of titles that they don’t see elsewhere. Well… you’d have to have been to all the bookshops I have been to to see them. Of course we also discover books from other sources, supplier catalogues, publisher visits, customer recommendations, industry analytics,

newspapers, radio, Instagram and Twitter but our Bookbugs Whatsapp group (comically named “Bookbuggers”) is littered with pictures of books I’m finding that are either recommended by the booksellers I meet or just found on the shelves. Of course our problem this month is we can’t afford to buy them! January is the perfect storm. Broke customers, terrible shopping weather and December bills.

So what do you do about January as a bookseller?

  • You get busy with everything you’ve been promising you’d do before but not felt enough urgency to really drive it forward. You engage with Schools in a big way. We have started up a schools day trip program where classes of children come to the shop and can do one of several things with us. We have one school who come in groups of 10s, have a few stories read to them, a craft or drama activity and pick 1 book each for their Library. Choice is so important and the thought of these kids going back to their classmates and championing their book is wonderful. We have a variation on this theme for other schools. What’s lovely is when one of the children drags their parents in days later, kicks off their shoes and throws their coat down to show them around their new favorite place.

  • You do Harry Potter quiz nights with pop up shops
  • You have your 1st external Author events at a local school and feel very honoured to have been trusted with the supply of the books for that (although also very scared we’d get the numbers wrong. Fortunately the publisher has been very supportive offering Sale or Return and great discount on the entire back catalogue!). A lesson I learnt from the Americans is the importance of pre-orders for school events. Get your form designed and sent to the school early.
  • You dress up as a Bookbug and Dragon and parade around the city handing out flyers. Luckily Leanne and I are incredible show-offs and have no shame. What’s more surprising is when customers/friends volunteer to do this for us! I’m still working on getting my 14 year old step daughter in it. Apparently it would be frowned upon in the cool circles at her high school. Go Figure!?
  • You Return Books. One of the great things about the book industry is that there is a system of returning books you’ve found don’t move from your shelves. Generally only 5% of what you’ve bought from a wholesaler (depending on your negotiation skills) but in a tough month that can pay off some substantial invoices or just gives you a chance to try some new titles. In my position as Bookseller systems trainer I’m something of a wiz at this and have taken great pleasure in imparting my knowledge of this to Leanne. I swear she’s never happier than with a scanner in her hand filling boxes of books to go back. Some booksellers see this as a failing on their behalf, the one that didn’t sell, but Leanne is brutal!
  • You re-finance, re-evaluate, juggle savings and find you have guardian angels. There have been moments in the shop this month that have had us crying with joy and filled us with belief in what we are doing. We have never been stronger.

A quick word about today. The closest we have had to a dreaded snow day. Storm [whatever stupid name they decided to call this bit of wind] hit and everyone else stayed home. Tiles were flying off roofs, car alarms were going off and our A board decided it much preferred the view from John Lewis. Leanne and I came in because it’s what we do. We quickly realised it was going to be a stinker, in retrospect we probably shouldn’t have bothered leaving the house. Until 1.27pm we had had 1 paying customer and 1 online customer, to my own personal amusement (because I am 5) they both bought the same book, making the day even windier with “Does it Fart”. Finished the day on £24, £5 of which was a loyalty card redemption. Do you know what though? We had a lovely day together, dancing with each other, reading, laughing, cleaning stock rooms and writing blogs. It doesn’t matter. The week in general was better than any in January and our events have been better attended than ever. Craft social kicked off Friday evening with 12 customers! We apologised to our “Bookseller” Sally that running Craft sessions in an evening wasn’t in the job description, she laughed in our faces and said “Are you kidding? This is the best job ever!”. Meanwhile Poppy, our other permanent Bookseller has been off making waves in the poetry world with her performance at Norwich Arts centre that blew our minds. We are so lucky to have them.

We know we have great things coming up, Leanne actually took email orders today for 4 No Outsider book packs and 30 scripts so if you count those we had a great day. Big picture, don’t ever get focused on the quiet bits, evaluate and use your time where it can make things better. We have 2000 Loyalty card customers which may only be 1% of Norwich but that means we’re doing pretty well. It also means 99% of Norwich could still find us and we can grow into the hearts and minds of the community, which is where we always wanted to be.

If you’ve made it this far then you deserve a Badge and a sticker the next time you are in the shop. You could have read a book in this time. I recommend “Leonard and Hungry Paul” Fantastic book from our grown up section. Best book I’ve read in the last year. I’m a little star struck that the author and publisher have been tweeting me today. These things never get old.

nb. The day after writing the above… Hit our target by lunchtime! 10 in for bounce and Rhyme and lots of lovely customers. Boom! Back in the game!

Bedtime Stories

Poppy Post

Leanne and Dan have asked me to write a blog a few times now and my usual response is to wrinkle my nose and sassily roll my eyes like a teenager who has been asked to tidy their room. This is not because I wouldn’t love to write one, but I didn’t feel confident to do so for two reasons. The first is that I am dyslexic, so any sort of written task fills me with dread. The second reason is that I simply can not find the words to express how much this bookshop has impacted my life. However today I found myself asking if I could finally write my blog. With a heartful of love and excitement and a little dash of fear, here I am. So here it goes, please excuse my spelling mistakes and bad grammar.

I will start by telling you how I got the job as a bookseller at Bookbugs and Dragon Tales.

One day on my way back from one of my many jobs (a newly graduated Actor trying to make ends meet) I messaged my Ex drama tutor, fellow actor, friend and honorary theatre Mum, Leanne, to see if she needed any help with her BOOKSHOP!!!!! Having extremely long arms and Leanne standing at a very respectable 4ft 11”, she needed my help taking down some shelves which of course I was happy to. After the initial catch up and excitement for her new life as a bookshop owner Leanne began talking about needing to employ staff. Ironically I had read the advert incorrectly, I explained that it would be a dream to work her for my ‘mum’ but I couldn’t commit to 6 days a week to which Leanne explained I was a fool and it was a job share and I would be working three days. What followed was a lot of hugs, tears of joy and high-pitched squealing. (We are both actors, so it was a very dramatic moment). I was going to be working in mum’s bookshop!!!!

Opening day came and I immediately knew I had made the best decision.

Now comes the part where I struggle to describe how lucky I am. I will be soppy and say that it has changed my life, now that may sound dramatic but here are my reasons. It is very rare as a freelance artist that you find a part time ‘bread and butter’ job where your boss actively encourages you to take the day off for auditions. It is even rarer that that boss is like your second mum. More than the practicality of it, it is the energy that this shop has that has enriched my life and I see daily how it enriches the lives of others. BUT, the biggest thing is… I AM READING!!!! This is a big deal for me, it is something I have always struggled with, at the age of 21 I was told I had a reading age of a 10-year-old. This would make sense as the last books I can remember enjoying were Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom and Phillip Pullman’s The Firework Makers Daughter, both of which I always recommend to children struggling to enjoy reading. When I started working at Bookbugs and Dragon Tales it was the source of a lot of friendly banter that I, ME, Poppy, worked in a bookshop.

Leanne made it her mission to help me find my confidence in reading, a mission that she has accomplished. The book that started it all off was her recommendation of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I devoured this book, at my own pace and I never thought a book would have such an impact on me. I sat on my sofa weeping through the last chapter. Bereft that I had finished it I came into work and got a new book straight away. I chose The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I chose this because I love thrillers and I hoped that it would help to increase the momentum of my book reading. Which it totally did. I am now coming to the end of Never Greener by Ruth Jones and I am looking forward to moving onto Normal People by Sally Rooney. THIS, is why I finally wanted to write my blog, I have found a hunger for reading. I am chuckling at myself now writing this because I still cannot believe I have been consistently reading for 5 months!

 

Among the novels that I have enjoyed, I have also been reading numerous poetry books, collections and pamphlets. I am also a poet but have never had the confidence to do anything with it, but reading energised me and encouragement from everyone at Bookbugs and Dragon Tales has meant that I attended workshops and I am now writing more and performing my poetry.

I have learnt that reading can be enjoyable even after years of it being scary. I will be running a creative writing workshop in February Half term for 7+ years. This is accessible to those who have a dyslexic superpower like me. Everyone is welcome, whether you find writing easy, hard, scary or wonderful. We will be using drama and game play as a way to create story with the aim to take the pressure off being ‘good at writing’ and instead celebrate your imagination and creativity.

In conclusion, what a joy, I am so lucky and forever grateful to Leanne and Dan for giving me the most wonderful job and putting up with all my sass towards reading and writing.

Editors note:

Pops is very humble and finds it difficult to promote herself which, as a self employed Theatre practitioner, isn’t great. If any of what you have read here makes you want to know more, please follow her on Twitter or attend Toast at Norwich Arts Centre where she performs regularly. She also provides creative writing, spoken word poetry and drama workshops to local schools as Grape Arts Theatre Company and you can see a short poem of hers here

A slight detour

I started this as a facebook post but… well you know me, I do go on….

A bit of context, I’m away from the bookshop at the moment, last week I helped Trish with the opening of her brand new Childrens Bookshop in Greystones Ireland (@Halfwayupbooks).

This is my job… I go and get to see new bookshops open all over the world and teach them to use our book selling software (Bertline, Bertram Books, little plug), ridiculous right? Its rare I’m away for more than 4 days but this month has gone crazy. 2 new bookshops (@BBBookshop in November) and 5 existing shops. I’m really looking forward to Blue Bear in Farnham, they have been friends since before we opened and even visited when we were a building site 

These are just the ones I’m doing. My colleague has been out with Blue House Bookshop in York and Limestone Books in Settle. Bookshops are quite the thing at the moment don’t you know?

So now I’m in Letterkenny, Co.Donegal, for my next 2 shops on a rare, even when I’m home, day off. Ok, I may have done some work but it would bore the pants of you if I included it! Anywho… this was the post I was preparing…

Well that was quite the adventure! Had to really force myself out on my “day off”. Would have been really easy to stay in my (upgraded penthouse) hotel room all day but would have kicked myself not to see some of this beautiful part of Ireland. Googled beautiful Donegal and chose the one with 4.9 rating. Mount Errigal, highest peak in the north. 35 mins drive away. Sweet! Off I pop then

Thought I’d pop over, maybe walk up it a bit and enjoy the view. The drive over was incredible and I had to stop for photos both on the way there and back.

Locals warned me the walk started in a bog. Yes it did! About 5 steps in my boot sunk beyond the shin and my hands followed. Absolutely covered in black gunk. I considered turning back then and there. Reconsidered and used some of my water to wash myself off. This happened a few times but I just wanted to get to a nice spot and sit and contemplate. As mountains often do though it kept teasing me with “just this next ridge” The place was deserted. I did meet a few lovely people including a couple of Irish gents at least twice my age who offered me words of encouragement.

Despite thinking I was having a stroke at one point (melodramatic headache due to not “taking it easy” as the gents suggested) I did not turn back. The view was too tempting. There were more hands and knees moments (Scarfel Pike this is not!) and generous consumption of sausage rolls and bacon fries, it rained… a bit, it got windy… a lot but it felt relatively safe.

When I reached the top all I wanted to do was talk to Leanne. I spent a wonderful 30 minutes on my own looking out over all of Donegal, the Atlantic ocean, the stunning cliffs and beaches of the coast and the entire mountain range. A truly enriching and tranquil experience and almost certainly better than the 4 walls of my hotel room. Signal up there was excellent so I got straight on whatsapp and chatted to Leanne for a bit.

I may have been up there on my own but Leanne, the kids and the shop were with me for a short while. Pesky customers interrupted us before I could give Leanne the full tour of the range but here’s a couple of snaps of us chatting,  look how happy she is to see my stupid face! That’s what I pay my money for.

What cracked me up next was the whatsapp from our youngest 3,  proudly getting on with their contribution to making the cogs turn on all this… dinner!  Triumphant HumDrum dinner.

 

If I have to be away from them on such an important week for the shop I may as well make it count eh? I think I did that.


This week for me will be filled with training booksellers in 2 ex Easons branches, installing hardware in their huge shops and getting to know them, persuading them that I’m not the IT nerd they expect me to be. The best thing a bookseller can say to me on leaving (and sometimes do) is “I’m so glad you’re booky”

This week for Leanne will see Zeb Soanes (of BBC and Gaspard the Fox fame) visit and read Monday, adding to our James Mayhew wall illustrations, packed out Halloween events all week and then MP Clive Lewis reading on Friday!

 

You have no idea how exciting this all is for our fledgling bookshop! I can’t lie, I do wish I was there. But I also love the opportunities my job gives me to see the world and spread the Bookshop love and let’s face it, I have the best customers in the world! I did opt not to come back between bookshops, having Greta Thunbergs book fresh in my head, how could I fly back unnecessarily?

I’m so grateful to have a partner that is fulfilling my dream of owning a vibrant community focused bookshop in the centre of the best city in England… in my absence! Every day she stuns me with something new that the shop has achieved.

I can’t wait to be home but to anyone else who travels for work, make it count! Go the extra mile, literally! Take the detour. Visit the local bookshop (preferably) or find something to bring back with you in your heart. Even if it’s just a lovely conversation with someone, I fully understand not everyone wants to climb a mountain on their day off!

💚

Time Flies

Where to pick up from? I really don’t know… the last month has been crazy which is reason 1 for the lack of a blog post… it’s not like we ever have nothing to say, but singling out the things that might interest you as a reader is something else altogether. It always amazes me when people say they read the blog, let alone love it. I feel a responsibility to keep up the standard!

So, we finished up at the BA conference. What a glorious thing that was. I am so insanely proud of Leanne for how she is morphing from an exceptional lecturer to an inspirational bookseller and business owner. Sometimes, when I’m in the shop listening to her talking (especially to teachers) about key stage this and CPD that and giving spot on recommendations to parents and then she’s arranging events and book packs and PAYE and VAT and then she’ll whip up a clay hedgehog autumn craft workshop from somewhere, I’m wondering whether I was ever really needed. But let me tell you this… when she got up and spoke in front of all our peers at the BA conference I thought I was going to explode. I had to look away at points.. not out of nerves but my little heart couldn’t cope and there was every chance I would let out a little emotional whelp and ruin it all!

My conference was how it always is but to a multiple of 10x. I’ve been in the Book industry a long time now and been on some incredible trips with some incredible booksellers, I’ve visited what feels like every indie bookseller in the country and because I often spend 3 days with them I get to know them really well… you know, that hug or kiss stage of familiarity. So of course… every face is familiar and I do spend a lot of time worrying I won’t put the right name to the face or worse… bookshop to face. What’s even worse is when someone you’ve only spoke to on the phone says “Dan, it’s xxxx” and unless I catch that early I could be in a 20 minute conversation the whole time thinking desperately… which bookshop!?!”. The funniest one is always “Hi Dan, it’s Dave… from the bookshop (you have no idea how many bookshop owners are called David!) Having Leanne with me helped all of this… we developed a little routine for dealing with my poor memory which involved coded hand squeezes and masked bad introductions. I think we mostly got away with this! Of course the cat is well and truly out of that bag now.

So… how is the shop going? I refer you back to the Fear post. It doesn’t really subside. We seem to have settled into something of a routine of just making our arbitrary target most days then smashing it Saturday. It’s lovely to have other booksellers to bounce off of though. I spent a long time the other day chewing the fat with Sarah and Peter Brook of Brook’s Pinner, who are 15 months into their own bookselling adventure. They had some great advice which we have adopted which is to make a note on our cashing up sheet of any reason/weather/event that might caused a good or bad day. Simple but genius. Case in point… Climate change protest on a friday – we thought “Ahh yes, city will be full of people” reality – it may have been but they certainly didn’t want to shop! Result – 2nd worst day since opening! Next case – City centre Mall re-brands as “Castle Quarter” (literally just opened up some empty units as a games arcade) and payday – Best Saturday since opening. Having all this information and being able to look back on it next year with a bit of insight, can only help when planning for other events. – Am I kidding myself that we’ll have time for this level of analysis one day?

I think the most exciting thing to have happened to us in the last month is this glorious illustration on our illustrators wall.It’s been a month of wonderful experiences but when Leanne told me Chris Moulds Publisher had been in touch, he was in Norwich for a schools event and wanted to pop in…, WANTED TO POP IN! The minute this happens in your own shop it’s hard to describe how you feel. Someone noticing you in a crowd and saying I choose you. I’d loved the new edition of Ted hughes The Iron Man and tweeted as much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I wasn’t about to miss this and drove the 10 minutes from Bertrams to the shop (which to be fair I do most lunch times now). It’s also important to stress that Leanne said he looked like Hugh Jackman so my supervision was also necessary. Chris (we can call him that now because he’s our showbiz buddy – also it’s his name) spent 3 hours in our shop and created what can only be described as a masterpiece on our illustrator wall. I mean, the guy really must love what he does because we literally only paid him in Coffee and conversation. What a conversation – it lifted all our spirits. Sometimes I just sit in the comfy chair opposite and smile. We still drag people into that room to show it and our James Mayhew Gaspard off… it’s officially our baby board room but regardless of if you have a child or not, you’re going in there!

I’m resigned to the fact this is going to be something of a novel. So much has happened and I don’t want to miss anything important. Maybe a list is the way forward – this will be just off the top of my head and not in chronological or order of importance.

  • We did our 1st outside event – Sent one of our Theatre practitioners – Poppy – To delivery her Spoken word poetry session to some awesome young women. She came back buzzing 
  • We had our 1st Book club meeting – Time flew by and the chat never stopped – Leanne did photographic geographically accurate printouts and a playlist from the time of the book (Little Fires everywhere). 10 people came and Prosecco and cheese was consumed. I loved being in our basement for this, it gave it a great atmosphere.
  •  We went to our first regional BA meeting at the brilliant “Aldeburgh Bookshop” – Hob nobbed with booksellers from all over East Anglia and brilliant writers – I even got to bend Meryl Halls (BA God) ear when I picked her up from a local town.
  • Events in the shop have been up and down – we don’t ask people to sign up in advance which means often we can have 1 person turn up for a drama session – 1 on 1 drama is no where near as much fun as 5 kids interacting. We’re learning and maybe we’ll look at term signups so that the temptation of a lay-in becomes less for would be actors
  • We CAN NOT get spoken word poetry for teenagers off the ground! – Who’d have thought it would be so hard to get teenagers motivated? We won’t give up on this though because the session leader Poppy is so cool and passionate about it. We’ve all booked to see Kate Tempest together at the end of the month, that will inspire us… I think some secret fliers there may be called for.
  • Craft is my favourite class in the shop. We do 2 sessions and Sally is full of amazing ideas. Need to get more people coming more regularly because it feels like we could really get known for these.

  • I’ve been doing some acting! Don’t even ask how I managed to fit this in. My character got to read from the script which really helped!

  • We sent out our 1st mailchimp mailing… the sweaty monkey paw graphic did not help the nerves thank you very much! Over 850 emails sent to all our most valuable customers in one go… what could go wrong? Seems to have been ok. 80 bounces so if you didn’t get one and wanted one let us know… but also check that junk mail!
  • I nearly got a work trip to The Maldives! I had a demo booked in and everything… basically if I can find an English Language bookshop anywhere in the world that wants our software/bookseller service I get to go! I’m in the lucky position to be chief guru of the best bookseller software so it’s not a hard sell. This is how crazy good my job is and 1 reason why I would hesitate to ever give it up. Unfortunately The Maldives didn’t show but I am now teetering on the edge of China.
  • My month is mostly going to be spent away. 6 Irish shops. Special mention to 2 new bookshops I am helping open. “Halfway up the stairs” in Greystones, Ireland, opens their doors for the 1st time on Friday (if their floor dries!) and Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham will open in November – They have become kindred spirits, having visited our shop and shared a drink or two at the conference. I leave tomorrow and won’t see the shop again for 11 days. *sobs*

  • The irrepressible Cathy Fiddy has created our Halloween display. She spent 2 days with us, 1st clearing down and then building up. Her imagination and enthusiasm for the shop means we can just leave her too it with complete trust that she will perform miracles. Everyone stops outside the window and takes pictures which is lovely, then often they get press-ganged into the shop by a relative or staff member… it’s quite the racket.

  • We’ve had things made for us! Customers and colleagues have taken it upon themselves to knit, crochet and craft us bookshop characters. I like to think the space we have created inspires kindness and this is how it has manifested itself to us.

 

 

  • Oi! Frog is coming to see us tomorrow! This is our 1st of what I hope will be many outside theatre company visits. We’ve bought up all Bertrams stock of the Oi range. Hope we get some visitors!

It’s getting on now so, despite not fully unloading everything I’m going to spare you the rest. So I will sign off with 2 more incredible things. 2 very different but equally wonderful things that have filled our hearts and re-enforce everything we know about why we did this crazy thing.

Firstly our nearest fellow Childrens bookshop owner and bookseller extraordinaire Marilyn and Simon from Norfolk Childrens Book Centre invited us round for dinner, soaked us in Gin and Pizza and imparted a whole evenings worth of Bookseller knowledge on us. Norfolk being Norfolk we knew each other already but it was so lovely to make it official. We laughed pretty much the whole night and really bonded. This industry is like no other. Everyone pretty much has each others back. There is a grander purpose. To share stories and a love of reading. I’m so excited for the future of what we do.

…and then there was this. You’ve read the “Kind” blog, if not, read that first. What happened on our return from the conference was this…

(Kind) Alistair called us on the Tuesday of our return and asked if we would be in the shop on the Friday because he had a gift for the shop and would be bringing a few friends in for the presentation! Of course this got our minds racing. We waited anxiously for Friday to come, I had the day off and made sure I was at the shop. Alistair arrived with his rather cool friend and a few others. We lifted the cover on the rather large present to find the most stunning reading chair underneath, specially commissioned by Alistair, painted by Joe (the cool one), a romany artist with Thea (Alistairs wifes name) the listening dragon. Alistair had written this rather beautiful story to go with the chair, there were a LOT of tears of joy that day. There is more to this story but safe to say we feel very lucky to have Alistair in our lives.

 

Project Fear

We’re now a week in, well 10 days actually, and reality has started to kick back in after a glorious 7 days of smashing our targets, meeting lots of fantastic people in the shop and just generally being in love with the place and all it represents. Then, we have the hottest August Bank Holiday
weekend since ever. Hurrah! I hear the Facebook friends exclaim, Yippee! “lets go to the beach/Park/Pub/[insert generic sunny activity here]”. Pretty much let’s do anything but go shopping. Too right! We, on the other hand, opened our doors 11-4 Sunday and Monday.
 
People did come, and we did hit our targets (just) and sent emails and organised the shop and read to children and did all the lovely things so what should we be complaining about? Nothing. We’re just very “Small Picture” right now and it’s allowed the doubt to creep in. We have literally nothing to compare things to but the week before and the week before we were in the papers and on the Radio and all over social media and exciting and new and somewhere to explore. So what if that was it? What if we were wrong? What if Norwich doesn’t need and want us? What if (and this is a huge one) our Business plan was just numbers plucked out of thin air and we got them all wrong.
 
Business plans are ridiculous. It’s ALL guess work. We didn’t know how many coffees or slices of cake we would sell, we didn’t know the electricity bill, we didn’t even know how many books we would stock. You just plug in the numbers, find they turn green and submit it to the people who can
pull them apart and tell you you are in cloud cuckoo land. They didn’t tell us that so we moved on to the next stage. Now we know, but we don’t really because we have a crazy week 1 to use as our base. Not real world stuff. It’s all a worry, I can tell Leanne is worried too. We talk about it but what can we really say? The rational things we say are:
 
  • The sun is not good for sales: If the whole city is empty of course we will be quiet. Don’t panic and get other things done. In fact, booksellers are very susceptible to weather. Heavy snow on the wrong day in December can ruin your whole year. I remember this happening a couple of years ago.
  • We haven’t started our events schedule yet: This is a massive part of our business. All along our aim was to fill the shop with Arty/Booky/Dramary fun. When this starts (September 1st, Schedule published) the place will transform as will the routine of each day. The Events are popular – We have had a fantastic response to the event schedule, people will come. That’s a relief! Poor Leanne went through hell compiling the email and then her phone malfunctioned and moved all the BCC addresses into CC. She was nearly in tears about this but people have been very understanding about it thankfully.
  • We’re not known for our Coffee and Cake yet: It’s going to take a while for people to realise we don’t just serve any old coffee and cake, we have deliberately got the best and hopefully word will get around that we don’t just sell books and we are a place you can pop into for a mid morning coffee or a lunchtime treat.
  • People love us, they really love us: Conceited? Deluded? Living in a bubble? Quite possibly all of those things but we’ve had such lovely, heartfelt messages and reviews both on Twitter and Facebook that I think we’ve got something right. We’ve made a thing of showing (off) the shop to anyone that hasn’t been in before. We know people will find their way around but we like doing it! I also like to make sure no one misses the fact we do coffee and grown up books. It’s a way to start a conversation and both Leanne and I love to talk!
  • Loyalty is working – We’ve distributed 400 Loyalty cards already. You get £5 back for every £50 and that seems to be just about right. There is very little margin on books compared to other retail sectors so to give away another 10% is a risk but it’s something we believe in. Let’s face it, Amazon is going to beat us on price sometimes, not as often as they used to and it will be much closer with our Loyalty card. Customers just need a reason to come back and sometimes good service doesn’t fill the gap
 
Being back in my day job is strange. It’s lucky that I am in the book industry and deal with people wanting to open bookshops a lot, because it means I get to talk about my favourite subject all the time. I really want to develop what I do at Bertrams to utilise this experience. I find myself talking for hours to prospective customers about much more than just systems now. We have always helped with opening stock but I feel I can talk with much more authority about it now. I can advise on lease negotiations, credit card machines, shelving, Batch, Pubeasy, suppliers, the whole shebang. It’s lovely to be able to give a bit more than just stock control and till knowledge. Tomorrow I will be giving my own shops stock list to a new children’s bookshop in Ireland and I am honoured that they asked. This is the industry I will always be in.
 
It’s hard not being at the shop but at least I am not sat in an office counting widgets or telling people to reboot. I’m in the heart of the indie booksellers world, I get to go to all the conferences, I get to talk to all the best booksellers, I get to hear about the latest and greatest books. If you’re going to supplement your Bookshop with another job, there is no better job to do it with! I have always loved my job and, despite the distractions, I am finding I love it more now. Of course this does mean I miss out on some fun. Today, for instance, I’m being Whatsapped pictures of the great James Mayhew starting off our illustrator wall with an amazing Gaspard the Fox sketch. Apparently him and Leanne are now Besties. I, on the other hand, stayed late trying to get another bookshops receipt printer working. Glamorous stuff!
 
I started this by explaining some of my fears. I imagine every single business owner on the planet goes through these things, I just find it therapeutic to put it down in writing and also hope that one day I can look back on this and laugh. Or that someone else can read this and find some solace in the fact it’s totally normal to have doubts. Just remember what makes you unique is you. Your ideas, your passion, your (ridiculous over) enthusiasm for your books and everything else that makes your business yours.
 
I wrote this yesterday and sat on it. Today we had the most incredible day in the shop and the world is full of roses again. This roller coaster won’t stop and I don’t want it to. Tomorrow Leanne is hosting the National Writers Centre Podcast at the shop (if you know Leanne you will know she is a podcast freak so this is exciting) and I am showing one of my oldest friends and author (very boring data books, you wouldn’t want to read them, I do however know he reads my blog) and his family around the shop.
 
There are joyous things in every day, but this picture sums up why we really love it.
 

Opening Day

OK, the observant amongst you will know that our opening day was 5 days ago now… So guess what…We… Got… Busy!!! Who’d have thunk it? Planning and building a bookshop is hard work but it is NOTHING compared to the sheer exhaustive adrenaline rush of welcoming people through those newly opened doors and waiting for the 1st verdict. Oh my god, it was terrifying! I’m not going to lie, we both felt sick and one of us was! Naming no names but it wasn’t me.

We have literally poured our entire hearts contents into this dream. This wild and crazy dream that only crept up on us over Christmas 2018, became a gentle breeze until March, kind of blew us off balance until July… and then we got the keys… that’s when the hurricane started and did not lay off, even during our holiday, until Saturday 17th August… then, 9.32am Saturday morning, we opened the doors and then there was an eerie kind of quiet.

What you need to understand is that 3 weeks earlier I had opened a bookshop for (who I now consider) a friend in Edinburgh to queues of people… Where was our queue? Well, to be honest I wouldn’t know because at that very significant moment in my life I had my head in another mans crotch trying desperately to make him Gruffalo ready… Those of you who know me know I know a thing or two about character suits, let me tell you this for FREE… You need an engineering degree to get the Gruffalo ready to meet the public! Our grand plan for the Gruffalo to open our doors at 9.30 on the dot was replaced by 2 sweaty men getting very intimate in a small office used the previous night as an emergency dumping ground for all the toot we had to hide for our party. There was ALL kinds of hazards in that room including, randomly, a bucket of water, bottles of Prosecco, paint pots and “Helpful” teenagers.

Oh how we laughed! You know when you wish you’d tried something on you just bought before you go out in it? That.

Well, finally I made my way upstairs holding Gruffalo’s hand and gladly I did find a few expectant souls in the shop. There definitely wasn’t a queue but there were children excited about being in a Bookshop that clearly was created just for them.

I was too excited and having too many lovely chats with our new shop visitors to think about numbers but boy did we get busy! It was incredible and as the plaudits started rolling in for what we had created we started to see it again for ourselves. For so many weeks we had been under wallpaper, or paint, or sawdust, or boxes we had lost sight of what was rising from the ashes. All the time our dream was being built and it wasn’t really until that 1st child rushed into the toddler room and grabbed a book and exclaimed WOW that we really gained full sight of it again.

Needless to say we had one of the best days of our lives, leave aside the obvious births and marriage. Come 6pm, when we had finally said goodbye to our last customer/friend (I’m not sure which) Leanne and I sat at our new favourite place to sit, our coffee bar and took stock. We high fived. Of course. We kissed, we maybe shed a tear of joy. Then we started our new life. We tidied up, prepared the shop for the next day, and went home. And all that only took us all of 4 hours! We will have to get better at that.

There are a LOT of people we need to thank for getting us here and that’s what Friday night was about but for the Saturday alone we need to thank:

Julia Groves for supporting us and shouting about us to all her illustrator friends and then making our baby/toddler area a joy to be in on Saturday with her Animal Babies Series of books and her colouring skills

Macmillan Kids for sending the Gruffalo and making sure he wasn’t at all grumpy

Jai (Johnnie Jaffacake) for always supporting us in all our mad adventures and being at pretty much every one of our children’s landmark birthdays, our wedding and this.

The gangs (I didn’t know they travelled in gangs, I do now!) of Authors and illustrators who came out of curiosity and a love of bookshops and left us with such kind words

Lorraine for her terrible Face Painting! Which she undertook with 3 minutes notice but attacked with all the gusto she could muster and all the passion of Picasso!

Ade, who’s crotch I invaded for the sake of Julia Donaldson

…and Greg, who, not content with building our dream, continued to entertain and make the place a generally more interesting place throughout the day

..and of course Poppy and Sally who are our happy new Bookseller staff and dear dear friends.

 

Everybody needs a Greg

This will be a short post, it’s 12.25am and it’s been a long day. What’s been happening?

We have been on our holidays for a week. The weather was miserable but we still managed to climb Scafell Pike and have a generally splendid time with 15 of our family and 3 dogs. Who needs weather when you enjoy each others company as much as we do?

Whilst we were away our absolute rock in this project, Greg, the amazing artist producing our characters around the shop, has also been letting in our other workers (all friends), taking deliveries, watching over and generally inspiring enthusiasm in everyone that passes. What we would have done without him I do not know, but in future I’m going to recommend everyone has a Greg if they open a bookshop!

Joined above by Cathy, something has happened during this project… the people we really needed have just been there when we needed them. Cathy has been a friend of Leannes for years, one of the loveliest positive giving people… and also, turns out, an ex professional window dresser! Who knew?  Our window, with both their help, is now drawing more wows and Ooohs than we could ever have dreamed of. Do you know what made me happier than anything today though? The previous shops signage was painted over… the shop now really feels like ours!

I need to stop now, just know we have also been working hard! We booked in nearly 2500 beautiful books today and yesterday and barring a bit of alphebetising and prettying they are on our shelves… I had a moment on my own late in the shop which brought me close to tears… we have a bookshop! 

2 weeks in, 3 weeks to go

…and what a 2 weeks! It’s hard to put into words everything we have achieved in the time and all thanks to our glorious network of friends and family. Without them we would be nowhere and none of which we expected.

  • Day 1/2 – all wallpaper stripped and walls prepped
  • Day 3/4/5/6/7 – all 3 ground floor walls painted
  • Day 8/9/10 – 38 shelves built, 5 armchairs made
  • Day 11/12 Downstairs painted, drama/workshop studio floor laid
  • Day 14 Opening stock list nearly completed

To put this into some perspective the shop now looks like this (taken before the shelves):

In this time I have also had the honour of attending the opening of an amazing new Bookshop, Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh and training them. Whilst this was an absolute joy to do it also reminded me of how much we still have to do but if we can achieve even a fraction of the excitement created in their community for a new indie bookshop I will be insanely happy! The shop was a piece of bookshop art and will be a huge success

Portobello Bookshop

Portobello Bookshop - Edinburgh

The great thing about having a partner that believes in our ability to do this as much as I do is that I felt very little guilt in swanning off to another country for 3 days while she got on with what needed to be done. I came home with lots of fresh ideas, books and vigour for the shop. It may be harder next week when I’m only 3 miles away in the office. I’m pretty sure I’m already the office bore with only 1 subject on my mind.

My favourite thing about being in our shop has to be the excitement heard outside the shop while we work away inside. Today I worked with the door open, perhaps to cool down but really to invite conversation. I had a fabulous 15 minute chat with a little dude today who told me the entire plot to a Beast Quest book that was being read to him. Like a giddy child myself I thanked him wholeheartedly for the recommendation and added 5 Beast Quest books to my order. They may never sell but armed with the story of why I bought them I’m sure they will! It’s this stuff that can be found at the soul of every childrens bookseller. Infectious enthusiasm for a story.

We’re in a little bit of a limbo situation now. We’ve done most of what we can without proper skilled labour. We have a family member tiling our toilet next week, a family friend fitting our counter and coffee bar, a close friend designing signage and another close friend plumbing and hopefully the finest coffee roasters Norwich has to offer fitting the machine. Then the books can be delivered and then we might finally look like a bookshop. All the rest is admin, training and polishing off.

Of course there is also the small matter of recruitment for a couple of booksellers in the shop. We’ve been inundated with suitable candidates but if you want to add your hat to the ring please use the contact section on the website or follow the instructions here.

WE ARE RECRUITING!We are looking for some part-time staff to work in the shop, so if you are interested or know of…

Gepostet von Bookbugs and Dragon Tales am Donnerstag, 25. Juli 2019

 

 

And then there were keys

Friday 12th July 2019. With the keys finally in our hands the real clock starts.

You can do all the planning, talking, contact building, website building, social media promotion, arranging of contractors, supplier account opening, finance arranging, book choosing but when those keys finally get into your hands all that seems to pale into comparison to the daunting prospect that you now effectively own (ok, lease but it feels perminent) a huge city centre property that you’re entirely responsible for turning into all the things you’ve been promising for months.

We’ve been inside 41 Timberhill a grand total of 3 times before this day and now it will be our second home. It’s so exciting, it’s so scary, it’s so daunting. Its Thrilling. It’s not hard to find joy in every moment. The neighbours popping in to offer support (and trade prices!) The enquisative eyes peering in through the windows of a building that’s stood emptying for 18 months. The last building on the street to be filled. The fact we can take a 2 minute walk to buy the most mundane supplies. The nooks and crannies of the building (there are so many!) The working top of the range video security system that the last proprietors left. The friends and family that turned up unasked to pick up scrapers and work for hours.

We have support in Norwich, we know that. But facebook likes dont always translate to paint brushes in hands. We have taken on something mammoth in 41 Timberhill. Our 3 ground floor rooms are covered in a variety of wallpapers (it was a furniture shop). Its ALL gone! All 5 of our children, parents, friends, friends children made what could have taken days take a few hours with laughter dancing singing and fun along the way. I’m fully aware this is day 1 exhilaration but I don’t care.

We have 36 days. 33 as I write this. Real life carries on. My day job continues, I’ll be in scotland next week helping another fantastic new indie bookshop open, we have a family holiday, I have the last 2 performances of Anglia Square – A love story, we have the school run, the shopping, all the humdrum. We can’t stop now. Luckily this is my wonderful wifes strong point. When she has a project she out performs every time. Anyone that came to our DIY wedding will know that. It’s not my strong point. Don’t get me wrong, when I work I work hard and throw everything into it but if I can lay in bed all day watching homes under the hammer I will!

Luckily now theres somewhere I’d rather be. Speaking of which, I’m heading there now. A few hours scraping, the final Common Lot show, the after show party and into a week of painting, ordering and beginning this new life we’ll be living.

A final note. This show I’m doing. It’s life affirming in every way. Thousands have seen the 7 shows so far. Last show today. Its everything I love about Norwich and it represents the spirit of what we want to portray at the bookshop. No questions asked love for your community and the people around you no matter where they have come from. Opening up theatre, the arts and literature to anybody who cares enough to show up. You’ll always be welcomed with a smile and a open mind in our shop. 

 

 

Red Letter Day – by Dan

Today we signed the lease to the property we’ve been chasing for 12 weeks. We are reliably informed there isn’t really anything that can stop us getting the keys on Friday. To say we are excited would be a ridiculous understatement.

We only really “came out” about the bookshop in the last 2 weeks and the response has been overwhelming. If even a small % of the positive feedback for what we are doing translates to people through the door then we will be ok. We have had so much support from friends with school connections, to activity and workshop providers, to authors, to parents, to my theatre company and to the children in our family who have been instrumental. One silent pillar in the project has been our good friend and graphic designer Greg Lindsay-Smith who was onboard and enthusiastic from the get go. He’s created all our artwork and the most wonderful signage. I really can’t thank him enough for providing creative spark and beautiful art but more for the full commitment to the cause and his belief in us.

 

The other major contributor to our Bookshop so far has been other booksellers. What people outside of the Book industry don’t realise is how collaborative we are and how we all wish each other success to the extent that we will go above and beyond to help each other. Andy Rossiter (Rossiter Books, Ross-On-Wye, Monmouth, Leominster and BA Vice President) in particular has pretty much mentored us throughout the whole process, providing us with invaluable business startup advice and allowing us to use his wonderful stock list as a starting point for our own shop. I feel very lucky to consider Andy and nearly all the best bookshop owners in the UK and Ireland, friends.

Are we scared? Of course we are! There are so many reasons why opening a bookshop on a high street in a city with a selection of wonderful bookshops and news stories of big retail chains struggling would seem like a crazy idea but what we have planned is quite unique and what Leanne and I bring to the party is also unique as a partnership. I think it is this that gives us the confidence to push on. I have spent 12 years helping other bookshops open and Leanne has spent 17 years inspiring children and young adults to be the best they can be from often difficult starts in life. We have both spent our lives performing. Combining this with our love of the many beautiful children’s books that are out there and the flood of evidence that, given the right blend of carefully curated books and activities and CAKE, we can and will succeed in becoming a reason to come to the high street.