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.
 

One thought on “Project Fear

  1. I can totally associate with this fear. Last October I started Earthglade Ltd on a whim to project my need to educate the world on what we are doing to it and to present some alternatives to the plastic we buy everyday. I have gone through a very steep learning curve as I had never run a business before and spent many stressful evenings trying to get it right. I must admit because of this fear I have taken a very slow route to getting the business noticed through local stalls, online site and Facebook. I applaud you in the step to bricks and mortar as for me that is a fear too far at the moment. I have just started online advertising and this fills me with dread some days, am I wasting money, will people see the ads, will they even care? But your story fills me with hope. I loved visiting your store the other day ( sorry Leanne I missed you, how dare you have a day off lol), the atmosphere was electric, warm and welcoming. I wish you well in this your adventure. As Peter Pan said “Would you like an adventure now, or would you like to have your tea first?”. Well you can do both if you face that fear.

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