Innovative Retailers Part 1 – Twitter to the rescue

The Shop: The Big Green Bookshop
The Place: the gritty streets of Wood Green in North London
The Owners: Tim West and Simon Key

The Story: Opened in March 2008. Having taken a pay-cut to get out of the Oxford Street branch of Waterstone’s (“where  you sell units not books and manage spreadsheets”) Key came to Wood Green Waterstone’s to get some of that local touch. But not long later and with only nine days notice the Waterstone’s closed. And its two managers decided to do something drastic. Like open their own bookshop. So they did.

The man himself: Simon Key 
Bitter about that? Nope. Key is saddened at the direction Waterstone’s took but he thinks that if they keep shutting as many stores as they are then the pendulum might swing back to allow it to be an excellent book chain again. He believes power handed back to the shop managers is a good thing.

So just the one shop in the empire? For now yes. But Simon would like to open many more if they can find the right communities.  Their philosophy only works where community spirit is strong and the staff love the community they work within.

As opposed to? Well, funnily enough Waterstone’s for example, where Simon feels their local champion idea just ends up being a sales gimmick. You can’t move at the Big Green Bookshop for comedy nights/children’s storytelling/local market events and that is the way they want it to continue.

Venture going well? Pretty much. But their ‘big bank loan’ presented some problems earlier in the year and led to some very innovative retailing. The shop drafted a letter which was tweeted out to everyone asking them to buy a book to tide them over and help with cashflow.

Did it work? Just a bit. It became one of the most read tweets in London that day. The day before they’d made £200 and the day after £2,500. People came in with large donations. Money was sent from as far as the US. And this continued for a month.

The Big Green Bookshop: Not big or green
Blimey, they’ll be doing it again. They’d rather not. But there are plenty of other innovative ideas they have. During the Booker prize they turn into a lending library and for a one off payment you can read all of the short list instead of buying them all and then keep your favourite one at the end. Thirty people took part the first year they ran it.

Loyal customers then? Unbelievably so. Last month a load of them turned up to the shop one fine morning and cleared all the rubbish on the scrap land next to the unit so that it can be planted with flowers and set with tables for an impromptu coffee shop. And when Key and West reluctantly gave over part of the shop recently to a second hand section the troops rallied round again and donated  lots of good quality second hand books.

What’s next for the dynamic duo? Skype events with American authors. And twinning with bookshops outside London for video-conferencing events.

Kindle-phobes? Not a bit of it. But it’s a watching brief on this one. They are waiting until it is no longer a luxury gadget and till a universal provider emerges. And then you can be very sure the Big Green Bookshop will have some good ideas on how to use it to their advantage.

If you’re thinking of doing the same thing: Read The Rebel Bookseller and The Art of Bookselling
If you want some free cake: Get down there when the bank loan is paid off in the New Year. They ‘ll be having a party. 



  1. Sam on September 29, 2011 at 10:54 am

    The shop sounds great. Makes me wished I lived in that part of London again. Thanks for the profile

  2. Glynn Davis on September 30, 2011 at 9:19 am

    If there are any innovative retailers in your part of town that could do with a bit of profile then feel free to let me know.