Sunday, 21 April 2013

Browsing in Foyles

Bookseller updating on the second day of sunshine and a clear Alice-blue sky that promises spring, flowers and even Londoners are smiling on public transport. Actually, it's the weekend of the London Marathon: lots of happy tourists in London.

Have you seen the hoardings outside the former College of Art next to Foyles? It promises a new, expanded and improved Foyles for the next century. I'm delighted that Foyles has bounced back to become the bookshop of first choice for so many in London. It's a spectacular turnaround from 15 years ago when it wasn't quite such a pleasure to browse and buy in - sent from one desk with a chit to another to pay in a dark and dusty labyrinth. The books you wanted would probably be there. It was just a case of finding out where, precisely, they'd been shelved.

Whether or not it's a London bubble with good salaries and tourists still plentiful, Foyles has developed well in the last few years and has an enviable number of repeat customers. I know that it's also expanded to Bristol, not that I know the city or the branch. The St Pancras branch is small, well-stocked with books for the traveller in need of something interesting to read on the train. Most people don't have the Wildean scandal of a diary, so a paperback comes in handy.

I admire their selections in both small and large branches. There are a good number of new bestsellers and other, quirkier items that you might not have heard of and a blurb that'll draw you in. You can also rely on the bookseller knowing the author you're seeking when you just can't remember that Paul Torday wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, though you could remember the 'T' and were hoping not to need to go through the entire section moving your head to one side and the other reading the spines. The shop sparkles from the care that everyone has put into it and the sheer number of red bags in the local area shows trade is going well.

What can other businesses learn from all this? Mostly, it's doing the basics well.

1. Don't leave unshelved stock on the floor. Unless, of course, you really want it to get damaged.

2. Keep replenishing the stock. Empty shelves don't look good or make the shop look cared-for.

3. Train your staff - have an environment where they're supported, happy to be there and ready to answer questions. Even if they are required to fend off 'Is this a bookshop?' politely.

4. Label areas clearly. Floor-plans are brilliant, as are signs to lifts and stairs.

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