Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Book People - The Lidl of Literature

How their little faces shine upon seeing The Book Man (so called) and his stall packed with cut-price books. I have to say it was a heartwarming moment, a rarity when customers appear happy to see someone selling them something. Even the tone of their voices revealed a note of joy.

It is one of the success stories born out of the Thatcher years. It has a USP that is of value and I find it practically impossible to find fault. Practically...
The Book People, for those few that don't know of them, are a discount bookseller whose modus operandi splits into several methods. First and foremost is their faux market stall holder who, having been booked into a given corporate venue, arrives with his/her metric tonne of books stored in blue boxes, loads said goods onto four-wheeled skates, then unloads the whole shebang onto the stalls. The set-up looks very much like a marketplace with the 'wholesaler' (in reality a fully paid employee) who then, armed with a money bag and Ingenico credit card machine is ready for business.

The second is the salesperson who arrives in a school or Doctors surgery armed with a handheld box of goodies and a lengthy list of books for sale. The worker at said School or surgery then tick the boxes next to the books they want and then, one week later, the seller returns to fulfil their order and take their money.

The third is their mighty website. With prices that knock spots off Amazon, let alone the likes of W.H.Smith,  or Foyles, or Waterstones. I have to say I dislike buying anything online especially books but they, The Book People, do offer some great bargains.
They are a company operating since 1988 ever since the owner, now deceased, Ted Smart, incorporated the company in Godalming, Surrey. Their offices, cheap, cheerful and with no frills, are now found also in Haydock, Merseyside, Bangor and West London. Since their humble beginnings, they have purchased numerous competitive brands such as Red House and Index Books. They are a neoconservative's dream come true. They tick all the right boxes even in view of their attitude to staff. In other words, and certainly as far as the publishing industry are concerned, they are a big deal.

Publishers love them as they shift massive quantities of product. Consumers love them as they are sold at such bargain basement prices.
The company employs over 612 people with at least two groups of twenty-five acting as Event Organisers whose sole job is to set up 'shop' at large corporates, preferably those with a huge footfall. The more people, the more likely a higher spend. It is hard work, very hard work. Shifting a ton of books doesn't sound much and can be comparatively easy IF the operative has a clear ease of access. Steps are a pain with slopes being preferable as it is much easier pulling or pushing heavy loads up a cantered entrance rather than steps. Steps, goods lifts and other obstacles can mean unloading before shifting the load three or four times which equates to shifting several tons on entering the building and the same in reverse.

There is also parking to consider. Many sites allow free parking. A great many more don't. The operative then, working to a very structured, limiting and pressurised time frame. Has to unload, set up stall, find somewhere to park his vehicle (often some distance away) then return in time to 'host' the event. This is an arduous task and not at all easy. Days can start at four in the morning and do not finish until all monies taken, including credit cards, have been balanced then paid into a night safe AND THEN stock used has to be input onto a semi-automated computerised system. This can mean finishing after nine at night. In light of barcodes, the solution is obvious but The Book Peoples raison d'ĂȘtre is money - the making, not the spending of - they are not customer facing and are disinclined to entering the 21st century, preferring to exist in the decade of their greatest success - the late nineties. If only they would make that change their profits would increase as would their control of warehousing and product.

And then there is the training or rather a lack of it. It's all a case of here's the van keys, there's your stock. You have the address off you go.  One day is spent looking at a warehouse followed by watching a video on how to lift heavy weights. Then two days on-site training at an event. You are then given a folder which contains enough verbiage to anesthetize a bull elephant but is as about as useful as sending a postcard written in Mandarin to a Mexican. I have been fortunate enough to have received training from experts; companies who, having employed you to a do job, much like the Royal Marines or Navy Seals, trained you adequately for the task ahead and who didn't waste yours or their time on spurious, insignificant detail before chucking a book your way and telling you 'it's all down to you now.'  It was like being a member of ISIS. "We have shown you  the KOCH MP-5, now go and kill some people."

Each Organiser is a franchise. He or she are given a set of clients and dependent on these is the amount of cash taken. Event Organiser's are NOT sales people. Their client's are predetermined by Book People Central Office. They neither target nor win clients. What they do effectively is man-manage or account manage the end clients expectations. Sales targets are therefore spurious but targets are nonetheless set. These, in reality, are a rhetorical back-slapping exercise. They bear no semblance of reality as the only factor is the size of the footfall supplied by the end client. In other words, the bigger the client and the larger their staffing levels the more can be expected to be taken.

The Book People offer a large but limited range of stock titles with very few novels. The books they sell are sold extremely cheaply as they purchase stock in large volumes. It is a case of stacking it high, selling it low. The Book People are the Lidl of Literature. 
Their sales are now sadly failing as is their turnover. From £93.1 million in 2013, they have dropped to £83.8 million. Nothing too disastrous but surely a signal for a change? Modernisation is desperately required before everyone's favourite bookseller goes down the tubes.

The Book People. Incredible concept. Great product. Staff care? Hmmm.
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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