And the winner is – Well not us!

Recently invitations were issued to apply for The Independent Bookshop of the Year Award.  We had a go at this a few years ago and made it to the shortlist.  We polished everything up, made it look really shiny and submitted our entry. We didn’t get any further than the shortlist and in all honesty we didn’t expect to because we were nowhere near the standard of at least one other name in our region who not only went on the win the region and, unsurprisingly, the national award as well.  
Even had they not been in the running all the others were still doing a better job than us, in terms of the competition criteria.  That’s the crunch really.  We don’t do author events, reading groups, school visits, outreach workshops etc etc etc. We don’t bang our drum, wave our flag or do much at all with the community.  Call me old fashioned but I think those are the functions of a library.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t think a bookshop shouldn’t do them and when they do it’s pretty great if it works for all parties.  Fundamentally though, the party it needs to work for most is the bookshop.  I know this is going to sound horribly mercantile and quite frankly a bit grubby but bookshops are there to make money and thus stay in business.  That’s pretty much as bottom line as it gets. Everything else is window dressing.  If that window dressing brings you more customers, spreads the word, then great. If that window dressing costs you more time and money than it creates then why are you doing it?
Bookshops are going out of business and we are all facing tough times. We have to be ever more careful about how we function as it doesn’t take much to shut us down.  We don’t owe it to our communities, our customers, our authors or our bank managers to stay in business but to ourselves, first and foremost.
For Hurley Books this means providing great service, selecting stock very carefully and watching our profit margins.  I think we do a good job and that we are a great bookshop but this brings me back to the first point; we are not good in terms of the awards criteria. So I decided to apply again this year without the polish and shiny in order to put a voice out there for all the hard working quiet bookshops.
This was our application.  We didn’t get shortlisted 🙂

Our application isn’t going to look great but bear with us and you’ll see why we have bothered

Welcome to Hurley Books.  We are a independent bookshop in Mevagissey, a small fishing village on the Cornish south coast. It is owned and run by myself and my husband, Liz and Steve Hurley, and a range of staff, currently two excellent part timers.  We work with Emma and Jane, who provide a friendly and informative service.  We are all book readers and all have different backgrounds and tastes, we work hard, we enjoy our jobs and we love where we live.  None of us are overly bothered by fashion or trends. The atmosphere is friendly, warm and not intrusive. We offer assistance but we neither hover nor ignore our customers. We have been in business for the past  14 years, moving to Mevagissey nine years ago where we have settled down nicely.

We stock new, second hand, collectables and ephemera. Our balance is probably 30 / 70 new to old. Our new stock reflects our location and the desires of our customers plus a dollop of stuff that we find interesting and would like to share.  Our second hand stock is pretty eclectic, although well laid out. As a professional librarian I have always loved order, as a lover of old bookshops Steve has always preferred chaos but somehow we find a comfortable middle ground. New shinny stock is in the front of the shop, old curious stuff is out the back.

Our website is http://www.hurleybooks.co.uk which we use to post our blogs and links to our online shops on Amazon and eBay.  It is a useful tool but our main form of online communication with our customers is our Face Book page /hurleybooks. We also tweet @hurleybooks.
Our opening hours expand and contract like the tide. In summer we are open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. ’til 9 p.m. In winter, it’s Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m.  ’til 4 p.m.  We are enormously influenced by the tourist trade, in winter the resident population of Mevagissey is far too small to support a bookshop and much as we like our villagers we would be fools to rely on them. Not because they would be unwilling to support us and indeed they do but there just aren’t enough of them. 
In fact it is not their place to support us.  We are not a charity nor an essential service. If we can’t survive on our own two feet then we need to bow out.
Marketing and promotions. Yeah, we don’t do that.
Community outreach. Yeah, we don’t do that either.
Loyalty Cards?No. Author events? Nope.  Reading Groups? Nope. Local Hub? No, no, no. We’re rubbish aren’t we and yet we exist.
We do more than exist. We thrive. We flourish and grow.  Actually we do do the odd event, if someone asks us to help out launch a book then of course we are there to help. If they need advice on publishing a book we go through the steps with them. If people need a new reading list we set something up for them.  when a new book comes out and we think it has someone’s name all over it we get in touch with them.  We find our customers their next book, we offer a warm friendly space to just browse and buy if they want. Sometimes it’s enough to just try and solve our blackboard puzzles or come in and sit out of the rain. Dogs are welcomed but not ice creams.

We offer a range of stock at all price points on a wide range of subjects. We happily offer discounts when asked but not always and sometimes we give free books and comics when not asked just because they were lovely customers. We also have a great relationship with our local authors, supporting and promoting them as much as we can.

Don’t get me wrong, we do get awful customers, who doesn’t, but the majority are great and some are priceless.  In fact I have asked our online community to tell us what they make of us going for this award and goodness me they made us blush.  We didn’t ask our customers in the physical shop because that would just have been too embarrassing.  A transaction in a small bookshop is intimate enough as it is, asking them to rate us as well would just be uncomfortable.
Here’s what our online community had to say.

There’s also a thread on this subject on the 6th of February.  By all means have a browse through our face book page posts and photos, it might give you more of a feel for us.

I could send you clippings of a glossy magazine book group that we hosted.  The EV Thompson fan base that we ran until his death.  The time we gave free copies of Rebecca to the fishermen. Or coverage in the national press about our dog biscuits. The radio show that we sponsored.  I could tell you about the publishing company that I am in the process I’m setting up. Or the bookbinding that I do.  We could show you photos of author signings, but all these things are few and far between and don’t offer a true reflection of our everyday existence.

So this is why we have entered because we want to offer an alternative view of what a successful, popular bookshop can be.  It doesn’t have to be the one with a regular and exciting calendar of events, with strong out-reach community ties but one that knows itself and just gets on with being that.
Highlights of the Year

  • ·         Reading the amazing comments from our customers.
  • ·         The fact that another year has passed where we have not woken up one single day and thought “ugh work”
  • ·         Discovering  a collection of letters from HRH Edward VIII written at the beginning of the first world war, amongst a collection of school reports bought in auction.
  • ·         Meeting an American FB fan, who made a point of coming to Cornwall when she was on holiday in the UK to say Hi!
  • ·         Receiving my ISBNs for Mudlarks Press
  • ·         Learning how to book bind.
  • ·         Watching a lady jive in the shop when she thought no one was watching.

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