We have now been trading for 3 months and the realities of running a bookshop has been... a mixed experience.
Time to take stock and gear up for a long list of improvements to come. So many ideas, so many possibilities... and all I wanted to do was read books and drink coffee until I'm old and grey... not just yet though, there's work to be done here.
Book sales for us so far have been so so. Don't get me wrong, we have sold over 20% of our starting stock which is great but we had greater ambitions. Personally, our book sales could certainly be much better but then we don't have nearly the amount of titles we would ideally like. Perhaps the quality of the titles are appealing to some but the lack of choice is putting others off? Most bookshops have been trading for over 30 years and have built up a sizeable variety of titles over the years, unfortunately we do not have that advantage just yet.
We have only been trading for 3 months so it is to be expected! With unsigned windows and very little external indication of what lies inside the store we have left it up to customers to walk in and 'discover' our little hidden gem.
Another issue to be improved on is the lack of staff presence on the 'book-side'. With our café pulling in a constant stream of visitors it is hard to find the time to jump on the 'book-side' reception desk. With recent studies showing that 49% of books are sold on recommendations then perhaps this could be contributing to our less than average book sales.
Having spent the last of our £20,000 budget it is now apparent that that sheer size of the bookshop has swallowed our 3,500 titles! We must continue to trade in order to both replenish and expand on what we have now.
On the plus side, it is screamingly apparent that the 'real-book' trade is not dead. In fact, it seems to be on the increase again. The UK is experiencing a post-hibernation style revival with booksellers and publishers beginning to stretch their legs and rub their tummies in the run up to Christmas 2015. It seems e-book sales have seen a decrease this year too which is good news for all of us in the book trade. Picking a book to read in a bookshop, with the smell of the pages, the gold foil, the clothbound cover and the quality in the weight of a real book is as much fun as reading the book itself, something an e-book can't do for you.
I have found the following to be our saving grace factors in remaining open:
- The overall look and feel of the shop as a creative, expressive chill-out, social-lounge space.
- Hand picking our starting stock gave us control over the quality of the titles which utilised our limited budget in the best way possible.
- The provision of tea, coffee and cakes to survive the early months and also to create a time-slowing effect in the bookshop. Customers can really make a day of their visit or just pop in for a calming lunch break.
- The 4,000 sq ft floor space. Whilst it has made our book stock look minimal it has also given the bookshop a spacious feel and lots of room for us to grow into.
Feedback from our customers at 'discovering' the store has been overwhelmingly positive that we hardly seem doomed to failure in the face of so much enthusiasm. Our regulars have been central in spreading the word by pulling in friends and family and returning time after time. Generous visitors have donated to our 'Used Books' section so we can appeal to all types of shoppers and publishers have been in constant contact, keeping us up to date with what's new on the market.
Our idea to provide 'Reading Copies' of all our titles has been a hit with customers. We've watched loungers sit for hours with a reading copy, a blanket and a pot of tea, secure in the knowledge that they are 100% sure of their purchase. In 3 months we have had 0% returns on purchases.
This has also ensured that the 'Buying Copies' are wrapped and kept in perfect condition for sale. None of our stock has ripped covers or dog eared corners thus de-valuing the book. The decision to invest in a pricey shrink wrap machine has certainly paid off as we haven't lost any stock to damage so far.
So few bookshops have opened in the last year there is no readily available advice to be sought on these matters. Let's see what 'Phase 2' holds in store for us on the book front! We have many ideas in the pipeline now that we know what our foundations are made of!
It's fair to say that our wonderful coffee has been keeping Chapter One financially alive.
With Foundation Coffee, Ezra and Gill and Tariff and Dale all opening around the same time as us it was a worrying time for the Chapter One team. We have been competing with slick, well honed industrial chic shop fits with elite equipment and previous corporate experience backing up these financially charged coffee houses... so big, and shiny and alluring in their newness. We also knew we were sandwiched between two pillars of coffee excellence in the NQ with long-standing formidable standards... 'Fig and Sparrow' and 'Takk'. A nail biting time!
However, the small but mighty power of Ancoats Coffee's speciality roast operation combined with our more relaxed shop decor seems to have done the trick, yay! We thankfully, have provided something 'different' in the stores ambience and something delectable in the coffee's smooth City Warehouse roast... To a profitable effect.
Tea and cakes have also helped to bolster sales figures. Pairing the romance of an 'afternoon-tea' vibe with books has been well received whilst our hot food menu has left customers questioning, 'Is this all on offer?'.
Although not all our café experiments have gone so smoothly!
Improvements to be made in 'Phase 2' are more of an operational factor in the café. We will need more seating, better coffee menus and a chef to expand on our hot food options and a blurring of the boundaries between the café-side and the book-side. Onwards and upwards!
The events have been a wonderful experience. With 7 book launches in September and more lined up in October we have been having a great time sipping wine, nibbling on canapés and celebrating so many talented authors both local and from afar.
Our small theatre space is functional but still unfinished decor-wise and so has not been advertised to any great effect as yet. A guaranteed improvement for our 'Phase 2' plans where we hope we can advertise these exciting events to the general public well in advance.
We hope the quality of events and the outstanding turnout continues into the rest of the year.
We have seen profits increase across the board month on month.
Bookshops and real-books are not a dead venture although certainly a risky investment. You have to be realistic and give it all you have in order to make it work.
We will be busy making improvements to the store and it's services as we enter into 'Phase 2' of Chapter One's setup.
Phase 1 has seen us off to a good start!