Many small towns in rural areas no longer have any kind of book shop and this creates an opportunity for other retail outlets. With the growth in interest in family history encouraged by programmes such as the BBC’s ‘Who do you think you are?’ there is a demand for more information on local and social history as people want to learn more about where and how their ancestors lived
After we set up Bittern Books last year I decided to experiment by increasing the space allocated to books in my own shop – we’ve been running the Post Office and Village stores in Coltishall since 2003. We’ve always done well with greetings cards and have quite a lot of space allocated to the category, so the simple option was to replace one of the card racks with bookshelves. In October 2018 I bought a black bookcase from IKEA (Hemnes, £150 including VAT and delivery) and after spending a Sunday morning with screwdriver and Allen key, loaded it up with a selection of books from our stock.
The results have been very positive – in the period up to the end of 2018 we sold over £600 worth of books at retail, giving £210 gross profit (35% margin). In 2019 to the end of August we’ve sold £1100 worth of books and maps. We’ve done no advertising other than a little on social media and an article in the local community magazine.
The interesting thing is that sales have been of a wide variety of titles, which emphasises the need to carry a good range, although you really only need one or two copies of each book. New titles sell well initially, particularly if they have had coverage in the local press or have a particular local interest. And the October-December period is particularly fruitful – lots of people looking for Christmas presents for relations (especially Dads and Grandads) who are difficult to buy for!
So if you are looking for a new idea and don’t have a local bookshop, why not try putting in a bookshelf and give it a go? If you can find the space allocate a 1m block of shelving, or at least 1-2 shelves of existing shelving. Stock up with a wide selection of local interest books and maybe some fiction, just 1-2 copies of each is enough. Promote your venture in community magazines and on social media, and maybe have a launch event (we may be able to arrange for local authors to attend).
To risk stating the obvious, selling books is different to selling convenience goods – don’t just stock one or two best sellers, you need to become known as the place to go to get local books. Stock as wide a range as possible.
At Bittern Books we can give you full support and help you pick an initial selection of books. We’d be happy to arrange a visit to discuss your options, or you are welcome to visit us.