August 2011 Archives
Six weeks ago my dad announced to his local press that his book shop, Latimer Books, was going to close. He'd been trading as an independent bookseller in the Borders town of Kelso for just under four years. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that sales had never really matched what he had hoped, and in recent months, things had slid from not making enough money, to no money, to losing money. Things were getting silly.
When I spoke to him prior to the public announcement, dad was clearly gutted that he was going to have to close the shop. But within the depressing situation, there were still some things to be proud of: the business had promoted and supported local authors, it had contributed to the local community and most of all, though my dad would be out of a job, no other person would lose their livelihood because of the failure of the shop. Dad was down, but certainly not out.
Following the announcement of the closure of the shop in the press, and the standard closing down half price sale, something strange happened. The shop has now taken more money in the last six weeks than it had in the past six months. Drawn by the garish sale signs and the press attention, locals came and bought books by the bundle. As they came and went, many pleaded for the shop to remain open, insisting that they would be more frequent purchasers from here on. As the days went on shoppers would get increasingly animated with their demands that the bookshop be saved, arguing that it was an asset to the community and one that they didn't want to lose. They'd even pitch in ideas, making suggestions of how to turn the business around.
This activity got my dad thinking. Was there a way that he could provide that sense of a bargain, whilst maintaining the integrity of his brand? After much discussion, he has determined to take the plunge and innovate, providing quality books at a reduced margin. The whole shop will now be stocked with paperbacks to be sold at a 50% discount - all year round. And, the shop will also be stocking other products, also at a more accessible price. As dad now concedes, the market for hardback novels is not what he had once imagined. The presence of these in the shop, therefore, will be much smaller.
Speaking with dad as he has worked his way through the last 6 weeks has been an eye-opener. He'd always dreamt of running a quaint independent bookshop. He's not the only person to have had that dream. And, in recent years, he's certainly not the only person to watch that dream falter. Today when I spoke to him, he mentioned that he will be getting new signage for the shop front to accompany the new emphasis on value stock. I queried why. I always liked the rather old-fashioned shop front. It's time to stop running an 18th century bookshop, he said, it's time we move into the 21st century. He's right. With that he got off the phone, there was a customer waiting to buy a book.