Am I mad for wanting to open a bookshop?

(55 Posts)

A bit of background... I have moved to a small seaside resort town to live with dp. We live in a flat above a shop on the main high street. The whole building is owned by dp's parents (shop and flat) and we just rent the flat.

The shop below is currently run as a gift shop but the man who runs it has given my in-laws notice and will leave at the end of sept. As far as I know, this is because he is retiring, not because the business is closing.

Basically, my in-laws have given me first refusal on the shop lease. I definitely want to do it. My only question is what sort of shop to open?

My background is in retail and I am fairly confident that I have the skills to run my own shop, but would it be sensible to open a bookshop given the rise of amazon/kindle etc. I was a floor manager, keyholder and buyer in one of the largest independent bookshops in Central London before I moved, so I totally understand the difficulties facing the industry.

But books are my real passion and I am wondering if I should do it anyway?

There are numerous gift shops in the town I live in but no bookshop, the nearest being about 5 miles away in the nearest big town.

I am in the earliest stages of thinking about this - I haven't seen the shop's accounts, not written a business plan or done much in the way of research. I would just really appreciate any thoughts anyone might have. and if not books, then what?

Thanks.

I think it would be difficult. With your background you'll know that one of the main problems is maintaining good cash flow as the there is quite a time lag between paying for books and then receiving credits for any returns.

In the past bookshops could rely on the popular fastselling paperbacks to generate enough turnover to sustain holding the stock of slower moving but higher margin books. Now, however, the blockbusters are sold at ridiculously low prices with tiny or even zero/negative margins in supermarkets and independent s simply cannot compete on this basis.

So you'll need to think of other ways of enticing buyers through your door - finding a niche market, combining book sales with another activity etc.

My views might be out of date - last worked in the finance office of a booksellers in 2006, before being made redundant! sad

InNeedOfBrandy Fri 26-Apr-13 20:02:31

Could you do a big line in school, college and uni books to keep a steady business?

ThenWeTakeBerlin Fri 26-Apr-13 20:05:12

I live in South London, there's a popular book shop near me.

It's success seems to be the local feel to it; the staff recognise regulars, give personal recommendations, there's a reading group, lots of events and they do a lot with children.

Is it quite a well-heeled town?

minimisa Fri 26-Apr-13 20:08:32

What sort of seaside town is it? I live in a fairly affluent area of London and there are a surprising number of Indy bookshops. With no expertise in the trade, I've concluded that they make their money selling childrens books as most people I know still seem to buy their kids lots of proper books. Could that work for you?

seeker Fri 26-Apr-13 20:08:38

There is a book shop owner on mumsnet- with a bit of luck she'll turn up in a minute to give you her wisdom.

ThenWeTakeBerlin Fri 26-Apr-13 20:11:28

I know a lot of people who deliberately avoid Amazon and e-readers, they're resolutely sticking with physical books.

Sorry for mistakes, I'm typing this while doing three other things blush

greenteawithlemon Fri 26-Apr-13 20:12:48

I wouldn't, not in a million years.

There's a very slim chance it'll be profitable.

sillyoldfool Fri 26-Apr-13 20:13:00

How big is the shop? Is there room to be a bookshop and a coffee shop and sell some magazines etc too?

curlyclaz13 Fri 26-Apr-13 20:13:16

no idea if it would work but would love to do this. Could you do a large section of second hand books then maybe more specialist things as already mentioned as well as the 'normal' bestsellers ? reading groups etc as mentioned sound good too.

stargirl1701 Fri 26-Apr-13 20:13:27

Probably, yes. But, my heart is with you. It is my lifelong dream...wrecked by Amazon grin

I would also consider lighthouse keeper...but, they're all automated now grin

I should've been born 50 years before I was! smile

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 20:13:32

Yes, bad idea. I have worked in this business for many years, and I've seen dozens of fabulous and efficiently-run independent bookshops disappear round the u-bend.

The margins are tight, you can't compete with the supermarkets or amazon with their discounts as bulk-buyers, and kindles and e-readers are hitting sales of paperbacks hard.

Do not do it. That is the best advice I can give you.

harryhausen Fri 26-Apr-13 20:14:03

It can work. I'm in the 'business of books'. I've worked with several incredibly successful independents who are extremely buoyant. They cultivate events in the community, have strong personal links with the publishers (so they think of them for high profile events etc). Many work with local library associations to sell books at schools for author events. Others are involved in literary festivals. I've seen publishers especially court the independents.

The children's book market is especially holding fast at the moment and growing.

People want to support strong local bookshops. If you offer something the Internet doesn't - that face to face author/signing/illustration workshops/evening events etc you could be onto a winner.

Facelikeafriendlyapple Fri 26-Apr-13 20:15:37

If there's space for A little cafe too, that can help. Agree a good childrens section would help. And good location of course- is there a good footfall past the door already?

TheSecondComing Fri 26-Apr-13 20:16:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

harryhausen Fri 26-Apr-13 20:16:46

I've just totally conflicted opinion to BOF's grin.

Don't rush into it, but I just wanted to say it can work.

cocolepew Fri 26-Apr-13 20:18:19

I would say no, apart from e books you also have the supermarkets to compete with.

Books plus something else? Coffee, cake? Gifts? Clothes:? Accessories?

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 20:23:10

I was cheered by your optimism, harryhauser grin. Of course you are right that it CAN work, but those businesses have generally been building relationships for many many years. I don't think a new starter would have the same success unless they were prepared to sink a lot of capital in to start up, and accept not turning a profit for a long time. The poster Seeker mentioned on here who ran a lovely children's bookshop worked her arse off and never made a bean, despite being in an affluent area. She is being forced to close, I believe.

brass Fri 26-Apr-13 20:25:07

some really good ideas -

coffee shop - create positive associations, meeting point
children's section and events - self explanatory
guest author events - could be a coup in publicity
book club - involves the kindle brigade
links to local schools - future custom

if done well it could be a hub and a real gem within your immediate community but obviously depends on your demographic. As someone said is it a well heeled area?

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 20:31:01

Those all sound great, but remember to be practical: who is supplying schools now, and what can you offer to make them switch to you? A bigger discount? Unlikely. As an independent with small orders, you will have to pay the publishers 60% of RRP. With your running costs, and accounting for theft and damage (huge, especially if you are encouraging drinks and children), a license to serve coffee, play music etc, it will be be squeaky tight to turn any sort of profit.

I fear that the more negative responses are the correct ones, unfortunately. I know that I won't be able to compete in terms of margin with supermarkets, let alone amazon.

The town is itself quite affluent and the tourists are a real mix. The footfall is the good, I'm in the middle of the busiest street in town. there are no "high street" chains in town either (except a spar) all the other shops are indies.

The idea of also running a café probably wouldn't work as there are loads of proper cafes, coffee shops, tea rooms and pubs.

concentrating on children's books is something I had thought of, the shop next door is a lovely old fashioned toy shop, but doesn't sell books.

I suspect what I will end up doing is taking over the shop as it is and finding my feet before deciding what to change it into (if anything). obviously this depends on getting my hands on the accounts and making sure they aren't going bankrupt first.

what the town really needs is a decent deli, but I think that food retail would be a bit too much of a gamble as I have no experience at all.

and I should mention that in amongst all this, I'm trying to get pregnant!! But I can't put one off for the sake of the other, or I may end up with neither.

Thanks for all the advice, very much appreciated.

MrsSalvoMontalbano Fri 26-Apr-13 20:53:04

as others have said, needs to be books 'plus' - and the 'plus' could be cafe, gifts etc. I used to buy books locally, but the local bookshop stopped adding the extra - would go in there, disinterested staff, so stopped bothering.

HeathRobinson Fri 26-Apr-13 21:01:51

Could you do a shopping creche, with a sideline of children's books?

harryhausen Fri 26-Apr-13 21:04:33

By links to schools, I don't mean supplying them all their books. What I mean is I've been involved in many author/illustrator events where in a book stall is offered alongside and after the event. In fact I did a rather successful event in two schools only this week. The local book shop ordered in hundreds of books and sold out completely. That's what I mean by offering an extra. A signed book by an author and a photo and a chat too. Amazon can't offer that.

But OP, you have to be very very savvy, in the know and committed. I get the feeling that you're unsure as yet, so the idea of 'feeling your way' is best.

Good luck x

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