THE ‘NORTHCOTE BOOKS’ VISION
For the community by the community
Much more than just a bookshop
To establish a vibrant, independent community bookshop that is run for and by the local people who live, work and study in and around Northcote Road, Wandsworth, South West London. The bookshop will not only ensure that local people can continue to have an independent bookshop in their high street, but also contribute to the growing movement to “bring back books”. It will put them at the heart of a vibrant community and creative hub celebrating words, literacy and all things literary, for children and adults. The financial surplus from the bookshop will be invested back into community activities; the bookshop will be run as a not-for-private-profit venture and managed by a professional bookseller.
How will we achieve this?
The bookshop will be located within Northcote Library, a unique position. We will show how a library and a bookshop can work together in partnership whilst both benefiting from the co-location. As online sales and access to information become ever more popular, libraries and bookshops have to adopt increasingly entrepreneurial solutions to maintain or grow their customer base. By sharing responsibility for organising and hosting associated arts and literary events, the bookshop and library can benefit from pooling resources and bringing in new customers or users. It is important that our opening hours will not be limited to the current library hours, but allow the bookshop to be of maximum use.
The bookshop will focus its sales on four types of purchase: topical purchases of books in the news, gift sales, impulse purchases, and a specialist ordering service with next-day collection. We will recruit an enthusiastic professional manager with specialist bookselling experience, backed up by trained volunteers, and provide a bespoke and personal service to our customers, individual recommendations, pick-ups and deliveries, and special touches that make customers’ experiences of the bookshop unique and memorable.
We will stock a carefully selected and curated range of books, which will inspire and meet the needs of, the local community. Given the local demographics and interests, we will carry a rich range of children’s books, topical books for adults, including high quality small publishers, and possibly a range of French books . We will not stock popular paperback adult fiction which can easily be borrowed from the library, and which is unlikely to offer the best profit margins; we will include books about the locality and its history, and books which are beautifully made and will be a pleasure to own. We will also stock books reviewed and endorsed by our staff, volunteers, customers, supporters and investors online or personally, and also on occasions, books linked to our specific events e.g. readings, talks and workshops by authors, celebrities, chefs, scientists, poets, travellers, actors and artists.
The start-up of the bookshop is likely to be financed through the issuance of a share offer to allow supporters to contribute financially to its establishment, and also through grant applications to funds concerned with encouraging regeneration, entrepreneurialism, library development, children and young people´s literacy, community involvement and artistic endeavour. Thereafter income will be generated through sales of books, and the surplus will be invested in the community.
Books are not the whole story. The bookshop will also hold community events such as talks around books by novelists, journalists, explorers, critics, dancers, thinkers, cooks, historians, painters and literary superstars. It will host poetry slams, children’s story time, a ‘cafe scientifique’, and workshops. We aim to bring together all those, including visual artists, musicians and designers, rappers and writers who share an interest in books, words and the arts. It will involve other specialist shops from the neighbourhood and become a community hub, making the south end of Northcote Road a destination in its own right.
Why this will work (we think)
Northcote Road and its surrounding area is a thriving high street with independent market stalls and shops in a well-connected location in south west London, a short walk from the UK’s busiest railway junction. There is an active, well-established local community willing to support a community hub and bookshop, as demonstrated by the reaction to the news of closure of the Bolingbroke Bookshop and the existence of networks such as NappyValleyNet.
Members of this neighbourhood offer a variety of talents and interests which a community bookshop can both capitalise upon and serve. Northcote Road is known as ‘nappy valley’ for good reason – there are a large number of young families in the area.
The significant loyal customer base built up by Bolingbroke Bookshop will be an excellent potential group of customers for a new bookshop. We will need to ensure that we meet their needs as well as attracting new customers through a range of marketing initiatives. Many of them will be investors in the bookshop and will want to be involved.
The current redevelopment of Northcote Library as part of Wandsworth Council’s decision to contract out its library service provides an exciting opportunity to build a relationship with the local library and pioneer innovative ideas. The new library service providers, Greenwich Leisure Ltd. (GLL), are very willing to support a bookshop as part of their expanded library offer. The opportunities presented here are both practical and aspirational – a ready-made physical space on Northcote Road itself, already a hub for readers, potentially on preferential terms, at precisely the moment when the library is being revamped, providing scope for imaginative input and an exciting book-based partnership. With a cafe to facilitate browsing, and space outside the bookshop but within the library for community and creative events, such a partnership makes it possible for the community bookshop to be “much more than a bookshop”, and to draw in customers and enthusiasts from far and wide.
There is also the potential to combine this platform to celebrate books and literature with our strong local businesses to develop joint promotions and creative themes in mutually beneficial relationships. We envisage, for instance, events, including author’s talks and book selections tailored to the specialities of local ventures such as Winnie the Pooh (The Honey Shop), greasy spoons in literature (Tony’s Cafe), music in children’s books (the Northcote Music Shop), great pubs in fiction (The Eagle), modern Italian literature (Pintus), sport and fitness books (Capsticks and Fybrefit or other local centres).
While an important part of our branding may be that we are one of London’s first community bookshops, over the last few years there has been a proliferation of innovative approaches to running book stores, including the soon to-be-launched community bookshop in Crediton, the branding of Hay-on-Wye as the town of books, and the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. These provide us with a network of like-minded adventurous entrepreneurs and invaluable lessons to learn about the opportunities and avoid the possible pitfalls.
We need to be realistic about the challenges we face.These include:
The share issue needs to raise a large sum of money to launch the venture. Hopefully in the SW London neighbourhood, with an impressive business plan, this will be possible. Our share issue has to be timed well and massively publicised. The proposed business model, an industrial provident society, is tried and tested, and relatively straightforward to put into practice. What will our shareholders get out of it? Not profit, but a say, and a bookshop!
Ideally, we need to recruit and involve the shop manager before we can actually hire him or her, so that they can have input into “their” bookshop as we build it. Two committee members are going on a Booksellers Association training course, and former staff members are prepared to be involved, but no-one yet on the preliminary bookshop committee has run a bookshop. A good bookshop relies on knowledgeable, consistent and affable staff. It is essential that financial constraints do not force us to scrimp in this regard, and that we can attract an effective full-time manager.
Although Northcote Road is on two (GI and 319) bus routes and is a shopping hub for Battersea and Wandsworth residents, there is a discernible tailing off of trade at the southern end of the road. Attracting customers from the north end to the (bookshop/library) site will be a challenge.
The competition from chain bookstores, online retailers and electronic books is very real and can only be expected to increase. We will have to be always on the alert for new possibilities and opportunities to present a unique service, a peaceful and stimulating place to be and a fun place to go.
Our website and social media presence needs to be useful, interactive, engaging and entertaining, including book reviews, heads-up on interesting events or developments, and involvement of celebrities, artists and experts who will attract customers.
Friendly, proactive engagement with customers, whether online or face to face, will be at the heart of what we do.
Being located within the library can bring us great benefits, both financial and in terms of mutual interest. GLL are generous in their support of the bookshop idea. It is vital that we use intelligently the space available, ensure that we can open every day of the week, and work in harmony with them, while preserving autonomy.