Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The problems of looking for a premises in Nuneaton

It's been 10 months since I finished my full time job to work on The Big Comfy Bookshop full time. The first month was a holiday really as my wife was on maternity and it gave us plenty of time to spend with our new son. Then September hit. Heidi, my wife, goes back to work full time and I start looking into premises and how to sell online, as well as look after my son a few days a week, It's exciting.

I take 2 weeks to organise all the books that are stored in my loft (about 1000 of them) then realise I need more storage. In the meantime I'm driving back and forth all over the country to pick up books. It's fun and exciting. Meeting ex-bookshop owners and book lovers. Then September melts into October and I get the website up, finally. I spend October adding books to the website. I view a property that is perfect and in November an offer is accepted. Woo Hoo! I have a premises!

November rolls into December, which quickly ticks into January and 2013. More and more books are added to the website daily and I'm nearing 2000 books online! My storage facility is close to bursting with about 8000 books, 90% of which are still to be looked at and catalogued. The Facebook is slowly ticking along with 150ish likes, and my twitter has about 200 followers. March comes. I'm frustrated at the 4 month wait of the shop. I've gradually been eating into the money that I need to open the shop, as I need to eat and clothe my baby. Not eat my baby, feed and clothe him. I'm the one that eats. Nevermind.


I panic as my heart was 100% in the shop. I had the inside scouted by North Warwickshire and Hinckley College Interior Design students and I even went into the college to talk to them about what I wanted, and I saw some fantastic pieces of work and ideas, and now that's gone. I think about returning to my mundane brain numbing desk job. My wife metaphorically punches me in the face and tells me to man up. I man up.

I view another property. A smaller one but a lot cheaper but it has everything and more than the first shop had. I start visualising the layout. I get excited. Everything looks great. It is owned by the Co-Op. They won't lease it to me as I will be selling tea and cake and they also serve tea and cake, even though the shop has been vacant for over 12 months. Obviously my tea and cake sales would eat into their tiny business and ruin them. Anyway, shop falls through without an offer being made.

Then, world book night! At Nuneaton Library with about 40 other book lovers who are there to meet local author Rosie Goodwin. It's a fantastic night and I give out my business cards and explain I have no premises but I am online. Every single person thinks it's a fantastic idea and just what Nuneaton needs. I beem inside. I can do this. Just opposite the library is a tiny little council owned shop with a 'to let' sign. It's just £7500 pa with a rolling lease. Absolutely perfect to start up in. I ring the next day. It was leased last week.

Son of a beesting.

I decide to start attending fairs as a seller. My first at Stockingford Spring fair is amazing, taking double what I expected and meeting loads of people who had heard about the shop through the grapevine. Fair 2 was appalling, at Nuneaton URC. There was no advertising by the 'promoters' except a message a month before on their Facebook saying 'Don't forget about our Craft Fair!'. No one knew about it except those I had contacted myself. I actually had time to read a WHOLE BOOK whilst no one attended. I sold 4 books. Other stall holders left at 11.30. Deflated.

Then Earlsdon festival happened. Oh. My. God. Simply the best experience to date. The day was glorious, the stalls were huge and I literally didn't stop all day. It fired me up.
I spent the next few days trawling around Nuneaton scouring premises. But there simply aren't any that are friendly to new businesses. 

The rent and rates in the town are so high it's impossible to contemplate getting a shop there. For example, this shop
on Abbey Street, with some foot traffic but not lots is £20,000 PA plus VAT (so now it's £24,000) plus rates (not sure how much they are for this but I estimate £5000 PA, so up to £29,000) plus gas, electricity and water. Basically it's £30,000 per year without stock, fittings, staff etc. It's in one of the main streets in Nuneaton but it's quiet. 

After looking at every single available shop (through the windows at least, then researching online) there is not one single shop in the centre that a new business, or at least my business, can afford. This is why I am having to look outside the town.

I am investigating a pop-up shop in Nuneaton too though. I am hoping that a landlord of one of the empty shops has some vision, and would rather have their premises hosting a business for a few weeks or months than having it empty. I'm starting that process now.

The bookshop is very much alive, but will take any help it can get whether that be you know of an available space, even if it's for a short time, or maybe you fancy helping out at one of the craft fairs I'll be at, or maybe you're a graphic designer who wants to add more to their portfolio? Designing flyers maybe?. This was started with the Nuneaton community in the front of my mind and I want to involve as many people as possible.

Next week I will be meeting with someone to look at a premises outside Nuneaton. It's an excellent opportunity but it obviously takes the business outside of where I wanted it to start. It's bitter-sweet.

Thanks for reading this long ramble. I am passionate about this.

Michael