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What would you want from the IDEAL children's bookshop?

19 replies

Spink · 12/10/2007 19:42

Having just posted this thread in the wrong section (travel - how did I manage that??) I am here and hoping to pick your lovely brains -

dh and I have been thinking for a while about starting a business together, and have decided we'd like to set up a specialist children's bookshop (having been a little surprised at how pants the children's sections are in the big bookshops, and at how few specialist children's ones there are). It is very exciting but a little daunting too....

The idea is that as well as selling books, we would offer lots of other stuff, like storytelling, having a space for babies to play safely on the floor, staff who really know their stuff about child development & appropriate/good reads, a cafe, etc etc

I'd really appreciate your advice - what would you want from the ideal children's bookshop?

OP posts:
Wilbur · 12/10/2007 19:45

Have you seen the film "You've Got Mail"? A children's bookshop like the one featured in that would be fantastic - staff who really know their stuff and can guide children to more unusual things they might like.

bossykate · 12/10/2007 19:48

we are lucky enough to have an excellent children's bookshop near us, you might want to check out Tales on Moon Lane

Bink · 14/10/2007 11:21

I've been thinking about this off and on for the last couple of days. Please ignore anything which comes across as a lesson in egg-sucking.

If I were you (& I'm presuming you do not already have relevant experience) I would do some very hard-eyed research into the norms of bookselling as a business - especially what the conventional constraints are (dependence on specific distributors? - eg) and what/where the profits flows are. As I deeply suspect that the things people would ideally want from the perfect children's bookshop might represent overheads for you without anything like a matching income flow.

As an instance of business constraints - what I would love in a children's bookshop is the bringing together of all sources: so, eg, new full-price books and a section of the discounted box-sets you can get from the Book People. But I suspect that, if you carried those, full-price distributors would refuse to supply you.

Another thing which mightn't be so difficult to combine with new, non-discounted, books is a second-hand section. So many marvellous books are out of print (just look at the nostalgia-fests on here) and if you, say, hooked up with a partner in Hay-on-Wye to supply stuff I bet you would find yourself a customer stream of a very useful money-spending (and not just on 2nd-hand books) nature.

As to all your other activities, cafe, etc. - to address the potential overheads-without-matching-return thing, you could consider having a fronting shop, & all your other activities in rooms beyond that which are subject to a membership? Which could be token, but could be useful (contact details for marketing etc.) in all sorts of other ways. Oh, you could also rent out your activity rooms to clubs like the Mad Science franchise.

Finally, if you wanted another business idea I recall people on here raving about a US venture called "Children's Museums" - which are effectively a sort of educational-exploratory sequel to soft play, for school age. I expect that is a franchise, with one of those super-efficient US business models - have a look?

(I'll go and have a look at your parallel thread too just in case anything in particular to comment on ...)

ahundredtimes · 14/10/2007 11:48

What I would want would probably not make for a good business venture . . .

I'd like less 'pushed' titles on tables with bright covers, so that we all realized there was more to reading than Francesca Simon, Jacqueline wilson and Horowitz.

I'd like less toys and tie-ins.

Hidden dark corners, shelves with ladders and beanbags, magical wardrobes. I'd like Shakespeare and classics on the tables, and a wonderful assistant who could eye them up and say, 'I know what you'd like, you'd like this' and the book would be covered in dust but have gold lettering on the spine, and there would be maps on the wall, showing strange and foreign lands.

Is that possible?

BBBee · 14/10/2007 22:02

people - like old people - grand parents - coming in and reading bits from books they loved as a child.

I would come and read aloud the faraway tree and get all excited and embarrasing.

Jessicatmagnificat · 15/10/2007 12:18

Spink, I hope you will be opening your shop near me in Bristol, as it sounds lovely!

I think running "Rhymetimes" for babies with singing, basic stories, fun and chat with books and a chance for mums to have a sit down would be great.

Waterstones in Dorchester has a beautiful old rocking horse and a box full of slighty worn books which DD loved looking at when we were there recently.

A book club for mums that they can attend with babies in tow would also be nice!

Not too many film tie-ins, but lots of slighty more old-fashioned, beautifully produced books for babies like "Goodnight Moon" and "Goodnight Gorilla! (not sure how commercially sensible this would be)

claricebeansmum · 15/10/2007 12:25

Have a look at this

This is our local children's bookshop and we spend in there and spend.

I love it because the poeple are so lovely and knowledgeable - you can go in there and say my son wants a book about "blah" and I think there is a new "blah" book coming out - and they say - "This one? Would you like a signed copy"

KM1 · 15/10/2007 13:21

Hello Spink - do you have a book trade background? Just wondering how much you know about the business. We had to close our independent bookshop 7 years ago (after 16 years of business) due to two large chain bookstores arriving in our town at the same time. It is a very difficult area for independents to succeed in as they don't have the bargaining powers which the chains have in order to negotiate decent discounts with the publishers. I don't wish to be totally discouraging as I love children's bookshops. Have you considered doing school book supply to bring in some more money? We also used to have teacher's evenings where we gave them free wine and they chose books - that always seemed to go down well!

Spink · 15/10/2007 13:38

KM1 - we have very little experience in the world of bookselling, so this venture could be complete madness.. but we wouldn't make a goer of it without school involvement, and we're fairly flexible as to the location so could check out the big-bookshop competition and try to avoid it as much as possible..
There is a well established children's bookshop near to us which is up for sale (current owners are retiring). That might be the most realistic and safe option. It doesn't have any of the add-ons we'd like... we could run it as it is for a while, get a decent understanding of the market and only then make the changes we would like to.

OP posts:
Fimbo · 15/10/2007 13:44

Clean toilets would be good.

abidabidoo · 15/10/2007 14:00

We have a children's bookshop where I live. I've been once and I am a bookworm and it looks like dd might be one too! Tho dd is 19 months so there's plenty more time.

I think I haven't been back because barely enough space to get a pushchair round. Nothing for dd to do - just some old toys would have made all the difference. The babies books all looked kind of cheesy and bland with pretty illustrations. I know there's good stuff out there but these guys don't really seem to get it. And just not enough space to display stuff. Better have less stuff and give it more space I think.

And friendly staff, you can't beat friendly staff. IMO independent bookshop staff are all so intellectual and just way above the level of any poor, sad pushchair pushing SAHM!

KM1 · 15/10/2007 14:07

Hello Spink - Taking over a well-established shop sounds like a very good option and like you say you could find your feet and see how the trade works and then start introducing your new ideas. My husband started our shop with his Dad 8 years before I joined them and neither of then knew anything about the business then - they just picked it up as they went along. I'm sure the people you would be taking over from will be able to give you lots of help and advice.

KM1 · 15/10/2007 14:37

I've just read abidabidoo's post about having nothing for children to do. We used to have a children's table from Ikea in the children's section with 4 chairs around it. We had a great big cuddly snake and monkey which sat at the table and children would play with. I also put 4 books on there (which I changed monthly) which were marked as display copies. It gave the children something to read/look at whilst their parents were browsing and it didn't matter how dog-eared they got as they were not for sale!

slayerette · 15/10/2007 14:39

You've Got Mail

mummymagic · 15/10/2007 14:42

What about a children's venue that also sold books? (I think) has just opened near us. They rent space for lots of children's classes.

It would be good to have a secure place for babies and toddlers to roam where adults could chat and have coffee. And then browse and buy the books. This might be completely NOT want you want to do though!

Giuliettatoday · 16/10/2007 22:21

Hi there,

I know nothing about the business side of it, but I know what I'd like in an ideal bookshop:

Marked display copies for all age groups in a corner, so I don't have to worry constantly about the children ruining brandnew books.

Knowledgable staff who can advise me if I want advice, but who let me browse the shelves if I prefer that. I used to go to a bookshop where I felt the staff were approaching me the second I entered the shop in a way that I found really intimidating, and they somehow made me feel that they didn't like me having a look around on my own. I avoided that shop after a while...
At another very good bookshop on the other hand, staff advised me in a very polite and unobtrusive way when I asked for a fairy tales book. They had various ones in stock and pointed out the differences and then left me in piece and quiet to have a good look at all of them and choose one, and despite the fact I bought one of the books there and then, I felt under no pressure to do so, and this is what I like about a shop, and then I'm likely to return.

Don't just have the obvious titles displayed which I think most people would be more likely to buy in chain store as a buy one get one free. Have unusual books but not only in an expensive hardcover copy.

Have quite a selection of books. I end up leaving one very small local bookshop empty handed no matter how much I want to support them as there is so little to choose from and the shelves look so bare that I don't get inspired at all. I know they can order anything within one or two days, but what if I don't even know what to order in the first place?

Have no videos and DVDs, or, if you must have them, at least well hidden from the children. Otherwise all they want to buy is... videos and DVDs, and it's far more difficult to steer them towards the books.

Having said that, do have story tapes/CDs and audio books, and maybe a place where the children can listen to some of them with headphones. I visited a bookshop in Germany that had these facilities, very easy to operate by the children (literally put on the headphones and the story would start, and the cover was displayed, and the seats child height). I have to admit though, this was quite the opposite of the small independent bookshop, so I suspect it's something only larger (chain stores) can realistically have?

Also, hopefully enough room to at least get through with a buggy and/or a space where to leave it without it constantly being in the way of other customers.

As an extra, I also always appreciate unusual but not overly expensive greetings cards and giftwrap, and maybe bookmarks, obviously in this case designed for children, as I often buy books as birthday presents and it's nice to get everything in one place.

Maybe also a noticeboard (for private buy & sell, or advertising local children's events or news etc.) for customers or organisers of local groups (such as toddler music classes etc.)? You could charge a small fee and make it clear how it works so that people actually dare to put something up. I find nice noticeboards are very rare and I'm sure it would personalise the shop more (opposed to the rather anonymous chains) and would generate more customers who maybe want to check out the noticeboard and end up buying a book...

If possible, have something comfy but cleanable to cuddle for the children. As some large teddy bears can get very dirty after a while I'd look out for something either washable or not too expensive and replaceable.

Some seating but not just for the children, but also for the adults (which can easily be forgotten).

Something obvious but don't have stairs. I remember a chain store moving up their childrens section to the first floor, and initially having no customer lift (eventually they did have a lift).

If the shop is in the London area or another area where other languages than English are spoken as well (?) have some books in other languages, too.

Hope you can fulfil your dream!

Shimmer · 09/06/2008 22:30

Hiya, just found this OOOLD thread but was intrigued to see if you were still going ahead with the bookshop idea Spink, or indeed, if you were open already?? Lots of great ideas for a kids bookshop here, and I'd love to hear some more if anyone else has an opinion... so BUMP.

cazzybabs · 10/06/2008 09:56

craft workshops and story tellings

cazzybabs · 10/06/2008 09:56

he he there s nothing wors that posting on a old thread - grhhhh.

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