How many people would like to do that I wonder? That was the enjoyable task force I decided to engage in when I saw an article about the relocation of Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in a trade magazine before Christmas.
Foyles is moving from its current location in Spring 2014 to take three floors and the basement of the former Central St Martins building, just down the road and whilst they have recruited the services of an architect and plans are all in place for the refurbishing of the building itself, they now need to decide where the books go and what else might be incorporated into the new look Foyles
They asked for volunteers to come along to the bookshop for a day and I thought how fantastic will that be. I could spend the day with other people from the industry and dream about how a bookshop in 2020 might look. In fact the first question might be would physical bookshop even exist in 2020?.
My first challenge, so to speak, was to see if they would be happy for me to come along to the session, would they mind a fellow bookseller spending the day getting free ideas about how to run a bookshop. I should never have doubted them, because the lovely booksellers that they are at Foyles, said yes do come along, we’d love to have you.
So on a wet Friday in February, were there any others I ask, I spent the day with 40 other industry colleagues dreaming of how a bookshop of the future should look. You could feel the excitement in the room it was very interesting that in this age of chain stores, soulless shopping centres that people really did feel passionate about how a bookshop might look. That might be because the room was primarily made up of people from the book trade but could also be because people still do feel passionate about bookshops and that’s encouraging.
We were split into 5 groups and despatched off to come up ideas, floor plans and schemes to pull customers into the new Foyles and then present their plan at the end of the day. A cynic might say that this is a cheap way of Foyles getting free consultancy but it did not feel like that at all.
Our group created “Christina” who was now a single mum who likes to read when she has the chance and so do her two children. Annabel is seven and her little brother, Jack, is four and both have being going into bookshops since they were born, in fact probably before that too! The girls loved shopping and Jack had no choice but to join them so often all three came into central London to browse the shops, see what fashions were about and generally have time together doing a leisure activity they both loved.
It appears that shopping is increasingly split into two categories, shopping for items that we know we want, that might be clothes, music, household items, books and when we know what we want we are more likely to do it online. The other category of shopping is the browsing element and that’s when we head out to the shops in large numbers, probably with friends and is a leisure activity. For physical shops it is very difficult if not impossible to compete with the online retailer so it therefore essential to offer the leisure shopper an experience that they enjoy, offer products that they might not know about and if possible are unique to your shop. That’s one tactic that will help keep the tills ringing.
So the new Foyles needs to appeal to Christina, Annabel and Jack, amongst others of course, so that they want to visit when they come into central London to shop, also be set up in such a way that they can all spend time alone browsing books aimed at them and be a fun, happening and place of discovery. What resulted out of our discussion group was a bookshop that had “secure” children’s area where the parent(s) could leave their child to allow them time to browse books they are interested in
One unique element of Foyles is that Ray’s Music shop is within their store and we believe that they should build on that with music events taking place on a regular basis. On an evening if you have time on your hands you could pop in, have a glass of wine whilst listening to a new or for that matter an established jazz band who would play a couple of sets of their music. Then the customer could have the option of buying their CD in the shop, or downloading from the Foyles website using the free wifi and getting a commission on that sale.
We saw a variety of venues around the bookshop catering for authors who might attract 100 people to their event to authors who are doing their first event and might only have their Mum and boyfriend in attendance. This allows a book lover to discover authors and books which they might not know about and with the added bonus of hearing the author talk about it, which while technically possible online is not quite the same as the person being in front of you.
Ultimately the new Foyles needs to appeal to a wide range of shoppers, reach out beyond the traditional book buyers and with a floor space on offer of the former Central St Martins building it has the chance to become a destination on its own.
Only time will tell how much, if any of our ideas Foyles will incorporate in their new look and even if they do how it will look in reality. I for one will certainly be going along to the new Foyles when it opens next Spring and enjoy discovering new authors and books.
*#FutureFoyles images thanks to Foyles