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Retail Awards shortlists: part two
25.07.08 | Tom Tivnan
The Bookseller Retail Awards are back for their fourth year, bigger and better than ever before. In the second of two previews, Tom Tivnan checks out the contenders in the final eight categories.
The Headline Bookselling Company of the Year
This coveted overall award pits the winners of three other categories against each other: the High Street Retailer of the Year, the Martina Cole General Retailer of the Year and the DHL Global Mail Direct to Consumer Bookselling Company of the Year. The award was created to highlight the best in British bookselling in areas such as buying management, staff motivation, customer service, supply chain management, marketing and customer service. Last year, Blackwell pipped Asda and The Book People to the post—the academic bookseller was rewarded for a dramatic turnaround, its company-wide commitment to change and astute leadership.
The Random House Group Award for Outstanding Contibution to Bookselling
This award will be presented to the individual, or group of individuals, who have made a significant contribution to their own bookselling business—not just in the judging period, but over a number of years. The winner will be a dynamic, positive force in the industry, and will have enhanced both the reputation and success of bookselling. The three previous winners have been industry titans: The Book People founder Ted Smart, Ottakar’s founder James Heneage and former Borders c.e.o. David Roche. Last year, Smart was the unanimous choice of the judges, praised for his unique contribution to the trade.
The DHL Global Mail Direct to the Consumer Bookselling Company of the Year
From strength to strength
By some margin the world’s most successful book e-tailer, and the 2006 winner in this category, Amazon had another busy and successful 12 months. Though it cannot disclose UK-specific financials, Amazon says it had an “outstanding” performance in 2007/08, with the international section of Amazon.com Inc now making up about 50% of worldwide sales. Amazon.co.uk has improved customer experience with its Prime service, which offers one-day delivery on millions of items, and an evening delivery service in London and Birmingham. This year, Amazon launched Vine, a network of the site’s top reviewers that aims to generate buzz around titles before release. Industry-facing initiatives include the Vendor Central portal, which enables publishers to track sales and inventory information. A site redesign in early 2008 focused on four areas—shopping, saving, searching and buying—with those subjects featured prominently on the top of each web page. A new Movers and Shakers chart, aping the popular Hot 100 bestseller chart, identifies the books that have been the biggest gainers in sales rank.
The Book Depository
Astonishing growth combined with customer satisfaction
Founded in 2004 with the slogan “all books available to all”, web-based The Book Depository works with publishers, distributors, wholesalers, and even other retailers to make as many titles available to as many customers as possible. Based on a long-tail philosophy, TBD is currently able to dispatch 1.9 million titles from its Gloucester distribution centre every 48 hours. With a goal to “sell less of more” books, TBD’s growth has been phenomenal, shooting from a standing start in 2004 to become one of the UK’s top 10 booksellers in turnover. The company has free worldwide delivery, has increased its customer service hours to 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, and pledges to answer all customer emails within 30 minutes. Customers seem to like it; of 500,000 who responded to an independent survey last year, only 1% returned a negative response.
The Book People
Connecting to readers at the workplace
The reigning champ for this award, The Book People have been making books more accessible and affordable for 20 years. The business model focuses on reconnecting adult non-book buyers with reading for pleasure, by taking handpicked selections of titles to people in their workplace. TBP has a network of almost 150 teams in the UK and Republic of Ireland, delivering books to more than 30,000 offices and factories every week. Revenue, margin and profits have increased year on year for TBP, helped by state of the art distribution and IT. Innovations for 2007 include the introduction of a VIP service for the most loyal customers, a relaunched website and the distribution contract for Booked Up, a government scheme that delivered free books to more than 630,000 school children.
Growing its books market share
Founded in 1998, Play.com was primarily a music, DVD and video game specialist for 18 to 35-year-old men. Yet it has greatly ramped up its book programme in recent years, expanding its customer base and demographics, and is now the UK’s second-largest online bookseller. With books becoming central to its business, Play saw a sales rise of 29% over the Christmas period. Growing the company has not reduced performance; a customer service study by independent market research firm ABA over Christmas 2007 showed that Play came out on top of all e-tailers, beating Amazon, eBay and HMV, among others. While its core demographic remains young men, it is reaching out to families, with the site gaining some significant market share in titles like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials box set. It has a robust direct marketing strategy, and joined up with Random House Group and the National Film and Television School for the inaugural Bookseller Video Book Awards, which produced movie-style trailers for books.
Scholastic Book Clubs
A new approach brings results
A direct mail operation selling through schools since 1964, Scholastic Book Clubs made major changes in its operating model in September 2007. Previously, the company had five different age range clubs, which were run in separate classrooms. SBC streamlined the business into just two clubs, Primary and Secondary, which could now be run by just one teacher per school, and the club packs were sent out six times per year rather than 10 to reduce administration. A child-centred website was also launched, aimed at increasing children’s sense of “belonging” to the club, and providing more information about books and authors. The shake-up has done wonders for the business, with SBC’s total revenue increasing 20%, and the club selling 40% more units. Schools, which receive free books if involved in the scheme, benefited from the upsurge by getting 57,000 more free books.
The High Street Retailer of the Year
Bridging academia and the high street, and building new links
“The Knowledge Retailer” romped home with this award last year after bouncing back from years of sluggish performances and Blackwell family infighting. Following the award, c.e.o. Vince Gunn and his team entered into their second year of their turnaround plan with solid sales increases in the academic bookseller’s key Back to University period. Over the year, the chain has opened new shops in the Wellcome Collection in London and Reading University, and refurbished its Edinburgh Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh South Bridge and Manchester locations. Blackwell has focused on establishing its brand as the discerning, value-added bookseller that bridges academia and the high street through marketing partnerships with publishers such as Oxford University Press, and rolling out Blackwell Range, a line of high-quality gift stationery and diaries. Ramped-up offers for other non-book items have paid off, with dramatic jumps in functional stationery, DVD and book accessory sales. A strategic partnerships programme has included a link up with Limkokwing University, whereby Blackwell will provide bookselling, library and library supply services to up to 30 of the private university group’s locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Innovation in a year of change
It would not be understating things to say that Borders has experienced a year of fundamental changes. First there was the six-month sale process that ended in September 2007 with Luke Johnson’s Risk Capital Partners buying the Borders UK business from the company’s American owners. Then there was the shock resignation in January of c.e.o. David Roche, who was replaced by Philip Downer. In March, Borders announced it is to completely replace its UK IT systems later this year, along with a complete restructure of its supply chain. Yet through all of the changes—and tough trading conditions—the bookseller’s team has managed to hit sales targets and achieve solid sales growth. Testament, perhaps, to the quality of its staff, and the reason it won this category in 2005 and 2006. Digital has been at the forefront of Borders’ strategy, with Julie Howkins appointed as the new head of e-commerce, and a fully transactional website launched in the summer, while in May it became the first high street retailer to sell an e-reader, the iLiad.
Iconic brand expands
Arguably Britain’s most famous bookshop, in the past 12 months Foyles has continued with its programme of expansion. A shop was opened in the St Pancras Eurostar station in February 2007 and a new one is scheduled to open at the west London White City development this autumn. This will bring six shops under the venerable family bookselling banner. The strategic rationale for the expansion is to continue to exploit Foyles’ uniqueness and character, yet also opening in areas with heavy footfall. It is paying off, with turnover in 2007 jumping a remarkable 25%. Foyles re-launched its website in 2007, trading on one of the flagship Charing Cross Road store’s key assets: its range. There is beefed-up content, customers can see live stock availability and there is a collect-in-store option. Since the relaunch, web sales have jumped by more than 50%. Key marketing initiatives throughout the year include the launch of Foyalty, a card-based loyalty scheme, and a partnership with the Evening Standard to form the newspaper’s book club.
Reconnecting with customers, strengthening the brand
With the Ottakar’s integration finally beginning to solidify, Waterstone’s set out this year with three objectives: improve engagement with its customers, revitalise customer service and build its online presence. Engaging with customers was achieved by a number of high-profile marketing initiatives, including the Writer’s Year, launched in January 2008. The campaign is designed to build the Waterstone’s brand, emphasising the values of a community bookshop where excellence in writing is fundamental. The Waterstone’s loyalty card was launched in 2007 and has been a success, with 1.4 million customers joining to date. A new-format children’s section, split into age ranges through colour coding, has increased children’s sales. Waterstones.com, which is fully transactional and has community forums enabling bookseller and customer interaction, has continued to grow beyond expectations, with monthly visitors to the website exceeding one million. The major development operationally will be the introduction of a central distribution hub, which aims to reduce costs, boost the bookseller’s green credentials and lead to a lower workload for shop staff.
The Martina Cole General Retailer of the Year
Strong growth in children’s and backlist
It has been another year of growth for Asda, last year’s winner in this category. Books buyer Steph Bateson has steered the supermarket through a double-digit year-on-year sales rise, with notable jumps in both backlist and children’s titles. The children’s rise was in part due to an overhaul of the kids’ section, with the introduction of year-round promotional bays, an age-segregated layout and more books to encourage boys to read. A massive Harry Potter 7 launch also added to children’s sales, with Asda selling almost 500,000 copies in the first 24 hours of the book’s release. The Asda Book Club was launched in January, in partnership with Hachette and Galaxy chocolate, and has led to a 20% surge in sales on selected titles.
Local ties in Norwich
Books have been a core part of Jarrold’s offer since the Norwich-based, family-run department store opened in 1823. Despite fierce competition—Norwich has two W H Smith’s, three Waterstone’s, a Borders, a Tesco and a Sainsbury’s—Jarrold is still regarded as the main bookseller in the city. Turnover for the book department, which boasts 40,000 titles, increased last year, boosted by a strong children’s offer, a robust events programme and innovative marketing. The twice-yearly Literary Lunches are annual sell-outs, and have recently featured A-list authors such as Penny Vincenzi, Jonathan Dimbleby and Clare Francis. Strong ties with the local community help as well: Jarrold sponsors an East Anglian book awards in conjunction with the Eastern Daily Press, and the shop has a partnership with the University of East Anglia’s creative writing programme.
Changing formats brings a growth spurt
Sainsbury’s could arguably be called the UK’s biggest range supermarket bookseller, with some shops having up to 25 bays featuring categories including history, crime, romance & saga, education and picture books. It sees books as a winning product: this year a books offer will be rolled out to 38 additional shops and a new format will increase non-food capacity to 30,000 square feet. The chain had a healthy books sales spurt last year and has seen its market share grow. An increased children’s and education offer has led to a 55% upsurge in back to school books. Marketing successes include the launch of a weekly £3.49 paperback book of the week, a Christmas 2007 two for £20 hardback promotion and a “try something new” bay of product recommendations. Cookery books sold well, with heavily discounted offers on Delia Smith’s How to Cheat at Cooking and Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite doing particularly well.
Every little bit of range expansion helps
The UK’s biggest retailer, and this award’s 2006 winner, has continued to ramp up its books offer, enjoying an almost double-digit year-on-year increase in sales. This was driven by the exceptionally strong performance of Harry Potter, an increased participation in seasonal events such as Father’s Day and Hallowe’en, and a strong Christmas 2007 performance. A Tesco Book Club was launched in June 2007, which focuses on quality paperbacks. The club was promoted through a dedicated website, coverage in Tesco magazine and branded p.o.s. on the books instore, and has shifted more than 150,000 books to date. The bookselling effort continues to expand; a literary fiction bay was rolled out to 440 stores across the country, and 170 shops sold the Man Booker shortlist titles.
W H Smith
Marketing links pay dividends
During the past year, W H Smith has given more space over to books, and it has paid off: its share of the Total Consumer Market has risen steadily, with a surge in like-for-like sales. A “customer-focused” offer is driven by massive TV campaigns, which led to a significant market share of titles by bestselling authors such as Russell Brand, Richard Hammond and Nigella Lawson. Yet the high street retailer has also made significant inroads into literary fiction with its read of the week partnership with the Times. Another high-profile corporate link-up was with McDonald’s, to support key film releases such as “Shrek the Third” and “Bee Movie”, leading to sales of nearly 500,000 books.
Getting serious about books
By hiring former W H Smith and Borders book buyer Matt Bridge last year, Woolworths signalled it was getting serious about books. The retailer’s strategy is to give more space and a promotional push to the category. Woolies has shown it can succeed, particularly in its core market: its market share for Katie Price’s Jordan: Pushed to the Limit outperformed its overall market share by a factor of five. Its most high-profile marketing campaign thus far—the biggest ongoing book promotion Woolies has ever been involved in—has been a tie-in with the Daily Express. In a six-month deal, Woolworths offered Express readers a £6.99 book discounted to £2.99 every Friday, and the book was reviewed in the paper. More than 20,000 copies of Martina Cole’s Broken were given away free by the Express at the promotion’s launch.
The Usborne Children's Bookseller of the Year
Putting kids at the heart of the offer
The holder in the category, Borders is the only bookselling chain to have a dedicated team of children’s book specialists in every shop. The aim is to put children’s titles at the heart of the store’s offer, with staff able to handsell and recommend titles. Borders says its children’s business is “booming”; it showed impressive growth in categories such as preschool, teen and general children’s fiction. Merchandising initiatives include the installation of a dedicated, age-ranged, front-of-store bay; merchandising space for reluctant readers; and publisher-branded bays in association with Disney, Dorling Kindersley, Ladybird and Usborne, among others. An Education Zone has been implemented in many shops, aiming to be a “one-stop shop” for parents that provides learning resources for all ages, from preschoolers to teens. The National Year of Reading has sharpened the focus on events, which includes the development of National Storytime held every Saturday and Sunday. World Book Day remains an integral part of the children’s calendar, and author signings have featured Anthony Horowitz, Gwyneth Rees, Charlie Higson and Darren Shan.
Mail order for a new generation
The Book People-owned mail order specialist has sharpened its offer in recent years as it meets the challenges of 21st-century bookselling. Red House Online has become increasingly community-focused, with the interactive website offering children the chance to “meet” their favourite authors online, find out book news, post reviews and enter competitions. A new loyalty scheme, Red House Extra, has been introduced for the mail order business; the number of orders rose by 26% in 2007, driven primarily by the scheme. The catalogue features reviews by children aged seven to 15, and Red House reviewers also contribute to First News, a newspaper for children. The company has worked at personalising the service; for example, customers buying an advanced copy of Anthony Horowitz’s newest Alex Rider novel received a personalised letter from the author. The company is a fixture at the Hay Festival, sponsoring the Red House Children’s Book Award and hosting five events.
Adding value, adding range
Tesco has consistently expanded its children’s offer year on year. Volume sales for children’s has shown strong double-digit growth in 2007 from the previous year, outpacing the rest of its books business. Currently 420 shops carry its full range of children’s titles, with selected titles going into 750 stores in total. Bays instore have been restructured so that smaller stores get a selection of genres as opposed to just receiving fiction. New initiatives for the year include a children’s shelf on the adult paperback chart in order to reach a much wider audience, a price blitz bay of extra discounted titles and localising the Christmas football annuals. A Tesco Children’s Book Club was launched in May, with two books featuring each month along with age guidance for parents. The Book Club has its own website, and Tesco’s main website often highlights its children’s offer.
Ringing in the changes
It has been a transformational year for the Waterstone’s children’s section. Following a successful trial in spring 2007, Waterstone’s has rolled out a new children’s format to shops. Key changes include section colour-coding to reflect age ranges, new directional signage and layouts to enable customers to shop more easily. In its education section, there has been a complete overhaul to give clearer signage for key stages and subjects. A reduced range of stock has made the section less intimidating to parents. There was a tremendous amount of excitement and media coverage around the Harry Potter launch, with 275 Waterstone’s shops opening at midnight, and the chain enjoyed first-day sales of 350,000 copies. A “Save Harry” campaign was run through Waterstones.com, with 150,000 customers signing an online petition to persuade J K Rowling to keep writing. Events have been key, including a widely successful “Super Saturday Story Time” campaign that had 300 Waterstone’s shops running a storytelling activity simultaneously. The company has a children’s regional support manager for each of its 21 regions to train and support booksellers instore.
W H Smith
Investment and focus
The past 12 months have seen an increased focus and investment by W H Smith into its children’s category. In Christmas 2007, more space for children’s was given front of store in high-traffic areas near gift wrap and greeting cards. A children’s chart was launched in spring 2008 next to adult book charts in 288 stores. February brought the introduction of character-led point of sale, improved signage and more promotional areas for TV and film character tie-ins. In March, Smith’s fully relaunched its education department, giving more space to secondary education. Several partnerships helped increase sales. The W H Smith Children’s Book of the Year, voted for by members of the public through the company’s website, was featured on “Richard & Judy”. An exclusive McDonald’s link up featured an on-the-box Happy Meal promotion, leading to sales of more than 500,000 film tie-in books.
The Penguin Award for Green Retail Initiative of the Year
Norfolk Children’s Book Centre
Green is part of its DNA
A top-to-bottom strategy on the environment and green issues has been part of the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre since the shop opened more than 20 years ago. The store is built in an isolated cottage in the Norfolk village of Alby, and it was designed to minimise environmental impact. The site was chosen in part for its elevated position and suitability for wind power generation. A wind turbine, in operation for nine years, provides a significant portion of the power for the Book Centre and an adjacent house. The shop is lit primarily by energy-saving lighting, and lighting patterns are changed between summer and winter depending on window proximity. The building is heated by oil burnt in a super-efficient condensing boiler. All radiators have thermostatic valves for local control. Despite supplying schools all over the country, the shop in 23 years has never bought cardboard boxes or packing material, instead recycling materials from their own suppliers. Using Bertrams, located just 18 miles away, as a main supplier reduces “book miles”.
W H Smith
Raising awareness throughout the business
The high street retailer has been an advocate of the environment, with its long-standing partnerships with the Woodland Trust and WWF Forest & Trade network. The partnership with the Woodland Trust in particular has helped raise funds and the profile of the organisation’s recycling programmes. In January 2008, W H Smith itself helped to recycle 73 million Christmas cards. In 2007, W H Smith supported the British Retail Consortium’s commitment to reduce carrier bag usage by 25%, with p.o.s. material at the till point and training of staff. A company-wide target to reduce energy consumption by 5% per square foot by August 2008 has already been exceeded. Smith’s has reduced emissions by sourcing energy from greener and renewable sources, and inaugurating a “Switch it Off” campaign of environmental best practice across the business. In its distribution, the company uses totes rather than cardboard to distribute and return stock throughout the supply chain. WHS has also worked with publishers to introduce pulping on-site to reduce returns.
The IBS Bookmaster Supply Chain Initiative of the Year
A smooth integration
Conducted in the key autumn trading period last year, the Woolworths Group’s integration of the Bertrams and THE distribution businesses could have been a major headache for the trade. Yet the creation of Bertrams/THE went smoothly and almost without a hitch. The undertaking was enormous, encompassing systems integration, customer migration, logistical issues and personnel changes. The biggest change was the winding up of the THE operation in Stoke, with the transfer of all operations to Bertrams’ newer, purpose-built facility. This effectively meant a 22% increase in the volume of the business, all to be managed through the Norwich site. Yet the smooth integration resulted in a more dynamic and sophisticated wholesaling operation than either of the two constituent parts could have done alone.
The Book Depository
New systems for a new model
The Book Depository is living up to its “all books available to all” slogan, by being able to dispatch around 1.9 million unique titles from its Gloucester operation over a 48-hour period. The company needs a complex supply chain to handle its long-tail approach, with a system that sources books from more than 40 different suppliers. The system re-engineers the traditional book trade supply chain as a series of independent services. Using cutting-edge technology, TBD continuously checks other retailers’ prices to optimise its own pricing. When a book is ordered, the system decides the optimal way to purchase the book, based on price, availability and available shipping method. Supplier performance is measured and continually fed back to the system.
HarperCollins Supply Chain
Voice Picking improves performance
In order to improve efficiency and quality, the supply chain division of HarperCollins UK has implemented Voice Picking technology. The first UK publisher to use the technology, HC rolled out Voice Picking to its Glasgow warehouse in October 2007. Voice Picking replaces manual and paper-based picking processes through the use of headsets and voice generated instructions, which has been integrated with HC’s current warehouse management system. The technology has resulted in increased productivity, accuracy, faster operator training, and reduced use and cost of paperwork. The changes were welcomed by staff, with workers volunteering to become “super-users” and then leading the training. Staff motivation was one of the key reasons for the successful integration of Voice Picking, which has helped to increase efficiency and reduce retailer shortage claims.