Sunday, September 30, 2007
So, i've been in bookselling since 1984. I started in Bristol at a shop called George's Bookshop. It was spread over 6 different shops in Park Street, one of the main shopping streets in Bristol, and although owned by Blackwell's, sensibly kept the name it had started with when it opened in 1837. It was the only real bookshop in Bristol. I used to shop there when I was a little fella, and although I was a snotty, awkward and miserable 16 year old when I started working there, I loved it. I was on a YTS (youth training scheme), an initiative introduced by the Tories which meant that school leavers worked in places decided by someone else, earned £25 a week, and therefore didn't show up on the unemployment figures. I was lucky, because I found myself in an environment that suited me, but the majority of the other people on the scheme with me either worked on the tills in Supermarkets, or were used as cheap labour in various warehouses. Anyway, I digress. In 1986, a Waterstone's opened in Bristol. It wasn't big, and the bosses at George's ignored it. Then another opened on the University Campus, and things started to go very very bad for George's.
They started losing sales and were forced to close one by one of the shops on Park Street. What the big W was doing was listening to it's customers. It offered good service, interesting books and passionate booksellers. George's rested on it's laurels, thinking it knew better. It's since lost it's name and is now a Blackwell's trading from a single store. Waterstone's had landed.
I joined this exciting company in 1990, and back then Waterstone's was exciting. The staff enjoyed their jobs, were given responsibilities, the promotions were smaller and the customers appreciated the fact that there were 50 (50!) books in the shop that were 3 for 2. And there was a Book of the Month. This was introduced to promote a new author, or raise the profile of a book that wouldn't otherwise get the publicity. Books like 500 Nations, an illustrated history of Native American Indians was one of the more memorable successes. I can't honestly imagine a book like that being chosen nowadays!
Happy days (not I hasten to add, With the Naked Chef), and there may be a certain rose tinted reminiscing going on here. The thing is, what made working in Waterstone's exciting has all but gone (unless you have a very understanding area manager). The staff at Waterstone's 'look after' sections or departments, but this is to ensure that the supertier is faced out, or that the books are stickered 3 for 2. The flexibility to be creative, certainly in London, is almost non-existent, and definintely not rewarded. This year the 'in thing' at Head Office is Local Marketing. There's a competition to find the region that has the best local marketing. Points are awarded for adding books to a code on the computer which is monitiored at head office (it doesn't matter what the books are). Points are awarded for filling in an event feedback form and returning it to Head Office. Points are awarded for writing reviews and putting them on the Waterstone's website. Points are awarded for letting your area manager know if a customer thanks you for your service. You are encouraged to produce your own promotions in store, but only as long as you stick by the 'Brand Guidelines'. No points for this though.
This brings up a number of questions
1. What has any of this got to do with local marketing?
2. What does this say about the state of Waterstone's that it has to introduce an initiative to encourage creativity?
3. If you're closing 10% of the shopfloor space and close down branches like the one in Wood Green, how can you even think about understanding what Local Marketing really is?
Let me say at this point, there are also additional points available at the end of the year, where each region submits a presentation outlining what it's done to promote Local marketing, and there are also templates for newsletters and table signs (all maintaining the brand), which will give those branches with the staff who care enough a bit of help.
But, it's decision time up there in Brentford Towers. Waterstone's Head Office should work out what it's message should be. Isn't it time it bit the bullet, and admit that it's too big to be a local bookshop?
It probably is about time it left 'Local' up to the independents, who survive precisely because they understand the what Local means....but what do I know?
Friday, September 28, 2007
48 Days since the Waterstone's in Wood Green closed
and still no sign of anyone in there.
entries already recieved
'I wonder if they've changed the locks.'
'Tim had been holding that sheet of glass for 3 hours now'
'Well our bookshop will be this big'
all entries in by the end of September. The winner will recieve something light enough to post, but cheap enough that we can afford it.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
There are some days when you don't think much is happening, and then you realise that that you've actually achieved loads. Today's been one of those days. I took back 'how to open your own shop' and 'business plans in a week' to the library (I would have bought them if there was a bookshop in Wood green, but.....), and then decided to send a few e-mails.
Tim and I, as we've mentioned before, are letting the residents of Wood Green decide what to call the shop, in a competition. We've sent out the forms to all the local schools now, and Tim got in touch with the local paper today. We wanted to persuade them to put the competition in there as well, and realised that, as next week was National Children's Book Week (i wonder if the chains have any plans for advertising this), we could combine the two things. So we got together a pitch where local residents and people interested our quest would let us know what their favourite kid's book was, and why. The paper loved the idea, so i've started to contact a few people that have a Wood Green connection, and I also asked our 'facebook' group to respond .(Please feel free to contribute to this). I'm still waiting for a reply from Gerry J, but so far, so good and we'll be putting the list on the blog as well. It may also become one of our first in-store promotions.
I've also been getting in touch with a number of publicity departments and literary agents to see what they could do for us (and what we could do for them), and i've had a fantastic response from that too.
We had a call from the bank this morning, and although we don't want to count our egg producing domestic fowl, things look pretty good. We should have some confirmation very soon. The leaseholder of the shop has gone AWOL, which is delaying things a bit, but, all in all, it's been a very productive day.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
We had an 11am appointment with the bank, and at 10.55am, we were in a well known stationers using a hole punch to put our business plan into a shiny folder. We'd scrubbed up nicely, and for the first time in 2 years I was in shirt and trousers. When I say this, I don't mean I walk around in socks and pants all day, you understand. Anyway, the visit was shorter than we'd expected, although fairly encouraging. The Small Business Advisor had a look at the business plan and we seemed to have covered all the questions she had.
We'll be getting a call today/tomorrow to let us know the outcome. The only slight downer was the timescale. It'll probably take around 4-5 weeks to get the loan, so it's going to make opening in November a bit of a challenge. But we're going ahead with the purchase of the lease at the same time so it's still possible.
I did an interview with an online arts website called artsub.co.uk which will appear on Thursday or Friday.
Tim's been thinking of some rather interesting marketing ideas, which we may 'perform' a week on Saturday, and he's also trying to get us in the local paper again with a couple of different stories. Hopefully more on that later.
On a different note, THANKYOU for all you calls, letters, emails, messages etc. of support and advice. These things help so much, and as Earl Hickey would say 'Do good things, and good things happen to you', so you're doing yourselves no harm either!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Just a little.... after all my years on the planet I have found that it is a real waste of energy to get really cross. Especially about things over which we have no control. Like the closing of a shop, for instance. Just an example I picked at random, you understand.
But - and like Vanessa Feltz, it's a big butt - when you are given only 9 days notice, you might get a little moody.
And then your team work their preverbial butts off (leaving a butt shortage in Wood Green that only the magnificent Ms Feltz could fill) to get the stock packed up and sent off. One might be forgiven for feeling a tad grumpy.
AND THEN THE SHOP STAYS EMPTY FOR THE NEXT MONTH!!!! Well, yes, actually I am quite cross about that.
OK, I don't know whether it was Waterstone's or H&M paying the rent, but I am sure that we could have stayed there a little longer. Maybe by trading for a little longer we may have been able to soften the blow to both the staff and the customers. A week wouldn't have hurt, would it? or two?
To add insult to injury, our last window (Painted by the fantastic Cally) with it's ironic Harry Potter message "How Will It All End?" is still in place. Both a question, and an answer. It all ends with an empty shop. Bare walls and concrete floors, tails of wires hanging from the ceiling and specially imported dust gathering in the corners. (Why specially imported dust? Because we left it clean, that's why!)
Having got quite cross, I told Simon, who laughed and said that yes, actually he was quite cross too. And he raised the question "Who is paying the rent?" Well, as I said before, there are only two choices. So we clenched our little fists, screwed up our little eyes, and made a little wish.
Can you guess who we wanted to pay for an empty shop??? Well, can you?
I managed to get my hands on a copy of the new Nick Hornby yesterday. I've always enjoyed his writing. I remember when Fever Pitch came out in 1992. I was a bookseller in Bristol at the time and I used to go to watch Bristol City for every home game. There was nothing like it at the time, which, considering the plethera of football books around now, is hard to imagine. Hornby managed to change the perception of the football obsessive, and I imagine that there were loads of blokes around the country forcing this book on to their girlfriends/wives and saying 'please read this book, it explains why i'm like I am'. It was a phenomenon at the time, and I devoured it. Then came 'My Favourite Year', a collection of football writing, with Hornby himself writing a great piece on Cambridge United, and a brilliant short by Roddy Doyle on Ireland's world cup rollercoaster.
When his next book came out 'High Fidelity', I loved him even more. Does this man live in my head?, I thought, because it seemed he was writing his books with just me in mind. It remains on of my favourite ever books.
I've been lucky enough to meet him a few times, most recently when he did a 'tour' with a band called Marah in April last year. It was an interesting concept. Nick would read a piece about a band or a time period in his life, and then Marah would blast out a four minute song to compliment the reading. And Phil Jupitus was comparing, and also in attendance was comedy legend Bob Mills (In Bed With Medinner, Win Lose or Draw...genius).
Anyhow, Slam promises to be another gem, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. It's out soon, and as luck would have it, our shop will be open (hopefully) soon after that.
We've been pulling together an events programme for the period between opening and Christmas, and this seems like a great soapbox for some shameless request. If you happen to be in a position of influence in the publishing industry, or maybe the music industry, and have an author/band that you think would like to visit the mighty Wood Green in November, and appear at a most exciting new bookshop , my e-mail address is in my profile.
By the way, were off to the bank on Monday to ask for cash. The business plan is complete, and if I were a bank, i'd lend us the money, so that's alright then isn't it?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
We sorted out a solicitor to look after all the fancy stuff, and as the ingoing business we have to pay all the legal fees for all parties. We knew this already so it wasn't a big surprise. So that's £3000 + VAT.
We've got an appointment next monday with a bank to sort out the loan, so we've pulled all the strands of the business plan together. The plan's going off to the small business advisor at Haringey Council, and also to a prospective investor to check out and make sure we haven't missed anything obvious. Once that's all sorted, I might go and buy a tie...and a shirt....oh, and maybe some smart shoes...and possibly trousers that aren't jeans, for our visit to the bank.
Tim's put together a floorplan of the shop and we're going through a few possibilities on the layout. There's plenty of time for that though.
I should be getting my redundancy money tomorrow. I hope they haven't forgotten.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I am not sure about the way I am being portrayed in this blog. I seem to come over as a cowboy hat wearing, door barging, DIY doing, begging drunk.
OK, all of the above is true, but there is so much more to me........ I think.
After leaving the Regeneration Team meeting (see Simon's entry below) I stuck my nose through the door of the Chocolate Factory 2. This is an industrial estate full of artists of all shapes, sizes and persuasions. I was just interested in launching a competition for painters to do their thing on one of our outside walls (second prize is to paint a mural on the front of the counter, third prize to do portraits of Simon & I to hang over the office door.... Hmmm, may have to re-think the third prize)
The door was locked, and the intercom/door openy thing was labelled with all the artists names, but nothing obviously officey or receptiony (Overuse of the 'Y' thingy) Luckily there was a chap sorting through the post just outside the door and - after his initial surprise at being addressed by a man in a grey stetson - he let me in and took me to an office on the second floor.
The office was quite the unfriendliest I have ever seen. Not the people, they seemed fine - Ritta in particular, but a little more about her later. No the office itself... bare concrete floors, unplastered walls, battered timbers, quite high ceilings (I didn't notice if they actually had a ceiling or if it was left open for the pipes and ductwork to be seen) The desks were divided by temporary screens, which afforded some privacy, but other than that it was as if someone had just plonked a load of office stuff in the middle of a building site. It must get really cold in winter.
Anyway Ritta was very nice, and showed interest in the project, so I took her details and will email her the competition stuff when we've decided exactly what we want... and what we can offer as prizes.
More advice from a couple of the lovely mums in the playground of my boys' school (I am meeting a lot of lovely mums at the moment, they all look at me with a certain amount of pity. Maybe because I don't have a job... maybe its the hat?) 'Get the local youth service to send some graffiti artists.' said one. Hmm, I thought, that's a good idea. Very urban, very 'Wood Green'. 'Oh yes,' agreed the other. 'My son had his friends 'Graff up' his room. It looks like some one broke in, but he likes it.' Oh dear god.
Anniversary today. Julie (the wife who I am not allowed to write about) bought me a suede jacket. "In keeping with your new cowboy theme," she said with an evil grin. It doesn't have a fringe, but I guess I can sew one on. Sorry Simon
Monday, September 17, 2007
so off we went to the Estate Agents this morning to put the offer in. I walked, Tim moseyed ( yes, he was wearing his cowboy hat). As we walked in, the piano player stopped and everyone turned and stared. There was an awkward silence, as we slowly moved towards the desk and took our seats.
'£28000' we said, 'that's a good offer'.
'yeah, it sounds good' came the reply.
we exchanged contact details, got a bit more info on the property, and left. We were either going to hear today or tomorrow, and as it's 6.45pm as I write this, it looks like it's tomorrow. It's difficult to think of anything else right now.
We had an appointment with the Haringey Regeneration Team this afternnon, and they were as helpful as they could be (no money, but lots of advice). They're going to go through our business plan to make sure it covers everything, and it's pretty clear they're very happy about the new shop. The closure of waterstone's was a big kick in the teeth for them. It's difficult trying to improve an area, and encourage new business etc, when one of the most respected ones ups and leaves.
Tim called some of the primary/junior schools in the area. We are having a competition to name the shop, and we're going to get all the schools in the area come up with ideas for names. The winner will get to unveil the sign and get some free stuff, so it should be fun all round. I was listening in to the phone calls, and it sounded pretty hard going on a couple of occasions
Tim ; 'Hello, my name's Tim West, and I was the manager of the Waterstone's in Wood Green that recently closed down. The reason i'm phoning is we're......................yes, that's right...........about a month ago..................yes it is a shame, anyway the reason i'm.....................well that's the reason i'm phoning, we're opening a new bookshop in the area, and we're having a competition for the children to name the new shop.......no it won't be called Waterstone's, it's a new independent bookshop..............so can you put me through to her then................OK, i'll call back tomorrow.'
I haven't used my Waterstone's loyalty card yet.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We had a look at a premises today. It's a nice size (700 square feet), and has an impressive shopfront. The windows are great, and offer lots of possibilities. It's not directly on the High Road, where rents are insane, but it's on a road leading off it, and is still very visible. There were two small offices inside that the bloke who was there to show us around didn't have keys for. Despite Tim throwing himself against the door, and the bloke ramming a screwdriver into the keyhole(?), we couldn't get in. We pretty much got the idea though.
We're going to see the estate agents on Monday.
We've also got an appointment with Haringey Council's Economic Regeneration Team on Monday. They're going to see if there's anything they can do to help, as, thankfully, they can see that the bookshop is something that will make a positive impact on the community. There'll be a small business adviser there as well.
Tim's been getting quotes for shop fittings, and also we've found a local sign-maker, so things are moving on at a pace.
Friday, September 14, 2007
We hit the local paper on yesterday. I would have thought they could have come up with a better headline.
' New Chapter in Wood Green Bookshop Saga'
'The Plot Thickens...'
'New Bookshop offers a happy ending'
please feel free to make your own headlines....
The day was spent re-looking at the premises we'd seen earlier, and doing some sums. We've contacted Bertams and Gardners (the 2 largest book wholesalers), and are checking out the best options for supply. I've added a poll at the top of the page, and invite you, the reader, to let us know who you think we should use.
Friday, and we went to have a look at another possible premises. This one looks like it could be a winner. We're meeting the landlord on Saturday. We arranged to meet him a bit later in the day, as Friday was my girlfriend's birthday, and I predict a sore head on Saturday morning.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Leafy Hawthorn Road (where I live) celebrated it's one hundredth birthday on Saturday 8th Sept 2007 with a fantastic street party. I must admit that I had fairly low expectations of the day, so I spent the whole afternoon in a state of surprise. Wow number one. The people I share this road with are really nice. Wow number two. The kids are actually having fun (not moping around whinging 'Da-ad, there's nuffin to do') Wow number three. Local councillors, and politicians and the Mayor actually turned up. Wow number four. They are nice people too (with the possible exception of the Mayor, who is quite obviously barking. Nice-but-mad)
I had a really good chat to Councillor Errol Reid, who really loved bookshops, and was really keen to add his support to this project. I asked him for money. He laughed. I laughed too, just to put him at ease. Then I asked him for money again - apparently it's only funny once. He did give me some quite good advice. "Maybe," he said. "You don't need to be right on Wood Green High Road. The rents come down quite sharply just off the main drag." This bit of advice seems to have been telepathically transmitted to Simon, as the site he has arranged for us to look at later this week is - in fact - just off the high street.
I had another really good chat with our local MP, Lynne Featherstone, who is a genuinely nice person. She was also really keen to add her support to the project. I asked her for money. She laughed. I laughed too and, having learnt my lesson, I didn't ask again. She did however add me to her blog. Read it here http://www.lynnefeatherstone.org/blog.htm The bit about me is under the heading 'How to cut the crime rate in your area'. I had no idea that bookshops held such sway with the criminal fraternity. I shall add this little known fact to the business plan. You will notice that she mentions the begging for money, but not my name. Heartless woman, after all we meant to each other.
Sunday - hangover. Simon's making me feel guilty by working. The guilt doesn't last too long as I plan...
Monday - cinema. Took Julie (the wife whom I am not allowed to mention) to see Run Fatboy Run as it's the last day of her holiday. Great film, really funny. I managed to squeeze in a couple of phone calls just to make it feel like I'm contributing, and I work a little on our pre-trading expense calculations.
Tuesday - Nice chat to the manager of WHSmiths in Brent Cross. He seems like a good guy, and understood my position, and wished me well with the bookshop. The rest of our conversation was private, and involved pictures of a close family friend and a teenage ninja turtle costume.
Monday, September 10, 2007
It was about time I got a bit of exercise, so today I got the bike out for the first time since July. I used to cycle to work before I moved to Wood green, but then it only took 5 minutes to walk, so I put the bike in mothballs so to speak. I'd arranged to meet an old friend today. Isla is the owner/manager of the Barnes Bookshop and the Kew Bookshop, and I went down to Barnes to get some advice. It's a long way from Wood Green to Barnes (about 15 miles), and so I pumped up the tyres and set off with a bit of trepidation. It took a while and I took a wrong turn in Hammersmith, but when I got there I had a really great chat. The bookshop in Barnes is gorgeous, and Isla's really tailored it to appeal to her customers. Wood green and Barnes are miles apart, not just in distance, but in the market, but it gave me a lot of inspiration. During lunch Isla gave me some fantastic advice, and cleared up a couple of concerns that I had. Nice ciabbata too.
I did a little tour of South West London after that, visiting Waterstone's in High Street Kensington and Notting Hill. I signed up for a Waterstone's Loyalty card too. Now that, Alanis Morisette, is Ironic.
the wierd thing about being out of work is that you have no idea what day of the week it is. The weekends are stil great. Katie's around, and it's good to have at least one lazy day a week, I think. Sunday was spent taking a leisurely walk over Alexandra Park, visiting the farmer's market, and moaning about how expensive everything was.
I did get a couple of encouraging bits of news in the evening. Firstly, our local Councillor Catherine Harris (LibDem) returned a call I made to her on Saturday about the shop. She was really excited about the plans and told me she would have a look at some funding options, as well as giving me some very good advice on a number of other issues. More to follow....
Secondly, Scott Pack, the Commercial Director of the Friday Project emailed me back to and invited me to do a guestspot on his fantastic blog 'me and my big mouth', to advertise the shop.
spiffin' ain't it?
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Just a few days after the closure of Waterstone's was announced the support for the shop and its staff started rolling in. This is the most positive thing that has come out of this whole affair. We simply did not know how much people loved us. And now, whenever we tell anyone of our plans they are really enthusiastic and full of encouragement. They still love us!
I just wanted to say thank-you, really.
Oh, and if you are a local Bookseller check out the on-line petition that one of our customers started. http://www.petitiononline.com/Bookshop/ .The petition is closed now, but the comments prove that what we are doing - as a trade - is still worthwhile. It'll give you a lift, trust me.
Friday, September 07, 2007
The last couple of days have been spent starting to pull together a business plan. We've had a look at a couple of possible premises in Wood Green, and although we knew the rent was high, it still takes some getting used to. We had a really useful chat with a guy whose business was relocating from Wood Green. He had a shop about 600 square foot, which was probably too small for what we have planned, but he was able to give us a heads up on some of the costs that we only had estimates on (insurance, gas/electric, rates). This will enable us to make our business model more robust. (listen to me...'robust', 'business model'. Someone's been reading up on business planning recently).
We also found somewhere other than our houses to meet in future. It will help having less distractions, and we had a fine example of one of those this morning, when Tim's ceiling came down, with a few gallons of water in hot pursuit! Tim wasn't too keen on calling a plumber, he's quite handy with the DIY, and I imagine that the bill he would be presented with at the end was also off-putting, so i'll look forward to hearing the end of that story.
We have started our marketing campaign too, and after a couple of calls to the local paper, we had a photographer round this morning. They're going to run an article next week, which will certainly help spread the word.
We've sent a pitch to a couple of the nationals too, suggesting a weekly diary, so we'll have to see how that pans out. Tim also suggested trying for a reality TV show, a kind of Jimmy's Farm, for urbanites (but without Jamie Oliver's money). Mmmm..