At your service

<p>I write this just after returning from a shopping trip in my home town of Chipping Norton. In the car spares shop I got a full refund for an incorrect purchase, with no &shy;quibbles or tedious form-filling. I then went to a boutique to find a present for a friend who visits the shop frequently.&shy; The owner said that she would &ldquo;make some calls&rdquo;, acting as a sleuth to find the perfect gift. She recommended a couple of items and she was spot on.</p>
<p>We are shy about blowing our own trumpet, but I am confident that if you visited our bookshop you would get a similar level of passionate, personal and intelligent service. This is what the discerning customer wants. If price is not their sole consideration, then an amiable and exclusive style of service will satisfy even the Mary Portases of this world. We have to hope that this is enough to keep us in wholehearted competition with Amazon and the supermarkets.</p>
<p>In his opinion piece (16th May), Alan Giles called for the next bookselling entrepreneur to step forward. All independent booksellers have probably fancied themselves running a string of shops and enjoying those benefits of scale.</p>
<p>So what&rsquo;s stopping a string of accomplished indies from stepping in where James Heneage stepped out? Yet however exciting this sounds, I think it may be missing the point. Generic and mediocre service is no longer good enough. If you can&rsquo;t be cheapest your service must be exceptional: this is a very skilled task and not one that is easy to replicate.</p>
<p>Whoever launches the next successful book chain will need to incentivise staff to operate as if the business were their own; the model may be closer to a franchise or co-operative.</p>
<p>Sadly, big companies do not seem to trust their staff, so energy and enthusiasm have a tendency to evaporate. Tim Waterstone was an exception to this, giving his booksellers the freedom to enjoy their jobs.</p>
<p>The next book retail entrepreneur is going to have to be bolder than ever. They will have to hold the number-crunchers at bay and let customer service win through. It remains to be seen if this will be enough.</p>
<p>Back in Chipping Norton, I observe that our customers want to see my co-owner Patrick Neale or myself on the shop floor, and are disappointed if they do not find us there. This emphasises the conundrum that if we do open another shop(s), we may disappoint more people than we please.</p>
<p>Perhaps I need to read more science books and find out the secrets of telekinesis&mdash;although if I perfect that I might just be able to buy Waterstone&rsquo;s and Amazon.</p>