Friday, 20 November 2009

Small but Mighty

I'm here to talk about being small but mighty, specifically in the book trade. Rather than, say, Persil, which is apparently small but mighty but in an area I know very little about. If you're not already familiar with the small but mighty force of The Big Green Bookshop, shame on you. Find out about them here: First, a little background about how I got involved with The Big Green Bookshop in a friend/supporter kind of capacity.

Two years ago I left my hometown of Swansea, where I was a Children's Bookseller at Waterstone's, to take up the post of Publicity Assistant at Little Tiger Press and Stripes Publishing. One day, I was perusing The Bookseller website, when I came across a guest blog by Simon Key (co-owner of the BGB). I believe they were at the stage where they were waiting for various bits of paper to be passed around before they could get their hands on the keys, but I forget as I was so intrigued that I hopped straight over to this blog: to find out more. I was more than impressed by what Simon and his partner in crime Tim West were doing and the exposure they were getting, so I immediately offered my services in whatever way I could.

When I told my friends I was going to help some people I had never met get ready to open a bookshop, I think they thought I was a bit mad, but they weren't particularly surprised. They'd written me off as bookshop obsessed long ago. A word about people who've worked for Waterstone's. Any two people who've worked for the big W will ALWAYS have something to talk about. So, surrounded by current and ex-Waterstoners, I knew I was amongst friends. Ever since this day, spent making green bunting (which still adorns the shop) and putting books on shelves, I have been hooked on the world of all things BIG and GREEN, because they are, yes, SMALL and MIGHTY. They prove that size should be no obstacle to success, and they aren't afraid to think big. Regular readers of Simon's blog will know that they were listed as one of The Bookseller's top ten independent bookshops, before they'd even opened their doors and they won a Haringey Business Award in their first year. Most importantly, they are probably the most innovative and forward-thinking bookshop I have ever come across, and I spend A LOT of time in bookshops all over the country. The entrepreneurial skills these boys demonstrate are just incredible. They are in constant dialogue with their customers and the trade about how they can improve and function more effectively as a business. They may be a small business, but this doesn't stop them from thinking BIG and more importantly, CREATIVELY.

The company I work for started out in a similar way. Little Tiger Press actually began as two brothers and an uncle selling a book (written by the brothers' mum) out of the back of a van. Over the past twenty-two years, this has grown to a work force of fifty, working across three imprints: Little Tiger Press, Stripes Publishing and Caterpillar Books. This year alone, Little Tiger Press has won the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal (the most prestigious award in the UK for children's book illustration) and published two of the thirteen titles selected for CITVs Bookaboo. This month it was announced that two of the nine books shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award were published by Stripes, a feat matched only by Macmillan Children's Books. All this goes to show that though small, we too can prove ourselves to be worthy opponents for the bigger publishing houses.

This month The Big Green Bookshop announced that they would be twinned with Gallic Books. This kind of original thinking is what sets them apart and makes them a force to be reckoned with within the industry.

I hope all this doesn't come across as a big gloat, that is not the spirit in which it is intended. I hope it is inspiring. I hope it gives people hope for the future of independent bookshops and publishers. I think it's good to celebrate success when so often people only comment on the downside of the industry. More than anything else, I hope it awakens the entrepreneurial side in others. I'm not sure I could do what my directors and friends have done, and at my age I wouldn't rule out ever working for one of the big houses, I'll try anything once. But I will never lose my sense of admiration and respect for smaller businesses that strive for mighty results!

The now infamous bunting outside the mighty Big Green Bookshop.

Gleeful co-owners Tim West (left) and Simon Key. 
Both now have considerably longer hair.

Stripey author Martin Chatterton does Big Green Wednesday.

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