Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I'm still getting used to the randomness of self-employment. After years of working regular hours for a set number of days per week, it feels strange to not know what you're doing from one day to the next.
On Monday I received a text from someone that read:
"Hi Phil, I'm in the process of designing a bookshop and could use some helpful input. I think you're probably the man - what do you reckon?"
24 hours later I was wandering around a huge, deserted haberdashery shop, trying to imagine how it would work as a bookshop. I wasn't sure whether I'd be much use, but I'd forgotten how much I'd learned. Years of opening shops, ordering stock and trawling through spreadsheets of sales data had given me a good overview of the priorities.
I made a few suggestions, including moving the till point closer to the entrance, putting the children's books nearer the back and reducing the opening stock order by 80%, but I couldn't bring myself to make the most obvious recommendation. Don't do it!
According to an article published in today's Bookseller, "Four in ten shops will shut and property portfolios will reduce by 30-40% in the next five years as customers increasingly turn to online shopping over bricks and mortar, according to a report released this morning".
It's not a good time to open a shop.
I'm fairly confident that the best independent bookshops will survive if they have a good catchment area, but sadly this shop wasn't in one of those towns. Indeed, when I looked at the shabbily-dressed locals, slowly hobbling past the window, it reminded me of an episode of The Walking Dead.
Luckily the rent is very low, so the shop will only have to sell a few books a day to be profitable. Also, the owner is a very talented bookseller with several successful businesses, so he knows exactly what he's doing. But I still think that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to open a shop in today's economic climate.
According to Hugo Clark from Deloitte's, "The role of stores is changing but that does not mean they will be less important. The store of the future will be less about driving product sales and more about a holistic brand experience."
I think if my name was Hugo, I'd refrain from using phrases like 'holistic brand experience' as people will think that you're a bit of a ponce. But he's right. I think that the retail chains of the future will make most of their money online and only need a small number of stores as showcases for their 'brand'.
It all sounds a bit depressing, but with fewer chain stores around we could be about to enter a new golden age of small businesses and independent shops.
I'll come clean; I want to see Britain end up like an episode of Chigley and if the recession brings us any closer to the promised land, then I welcome the retail meltdown. Let's bring back steam, tweed, cravats and tiffin: