01.01.70 | Independent Bookseller
I write from a small independent bookshop in the west of the country. We are in no way a remarkable shop, and we do not trade in a remarkable town. We are lucky not to have any immediate local competition as the nearest Waterstone's is five miles away and Amazon is therefore our main competitor.
Our year-on-year run rate this year is roughly +10% to +15%. In December, we were blessed with something nearer +30%, with some Saturdays being over +50%. We have done nothing particularly remarkable to achieve this—just been consistently nice to our customers over the year, been reliable with orders, and remembered what sort of things people like to buy. We do stock, I think, a lot for a shop our size (maybe 7,000 titles over 700 sq ft), and we do try to tailor this around what our customers like. We have never price promoted a book yet. We are safe, secure, old-fashioned, not gimmicky in any way whatsoever, local and kind.
Over the year I have tuned a customer's broken TV, taken old ladies to and from hospital, fed and watered the young and the elderly, delivered books all over, taken in all sorts of deliveries for people, spent hours listening to people and hearing about their lives—and generally tried to spread as much "good karma" as a bookseller can. We've visited schools, the WI, and spoken at any number of local groups and clubs.
I have no idea how our sales will continue. We've always done OK, but trade is definitely getting better. I think that our customers really value us and I think they don't like big companies that discount and shout about price and "value". They just do not trust them—but they trust us.
There's no great sales philosophy or strategy. We try to do the best possible by our customers, in whatever way we can. We love our work, and are incredibly lucky to be doing what we do. It's hard sometimes, but anything worth doing always is. As I said initially we are in no way remarkable, I think that there are probably hundreds of small booksellers doing what we do. Amazon, W H Smith's, Waterstone's, Tesco and Asda—any big company—can never achieve what we try to do. I rather suspect that the harder they try, the more it helps us. And I rather think that the big companies have had their day, with lots of shouting, fuss and hullaballoo.
God knows what 2010 will bring—but I hope it will bring at least a trade press that concentrates a bit more on the work of the independent sector. We're not big or loud, or even very exciting. But we do our best by the communities we are in, and, at least here, it seems to be reciprocated.