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How The Women's Bookshop is more than just a business

As the Auckland Writers Festival draws near we talked to Carole Beu, owner of The Women’s Bookshop - a store that has continued to thrive in its physical space while holding true to its core values.

The Women’s Bookshop opened in 1989, and opened its first flagship location on Dominion Road. Then moved to Ponsonby 10 years later.

Community is an important part of the stores identity, which could be a reason the stand-alone store has continued to thrive as online book sales rise.

We talked to Carole Beu, owner of The Women’s Bookshop, about the success of her store, and why she thinks her shop will continue to grow as a strong contender in the book sector.

Why do you think your store has fared so well even through the rise of online shopping?

“My shop continues to flourish because of the service we offer that is simply not available through on-line shopping. My staff are all avid readers with brilliant personal communication skills. We engage with customers in discussions about books and are all very skilled at the fine art of hand-selling.”

“We run lots of author events and book launches in the shop, as well as larger events in bigger venues; we are a community resource for information and activities, sell tickets free of charge for community events, especially during the annual Pride Festival, and provide a ‘safe space’ for women.”

“Men are always welcome and often appreciate the help we are able to give them with their selections.”

Most of our business is through the physical shop, with a small but significant proportion of sales coming through our online bookshop. Our customers are increasingly using our ‘click and collect’ service.

When do you notice a busy period for your business?

“The busiest times for us are the weeks right before Christmas and April/May every year – the lead-up to the Auckland Writers Festival and during the festival itself.”

“With Unity Books Auckland we co-operatively run the HUGE AWF bookstalls. This involves thousands of books spread over many locations at the Aotea Centre and elsewhere, with up to 35 staff!”

Has your store had to adapt in any way to keep up with consumer demands?

“We have a great reputation for sourcing special orders for people. We go ‘the extra mile’ to find difficult books for customers. We are fast and efficient, couriering out piles of books every day. Many of these result from phone and email inquiries, and many from our excellent on-line bookshop, which categorises books in detail, so customers can easily find what they are looking for.”

“The main way we have adapted over the 28 years is in the area of technology. People expect a quick response, so it is crucial to keep up with technological developments. Our website/online bookshop is user-friendly and our Facebook page is updated regularly. We send out e-newsletters to our thousands of customers only when we have something important and interesting to tell them.”

Why do you think there is still a want for physical bookstores?

“Physical bookshops are still needed for the overall experience they provide – browsing, the tangible feel and smell of the books, the personal service and guidance they receive from experts, the engagement with other book-lovers about the books, the ‘discovery’ of books they didn’t know about.”

“Real bookshops provide a ‘treasure hunt’, where people come across the thing they didn’t even realise they wanted!”

What genre of book for you sells the best?

“Our largest volume of sales comes from literary fiction, particularly by women. We also sell a lot of biography, feminism, personal growth and counseling, parenting, cooking, lesbian, and carefully selected children’s books.”

Do you think the demand for women’s voices in literature is still growing?

In our major annual events, such as our Ladies Litera-Teas, we deliberately promote women writers – because there is still a need for women’s voices to be heard and to be taken as seriously as men’s. Our Ladies’ Litera-Tea, held in a 300-seater theatre on a Sunday afternoon, features a dozen New Zealand women writers who have a new book out that year. They have 20 minutes each, with six up on stage before and after the lavish and delicious afternoon tea!

Why is a feminism based bookshop so important to you?

“We run the shop in feminist ways as much as we can. While I am ultimately responsible as the owner/operator, I consult with my staff and value their opinion when an important decision has to be made. The staff takes particular responsibility in their areas of expertise but we all share general tasks.”

“The Women’s Bookshop is important to me because it is so much more than ‘just’ a business. We are a feminist space that welcomes everyone, we promote women’s work (while stocking a wide range of books by men as well), we have wonderful interactions with our customers every day (many of whom have a sense of ownership – it is ‘their’ shop), and we provide a warm, safe, friendly space where people like to meet and ‘hang-out’.”

“We have won many awards over the years, particularly for our promotional activities. We are regarded, I believe, as one of the best little independent bookshops in New Zealand.

And I have the best job in the world – my ‘job’ is also my hobby and my passion.”

This story first appeared atThe Register.