Recently accredited as the National Centre for Children’s Books by the Arts Council, Seven Stories is a gallery and archive that celebrates the wonderful world of children’s books, selecting original artwork and manuscripts to make its exhibitions, events and learning programmes. The Seven Stories bookshop, one of the largest children’s independents in the UK, is located in the Visitor Centre. Manager Steve Robinson explains.
We stock a wide range of children’s titles, from cloth and board books for babies right through to Young Adult fiction and titles on children’s literature for interested adults. Because the shop benefits from the 70,000 visitors to the centre every year, the majority of whom are parents with pre-school children, books for babies and picture books are a particular strength, accounting for just under 40% of total sales. However, we also have a significant market with older readers, thanks to the hundreds of schools that visit the centre throughout the year. We stock a wide range of non-book merchandise, too, from pocket money items through educational toys and games to limited edition prints. Our non-book sales are around 16% of turnover, and help to bolster our margin significantly.
Because our customers are already interested in and engaged with their children’s reading, they look to us to provide an additional layer of expertise in their shopping. The bookshop team are all avid readers, and their ever-growing knowledge is supplemented by the work that goes on in the wider organisation, so we’re lucky to be able to recommend books on pretty much any subject. Whether it’s a new parent looking for the best titles to kindle (no pun intended) their child’s love of books, a child making that daunting transition from picture books to older readers, older children wanting to find the Next Big Thing, or grandparents who may not be so familiar with what’s popular nowadays, we handle a huge number of queries each week. This trust can be daunting sometimes, but also hugely rewarding. And because we offer such a wide range, customers often comment that they’ve found books they’ve never seen before in other bookshops.
Some of our recent recommends include Abie Longstaff’s The Fairytale Hairdresser (our best-selling book last year, excluding exhibition-related sales), Whiffy Wilson, the Wolf Who Wouldn’t Wash by Caryl Hart and Leonie Lord, The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie and Jon Klassen’s hilarious I Want My Hat Back. At the opposite end of the spectrum, our YA customers have loved Teri Terry’s Slated, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake and there’s a lot of buzz around the forthcoming film adaptation of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Steff, our resident YA expert, has also spotted an emerging trend of books dealing with the subject of mental illness (Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne and the forthcoming Hysteria by Megan Miranda and Splintered by A G Howard). Watch this space…
Because we have little passing trade, we’re always looking for new ways to ‘take the Seven Stories bookshop to the people’. We now run a number of authors into schools events throughout the year, where we sell books and have even done book sales at ‘adult’ events such as the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival. As a result, our external sales now account for around 6% of sales per year.
Sales to school accounts an increasingly important element of our business too (it will make up about 13% of sales this year), whether it’s schools coming to pick stock from our extensive range, pulling together bespoke themed packs for teachers, or the increasing amount of orders arising from project work that out Learning and Participation team do with schools and nurseries. We also supply schools and nurseries with our Hooks into Books packs, a termly selection of seven of the best children’s books for each Key Stage, from Early Years through to KS3. The bookshop team are closely involved in the selection process for these packs, as are colleagues from across the organisation, and each pack comes with additional information on each of the books and classroom activities that teachers can use to enrich the reading experience. We’ve seen huge growth in this area over the past year, as teachers are often bewildered by the huge range of children’s titles published each year, and are grateful for the guidance these packs can give them.
We have a small transactional web site (www.sevenstories.org.uk/shop”>http://org.uk/shop), selling mainly book related merchandise plus a selection of our favourite books of the moment. We also recently signed up to the Hive Network (www.hive.co.uk/”>www.hive.co.uk), Gardners Books’ customer-facing web site aimed at offering customers an online print book and ebook, DVD and music shopping alternative to Amazon – customers nominate their favourite participating independent bookshop, which then receives a commission on all orders they place on Hive. If there are any independent bookshops that don’t currently make use of this, I would highly recommend it, as we receive a small but steady income stream from this scheme for no real effort at all.
And in conjunction with Hive, we’re now stocking a selection of GoTab devices, tablets that can function as ebook readers, including a great value 6” version for only £70 – ideal for little hands!
So, if you’re ever in Newcastle and looking for a pleasant way to while away a few hours, please pop in and see us. You won’t be sorry…
Seven Stories Bookshop, Seven Stories Visitor Centre, Ouseburn Valley in Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne; www.sevenstories.org.uk/shop”>http://org.uk/shop