Might be a bit of a long post, but here goes anyway...
I touched on it briefly earlier this week on facebook but it's now been 12 months since I reopened the newly expanded Big Comfy Bookshop. It wasn't a decision I took lightly either, man, the day before I signed the lease I was sweating and thinking am I doing this right? You know, 12 months later and it's kinda working. Together with the most amazing women I know (minus my wife), Ali and Eve have helped structure, mould, basically bash the place into what could be described as a bookshop cafe. It's not something that I set out to do, I fully admit that. I had vision of books and coffee and that's it, but must admit that the food we added does bring in a different kind of customer. Now, a year later and we're really going for it. We had a 'soft launch' of the food in 2017 and apart from a few tweets and Facebook posts, didn't really let people know we have a full lunch menu. Heck, even people in Fargo Village didn't know we do food! But let's pivot a little as to why I expanded.
I've had 2 and a half years of building the business, well actually, it's more 4 and a half, but 2 and a half in the actual shop rather than online. Anyway, these years helped tremendously in showing the passion I have for not just books and music, but the ethos of doing what you want, and not working for anyone. (Disclaimer: It's freaking hard). The daytime trade of the bookshop was OK, just OK, but it was the evening events, poetry and music especially, that were packing the place out. It was this that made me look at growing. It's a natural state for a business and if it's done right can reap rewards. Doubling the size of the room however doubles my outgoings. More rent and rates, more electricity and with the added kitchen, added staff (Enter Eve).
The early months went great. We were finding our feet with what works on the food side. How many tomatoes should we buy? What type of bread? All very boring stuff. And this is why Ali and Eve have been so so sooo important. I don't have a passion for food, yet see it should bring in extra customers and income. Both Ali and Eve have a background in food and books and together have hit the ground running. Anyway lets rewind to when we reopened...
June 2017 through to September it was so busy. At some points all three of us would be working. Brilliant. But I didn't take into account the 'new business' factor. In September it started to die off a little and by December it was quiet. Still selling food but there were some days we wouldn't. With the extra staff costs, rent etc I had a mini panic, maybe a slight breakdown and nearly pulled the plug. To be honest and open, I thought I'd made a huge mistake and couldn't sleep. Anxiety hit.
Ali and I sat down and I shared these feelings and discussed our options. It took a week or so of slight changes, alleviating workloads elsewhere and moving working patterns, and I finally started to feel a little more confident. The shop has been working OK since then. It was around March that this took place but it also coincided with the Beast from the East. Remember that? Where everything was shut and it was too cold to even walk to the corner shop. Well I had to cancel a music night and a poetry night, plus a book launch all in the space of 4 days. Huge loss of income. It's been a climb uphill ever since then, and I guess it kind of has been for the past 12 months, but a clearer focus on WHAT and WHY I do this started to take shape. Ali, Eve and I all had our very first staff meeting in our local pub, and three hours later I had delegated loads and the ladies stressed that, basically, I do too much. To hear this from them made a weight fall off my shoulders. I hadn't realised what I do until then. That meeting was great and more are planned.
It's now June 2018, a year since I reopened the shop. The main concern now is general footfall. Can I survive another year the same? I'm going to state clearly right now.
We need more footfall, extra daytime events, a wider growth. People need to know we exist and what we offer. I've always used word of mouth as number 1 and it's you reading this (it's nearly finished now probably) that helps. So, I'm going to leave you by asking you a favour. By supporting my vision of having a second hand bookshop cafe in Coventry, by supporting my vision of providing a platform for both local and national musicians, poets, painters and more, and by supporting me, just me, you will be helping keep this place open. Could you mark in your calander a day to pop down? Come along in the day, come along to an event and buy just 1 book, or a coffee, or maybe a full on lunch. Hopefully if this happens, I think the next 12 months will see us secure our footing and look to reach more people.
Thanks for reading this. I guess I just wanted to let you know that whenever you come down, or send an email, or like our page, that there's a real person with a real life at the other end, striving to create a bookshop with coffee and cake. And lunch.