To Foyles, where our own Simon Appleby took part in the first of two workshops designed to give the wider trade an opportunity to come up with cunning plans for how the venerable London bookshop’s shiny new digs should look and work when they move next-door-but-one.
It was with a slight back-to-school feeling that I climbed the stairs to the Gallery on the third floor of Foyles, Charing Cross Road. With a range of possible assignments in my bag, plus the floor plans of the new store, I had no idea which tasks I would be tackling or who I would be tackling them with. I also felt, well, rather bereft of inspiration. Fortunately, this feeling didn’t last long!
After opening remarks we were quickly working in our groups – Group Five included a member of the TBS team from their Frating Green distribution centre, a bookseller from Washington DC (who made the trip specially!), a literary agent and a publisher. Needless to say, a dream team!
Our topic was ‘Diversification of Products and Services’, and inspired by photos of the existing shop as it was in the olden days, we named our team Bazaar (though based on some later pipe-cleaner exploits, Bizarre would have been equally applicable). Our central idea was that a 21st century destination bookshop must course be diversified, but that doing so in a way that weakens the brand, or wastes the talents of great booksellers, is a major no-no – so we hit upon the idea of adapting the concession business model used by Selfridges to such great effect. Our Foyles would have diversification handled by a mixture of carefully chosen permanent and pop-up concessions – with the pop-ups taking advantage of a flexible interior layout, especially on the ground floor, and being collated and scheduled to tie in to the programme of cultural events that we also felt was essential to the store’s existence.
When we talked about concessions, we don’t just mean stationery, DVDs and a cafe, important though they are – we were thinking about things like a crèche (integral to the Children’s department, naturally), seasonal ingredients in the Cookery department, a boutique travel agency situated with the travel books and even the opportunity to peruse possible puchases while getting a hair cut (I am assured getting your highlights done can take long enough to break the back of a Jeffrey Archer). The people running these concessions can’t be any old businesses though – they have to fully understand and subscribe to what makes people come in to Foyles.
There is scope for services as well as products, of course – personal shopping, creative writing courses and more. You may feel that there is a risk this bazaar approach would undermine the peace and tranquility of the current store – and we accept that it might. However, we felt that, firstly, this atmosphere would need to be preserved in key places through careful provision of calm and classy reading and writing spaces (writing your novel in the Writing Room at Foyles could be the 21st century equivalent of writing it in the Reading Room of the British Library); and secondly, that only by accepting some degree of commotion could a truly family-friendly destination store be created. The atmosphere of a library is not going to be the norm in our new Foyles.
The rest of the groups were working on this issue and others, including the bookshop as a cultural destination and the challenge of discoverability and choice, not least the vexed question, in an increasingly digital world, of just how much stock a flagship bookshop should carry, and how digital products should be integrated in to the offering. Many hours, many sandwiches and many cups of coffee later, each group had four minutes to present the essence of their conclusions to everyone else. Some amazing, wonderful and downright futuristic ideas flowed forth – too many to do justice to here – though Group Two’s ideas about the new Foyles as a the high temple of the cult of books, presented by Osprey’s James Spackman, were particularly arresting (not least the conveyer belt of books!).
All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon – loads of stimulating ideas and the heartening sight of the trade coming together to show that it recognises the vital importance of the bookshop as the showroom that still drives much discovery of books. Hopefully, some of the big ideas that make it in to the new Foyles will trickle down to larger chains and independent bookstores too.
This piece only scratches the surface of what was discussed, and there’s another session on Friday – so keep an eye on The Bookseller and Foyles for more coverage!