Friday, 13 November 2015

Let's get personal

Hello my name is Michael and I run a bookshop.

I've spent a while today and yesterday looking at what made me love the idea of a bookshop, and what made me enjoy blogging about it. What I've found is I've become a lot more businessy with it all. I think one reason, probably the main reason, that the shop started so well is that it was all me out there, chatting, blogging, social media-ing, rather than a faceless businessman. Over time this has been worn away a little. The day to day running, organising and general promotion takes up most of my time and I think I've left a lot more of 'me' out of it. I'm hopefully going to be bringing this back. I haven't exactly gone all professional with a sharp suit, but a lot of tweets, blog posts and general stuff is more, well, businessy.

I thought it'd be nice if I wrote a little recap of year 1 as this is overdue, and also what's to come from the shop and from me in the near future. This might hopefully give you an idea of who I am and what's been going on.

First off the start was obviously overhwelming. 10k people in a weekend was amazing. This slowed down and just after last Christmas it actually almost stalled. As well as the bookshop being a new business, the whole of Fargo is new too so there were and still are many things to overcome, figure out and generally get better at. But over time things have started to pick up. It was Mothers day this year that things changed for me. Previously I was taking part in a lot of events at Fargo. Trying to fit the displays with the weekly or monthly theme, saying yes to a lot of things just so the word of the bookshop got around. It all helped sure, but to a cost as I was so weary and worn out. I'd worked from Aug 4th through til Christmas eve with just Mondays off (apart from 10 days when my son was born!) and then picked up again on Jan 4th and worked through til March the same. I was burnt out. I always wanted music here but from the start I had way too much. I had around 2 gigs a week, plus poetry, gaming and whatever people asked. I was a yes man. Spending up to 14 hours in a bookshop then going home to a crying baby wasn't fun. One week I remember working around 80 hours.

Anyway, come Mothers day I was supplying the wine for the mothers day tea in the hall. I said yes as I wanted to help out. I was thinking of Fargo as a whole rather than the bookshop first. After some confusion the wine on offer wasn't that which was advertised and a few people got upset about it. It was this that broke the camels back. I run a bookshop, not a catering service. I should have declined the idea of offering wine. It seems so small now to write it but it caused me so much stress I had to have around 3 or 4 days off and reassess what I was doing.

Number 1 was I had to concentrate on the bookshop and what I wanted, not what other people expected it to be. Several events were culled or rearranged to better suit a schedule. Things that I would have said yes to received a no. It was a great weight off my shoulders. One such thing that was adjusted was the sheer amount of events and especially gigs. After a few events where the audience could be counted on one hand I decided to create a more focused, a better organised gigging experience for both the audience and the acts. The Big Comfy Folk Club came out of this. Instead of loads of gigs with 2 acts on, I now just had 2 a month with three acts on each. From the start attendances were up. Since it's grown we've had around 5 sell outs, with another 3 or 4 coming a few tickets short. It's become so popular that Kathryn Williams wanted to play, Mark Morriss came too plus next year we've bagged Boo Hewerdine plus another biggie tba. I receive around 15 emails a week wanting to play.

I've been a lot more comfortable since I did this. It's manageable to promote a gig at a time, rather than 2 or 3. In May time I also was really busy so hired two members of staff. Ali and Annette joined the ranks and both have been great, bringing different things to the shop. It also meant that from June I could have Tuesday off! A weekend!
Through the summer it was always an unknown how we'd do as it's year one and unsure what to expect. If I'm honest (which is the whole point of this blog I guess) it was a great disappointment. The footfall just wasn't there. People would rather go and sit in a park, or go on holiday. I had the folk club that brought in a healthy amount and the poetry and gaming nights kicked up a gear, but the day to day trade was slight. Hope was round the corner though as our 1st birthday loomed. On a whole it was OK but unfortunately we suffered a great personal loss at home so had to close a lot of the time through September. Ali worked a lot more which was brilliant as it meant we were open, but it also meant wages spent. I don't mean to be cryptic but I'd rather not splash what we went through on the net, but I'm still carrying it with me and I think this has affected me deeply and will for a long time and another reason that I lost grip on what was going on at the shop.

Anyway, as a broad stroke year 1 was good (according to my accountant anyway). Year two actually started amazingly with two sell out gigs, great attendances from the game and poetry night plus general trade. I realised I'd taken my eye of the ball in September but due to the nature of what I was going through, I'm not going to beat myself up over this. I spent October really trying to get it back on track and it did, with the shop having a bumper month in terms of footfall, attendances and sales. The book-side of the shop, which sometimes felt like an afterthought, was brought to the front and I've been trying to keep it there. We're a BOOKshop.

There have been bad habits picked up over the 14 months since opening. Eating and drinking my own stock was a bad trait that I expected to stop after a month but simply didn't! I'm pretty strict on it now. Tweets also became slow and lazy whereas before I was on it making conversation (the point of twitter folks). So where am I at the minute?

The folk club is going great guns. I'm happy there. I'm not however, getting complacent on the general promotion to increase the footfall. Relying on people to pass through Fargo and just pop in won't pay the bills so I'm still constantly looking for other means of letting people know 1) Coventry has a really cool bookshop, 2) That it's in a really cool creative area and 3) There's so much going on, plus we have a bar with cake and to just come in for Christ's sake.

The day to day running has changed too. In the summer I could easily just tweet or facebook throughout the day and waste a lot of time. I stopped reading books, I stopped reading news and I rested on my laurels. Today I see as a kind of kick up the arse to kick start the 'me' in bookshop. You know.

Alongside the promo (which I'll still mention but maybe less faceless) I'll be mentioning my good days, my bad days, the general consensus of running this place.

That was quite therapeutic to write all this. Although the bookshop wasn't exactly dead, to me it felt stale so I'm going to input more me, or rather introduce you to me again, and hopefully bring a bit more life back. God, I sound like I've hated it. I haven't. There were certainly moments but what I think I'm saying is, I'm here again, me, Michael. Not faceless grumpy tired bookshop man.

M