Why did you open a bookshop as you were heading towards your retirement years?
I opened Arcadia Bookshop four years go after Dymocks decided to close their head office in New Zealand and run their business from Australia. My role at Dymocks was Retail Business Manager . Subsequently Dymocks shops have disappeared from the New Zealand book scene. Previous to Dymocks I worked with the great team at Real Groovy developing the website book business with them and I spent fifteen years with "old school" Whitcoulls as Book Market Manager, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Was it always your dream to have your own bookshop?
Not really. My forte is promoting and selling and books have been my "thing" for forty years. I have been happy in all the different aspects of the book business.It was my husband who suggested I open my own shop otherwise I would have continued reviewing books for radio - NewstalkZB with Leighton Smith and BBC Worldwide - and magazines and perhaps doing a bit of gardening and more travelling.
Was it difficult getting finance and convincing the banks you were in this for the long haul?
Ahh banks. There's the rub. Keen for business, loose on detail, easily frightened and not averse to pulling the proverbial rug when it suits them.
I went to my long-time bank with a proposal, a five year business plan and enough money to offset borrowing so I suspect I had it fairly easy.
A bright, young, small business manager could see what I wanted to achieve but I guess it's more difficult for her speak up on my behalf to her team leader with a contra-flow new business proposal when the financial world is in turmoil.I felt there were a few glitches and blackholes that left me a bit exposed.
What have the challenges been?
Getting the bank to understand that it does takes five years to establish a good business and that I was determined not just to invest money but time and effort into the project. The book market has gone through radical changes and will continue to do so for some time to come. So balancing that situation with a tough retail market, the demise of good bookshops worldwide and growth of online business have all been part of the challenge.
What have been the positives out of having your own business later in life?
Being old enough to know that nothing good is easy. Just coming through the door in the morning, switching on some good music, beautiful fresh flowers from Carol at the flower van down at Bloodworth Park and a good coffee from Altezano and it hardly seems like work. Having said that I have invested long hard hours into the shop as we trade seven days a week. I host lots of Bookclub evenings which mean late nights. All of my marketing budget goes on wine, cheese and French vanilla almonds which ladies can eat their own weight in if you keep topping up the bowls on the table. But it also means we have plenty of cheese and crackers for afternoon tea and enough spare wine to make risotto for the army.
I know we have been busy in a good way when my recycling bin rattles with empty wine bottles.I love Saturdays and Sundays when customers browse and want help and advice on a particular book or a special gift for someone.
Has it been easy finding staff?
Yes, we get lots of people wanting to work for us. The shame is we can't give them all a job. I despair, there are so many good people out there who are willing to work for free just to get experience. The traditional path of holiday job with one of the chains and then an entrance career in book selling moving onto publishing has all but gone. However tough things are we WILL need the next generation to start stepping up to the plate as we oldies think of taking life a little easier. I have great help from my family and my daughter Victoria has a good business head, loves books and can handle new technology, a perfect combination. I look forward to sitting in the shop window reading as she takes on a bigger role in time to come.
Do you speak to other independent bookstore owners? Are there other similar like minded types running them?
Yes we do seem to know what is happening and how business is amongst the trade but it's more by osmosis than organised get togethers. We meet occasionally at publisher events, roadshows or festivals.I keep in touch with overseas friends in publishing too.
Do you have an exit route?
Is this something you can see yourself doing for many more years to come?
Yes, but I want to ease off a little.
How has the five year plan gone so far?
After four years, 80 per cent there. We have year on year growth, good stock management, a full calendar of bookings and most importantly lovely customers-and they don't grow on trees nowadays. I have stopped, well nearly, or slowed down on throwing money into the pit and perhaps I can start topping up the running away fund soon.
What would your advice be to others thinking of setting up their own businesses in their 50s, 60s and so on?
Do it. It won't be easy, it will take a lot of time and effort and it won't make you rich but it will get you out of bed each day. It will keep your brain sharp and it will keep you in touch with what is going on out there in the big wide world. And you are old enough to realise that the plan is there is no plan -just do it !
Next week: Aucklanders will have noticed that there are all kinds of restaurants springing up at the moment - Peter Gordon's in the Sky Tower, Al Brown has a new place opening up next to The Depot, and the Cityworks Depot complex has attracted the likes of the Food Truck's Michael van de Elzen. I want to hear from hospitality businesses who are building something they think will last and the challenges out there. How do they keep in touch with customers between meals? Meanwhile I'm trying out My Food Bag this week. Are these kinds of businesses threatening restaurants? Is it a replacement to eating out? I will report back.