Showers over Windermere from Holbeck Lane near Troutbeck.

Learnings from a Bookseller

November 11, 2019

James Daunt opened his first book shop, Daunt Books, in Marylebone, London in 1990 at just 26 years old.  I’ve been a fan ever since.  He added five more shops in London and became a Lovemark for book lovers.  Almost 10 years ago, James was drafted in as CEO of the mega Waterstones chain which was busy collapsing under on-line Amazon pressure and the death of the mall.

This year the chain – now profitable and growing again, was sold to Elliott Hedge Fund, who then bought Barnes & Noble in the US and asked James to weave his magic.  James’ formula is one I believe relevant to every retail chain, regardless of business.  His five fixes:

Empower booksellers:

Allow them to make decisions in their own shops.  The business model works far better than identikit diktats from an overly zealous head office.

Good books:

Stock titles that people actually want to read – and make sure they have a prominent place as you walk in the door.  Ensure that displays are consistent rather than having books jumbled together.

Impressions count:

A cosy space that encourages browsing is always more appealing than a big-box feel.

Details matter:

Customers may not immediately perceive them but everything – from the space (or lack of) between books to the angle of shelves – plays a part.

It’s not just books:

Think long and hard about which products to sell aside from books: endlessly stacked piles of dross aren’t appealing.  Quality stationery will work better than gimmicky fridge magnets.



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