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?


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My views might be out of date - last worked in the finance office of a booksellers in 2006, before being made redundant!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

deleted203 Fri 26-Apr-13 21:12:11

I love books and would love to run a bookshop!

But if I were you, in a seaside town, I'd make in second hand books - not brand new.

deleted203 Fri 26-Apr-13 21:13:06

it not in

People on holiday may well want to buy a book to read on the beach/in their caravan, etc. And second hand books are lovely, anyway.

timidviper Fri 26-Apr-13 21:17:41

This place is near us Silverdell and seems to do well but they are quite diversified IYSWIM. I have been to some of their events and they are very good so this kind of model might work

harry - I totally agree with you about events and talks. I used to organise these at my old job, and also provide books for external events, and they could be very successful.

As you say, I am unsure of the best way to go so I think hedging my bets and maybe keeping the gifts but adding a book range and seeing how it goes would be sensible.

MooncupGoddess Fri 26-Apr-13 21:21:13

It is just so difficult at the moment. Most of the independent booksellers I know are expanding their non-book ranges (gifts, cards etc) because that's all that makes money.

But - if you take over the existing gift shop and start a small books range you can get a feel for what works and expand gradually.

Secondhand bookselling is really hard these days with Abe, Amazon etc - yes it's bad being undercut by Amazon at 30% off new books, but most books are now available secondhand online for 1p-£2 plus postage.

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 21:21:49

Yes, I think you are wise to be cautious and see how it goes. Good luck!

Whatalotofpiffle Fri 26-Apr-13 21:21:59

Do it and live my dream!!!

MooncupGoddess Fri 26-Apr-13 21:22:40

X-post, OP! You sound like you really know your stuff and I wish you lots of luck. It's lovely that there are still loons keen wannabe booksellers around.

great minds think alike MG

one other thing that may well be helpful is that my old boss at the bookshop in London where I used to work has said that they will let me order from them for pretty much cost price. However they are very specialised (travel books and maps) so wouldn't be able to get a full range from them but could get local area guides, OS maps etc.

timidviper - thanks for the link, in my head that's the kind of shop I would love to have

taurean Fri 26-Apr-13 21:42:50

There was an article about indies in a recent bookseller and it made the point that while many are suffering / closed, some are thriving. I think those thriving are as others have said, those specialising in children's, involved in community or supplementing books with stationery etc!

superbagpuss Fri 26-Apr-13 21:58:13

it is my dream to run a second hand book shop but think there isn't a living to be made from it, basically if I won the lottery this us what I would do!

good luck grin.

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 22:02:15

Yes, you'd have to do that for love really, as the charity shops have cornered the market really on the high street.

memphis83 Fri 26-Apr-13 22:02:22

There is a bookshop near me that opened 2 years ago (in a small village) and she is doing very very well. They won best independent bookshop award last year.
If its a passion then go for it.

BOF Fri 26-Apr-13 22:11:16

Just be aware of how tough it is out there too. Proceed with caution.

thanks BOF, you're definitely right - I know I need to be realistic and take things very slowly.

You could involve the community by having a "story club" where groups build their own stories which you print, bind and stock.
You could stock as a sideline knitting/sewing/crochet/craft materials for "knit&natter" sessions on the back of the "sewing bee" gravy train.
You could buy people's second hand children's books and resell them. Children's books are often well kept, and the postage is a disproportionate amount of the online price as they are big.
Invite storytellers/illustrators/authors to the shop for workshops.
Make bookmarks and sell them.
Sell e-books in the shop via a web connection, so people can browse a real book but buy an e-book and you still get the sale.
Collect local stories and keep them with the maps for tourists to buy.

TheRealFellatio Sun 28-Apr-13 07:14:32

Yes. Oh how I wish I was wrong, but I'm not. Good bookshops are up there among my very favourite things in the world, and my children's too. But the simple fact is that most people are not principled enough (or well off enough) to justify buying from you (even if they've rifled through your stock to make their selection) when they can go home and have it delivered to the door for less money. And kindle is having and will continue to have a catastrophic effect on physical book sales. Especially of the kind that are non-essential impulse purchases, like popular lit paperbacks for holidays.

It might not be a total disaster, but it won't be easy and there are far, far less risky ways to make a living.

HollyMadison Sun 28-Apr-13 08:13:39

I have no experience in this industry so feel free to disregard my post, but I think a children's bookshop could be the way to go. Lots of storytelling author events, book fairs, emphasis on local authors, changing themes (World Book Day, the ocean....). With educational gifts and retro games for children alongside maybe? And maybe crafty or party things (classy party, like Gruffalo party bags or something, not cheap and plasticky). There's a place near me (not uk) which seems to be v popular. It's called bookaburra. U could check out their Facebook page timeline for the sort of things they do if it interests you.

brainonastick Sun 28-Apr-13 08:23:03

The MN who owns an indie bookshop is nickelbabe if you want to pm her for any advice OP.

takeaway2 Sun 28-Apr-13 08:25:02

I've just come acids Woolfson and Tay which is an Indy bookshop in bank side in London and sells good lunches too. I think it's a great idea. My local water stones has an Indy cafe upstairs with a small book and toy corner for the kids.

I love the idea.

Chubfuddler Sun 28-Apr-13 08:26:44

I wouldn't do it but if it worked it would be absolute bliss. Sadly it almost certainly won't work.

Wotme Sun 28-Apr-13 08:36:58

We have two indie bookshops..
Google BIg green bookshop
They do books, stitch and bitch, comedy evenings, writer events, book groups- all sorts
It's taken them ages, but I think hey are ok..

Cafe is a definite... Even if there are loads others
Kids events etc and after school writing clubs etc
You need to be really creative and maintain a buzz

And stock good books.
I e never bought a book from a supermarket- it's all trashy crap. Not real books

I regularly second 20 quid in kids books tho
Ie on e every couple of months
And I don't use amazon for that

Dilidali Sun 28-Apr-13 08:39:24

Yes. But add a coffee shop to it. And a gift wrapping station. In my village there is one, absolutely love it, we all go there for presents, coffee, chats. They also do story telling/ reading sessions, so you can sit there with a coffee and a piece of cake while the kid is listening to the story, browse the grown up books, pick up a birthday card, wrap the book in v v nice paper etc.
The books she sells are not chick lit and she knows her stuff. So if she sees you are interested in something specific, she'll order it foryou and next time she sees you she'll bring it to the table with your coffee and say: have a look at this.
She knows my daughter's age and interest and writes little cards with a brief resume under the book and talks to her about the book etc.
if I was visiting your seaside village, I would definitely chose your cafe/ bookshop for an afternoon tea or a rainy morning.

JulesJules Sun 28-Apr-13 08:41:37

Yes, you are a bit mad grin although I completely understand as a former bookseller and bookshop lover myself.

I would echo what others have said - you would need to really find a niche in your local market so people will support you. And it would have to be books+ - gifts/cafe/toys... or themed - childrens + gifts/toys, or cookbooks + cookware/demonstrations etc.

My current fantasy business would be yarn shop + craft/knitting books with squashy sofas, workshops, knit and natter eat cake <sigh>

Yes, you can have author events etc. and these can be profitable although a lot of people just come for the wine - but you can't have these every week and you need to keep the cash coming in all the time and out of the tourist season.

Amazon and supermarkets can sell books cheaper than you will be able to buy in at trade discounts.

I used to work at Waterstone's. People can now walk into a bookshop, enjoy the browsing experience, bookseller advice and customer service and then just scan the isbn with their phone and order the books there and then from Amazon.

Wishiwasanheiress Sun 28-Apr-13 08:52:13

If I might suggest that being solely a book shop wouldn't work potentially through the problem of holiday seasons. You might need to make alot of trade within a very short time eg 6 mths. I would suggest diversifying. A gift area for decent cards/paper is obvious. Perhaps any art work hung could be a local artists? You getting a % of any sales? Coffee & cakes equally are decent idea with a small seating area.

Otherwise might I suggest specialising in books? Eg children's with toys and gifts (and cards wrapping etc). Or cook books with kitchen equipment eg tea towels, oils, sea salt, local wine etc?

You plainly know ur industry so maybe u know if this is bunkum or not! Just observations from our own holidays. Good luck. Personally if I saw a book shop I'd go in. I'd also be keen to purchase because it was a book shop - I like them. I'd be very disappointed if I came back out without a bag. I have a kindle, but u can't beat a nice bookshop find....

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 28-Apr-13 09:04:40

Op, if you sell coffee and cake you will prob have to do some of the food hygiene stuff relevant to deli sales anyway.

izzywotnot Sun 28-Apr-13 09:15:29

I have no retail experience but as a mum, I think regular features such as story telling (for kids), small craft activities (simple things like kits from maybe one or two mornings a week, would work well particularly if you had a part of the shop themed for children.

I would be inclined to set yourself apart by possibly being the best at one thing rather than trying to please everybody (rarely works in my opinion!) so like other posters have mentioned maybe a kids bookshop with added kids activities.

I really hope things work out for you x

The bookshops that I have seen survive around here do a million and one extras - food, storytime, craft sessions, book club, knitting groups etcs.

If it looks cool and inviting, baby-friendly during the day, knitter-friendly during the evening, you might have a chance, but not if you consider being a bookseller as you main function.

There's a place called Barefoot Books here in Oxford. Their website isn''t very helpful (and I always assumed it was a front for a religious cult, but apparently it really is just that chipper), but they do EVERYTHING and I'm positive that their crafty things and cafe are responsible for far more of their footfall than the actual books.

A small business that I think has done quite well here in Oxford is a knitting/sewing shop called Darn It & Stitch. All the sorts of fabulous things that nobody sells in real life any more, and lots of knitting/sewing/felting/crochet courses.

At the risk of using jargon, social or community engagement is key - you have to offer FAR more than just selling a product.

lougle Wed 01-May-13 06:54:16

Could you set up a messy play centre? All the things children love to do, but parents with small, carpeted homes dread?

You could hold a weekly story telling session, with the book available to buy after?

takeaway2 Wed 01-May-13 07:19:38

There are independent bookshops in Whitstable, kent which is a seaside town. It's quite an affluent place with lots of down from Londoners. They have a regular farmers market by the pier on the weekends and lots of other independent clothes shops, children's shops etc. they have the odd boots and co-op but very few chains. Coffee shops are also independent. So it may be that you need to look at the other shops in your town and see if its viable.

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