'Proactive’ indies become regional winners

A two-year-old start-up, a 30-year-old business recently given a full refurbishment and three returning regional ­winners are among the bookshops vying to win the Gardners Books-­sponsored Independent Bookseller of the Year award at this year’s Bookseller ­Industry Awards.

Seven stores have been crowned regional winners: The Bookshop Kibworth ­(Midland & Wales); Dulwich Books (London); The Gutter Bookshop (Ireland); The St Ives Bookshop (south-west); The Mainstreet Trading Company (Scotland); Linghams Booksellers in Heswall (north) and The Chorleywood Bookshop (south-east).

The seven shops now advance to the final round, with the overall winner ­receiving a prize of £5,000 at The Bookseller’s gala awards ­ceremony held on the 14th May at the Hilton Park Lane, London. A record 52 entries were received for the 2012 award, with regional winners chosen by judges from Gardners, the Book­sellers Association and The Bookseller.  

The newest shop among the regional winners is The Bookshop Kibworth, which owner Debbie James opened in November 2009, with the judges particularly praising its community focus. James called the regional win a “champagne moment”. She said: “It’s been an extraordinary two years. I have been lucky to have been supported by people from the community from the beginning, who were thrilled to finally have a bookshop in their town.”

Three shops—Mainstreet Trading from St Boswells in the Scottish Borders, Dublin’s The Gutter Bookshop and The Chorleywood Bookshop—have all won their regions for the second consecutive year. Mainstreet also previously won the Walker Books ­Children’s Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2009.   

Rosamund de la Hey, who co-owns Mainstreet with husband Bill, said Mainstreet had focused in the past year on “keeping in touch with our customers”. She added: “You have to think laterally. We have tried to be proactive, doing a lot of marketing online and with social media, as well as instore.”   

Both Chorleywood Bookshop and St Ives Books were lauded by judges for their extensive range of events. St Ives manager Yvette Oxley said: “It’s those special events which make the difference, as success is about doing what you can to make yourself a destination shop.”

Two shops, Linghams and Dulwich Books, were praised by the judges for reinvigorating long-standing businesses. Husband and wife co-owners Eleanor and Peter Davies bought 20-year-old Linghams on the Wirral from its previous owners in early 2011, and breathed new life into the shop, which led to a double-digit year-on-year sales rise over the Christmas 2011 period.

Dulwich Books, meanwhile, impressed judges with its refurbishment and a five-year business plan aimed at ­reinventing the 30-year-old business. Owner Sheila O’Reilly said: “Along with the refit we looked at how we worked, and changed quite a bit operationally in both front of shop and back office. It’s sometimes a difficult thing for indies to do, but I think we have to look ahead and change with the times.”