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Cogito Books, UK

Claire Grint talks about Cogito Books, the shop she runs with her father, Alan Grint.

Where is your shop? In Hexham, a small historic market town.

How many people work there? My dad (Alan Grint) and I who are both full-time, and Hilary and Alice who are part-time.

How long have you had the business? I’ve been working here for 6½ years but my father celebrated the shop’s 10th birthday in May 2011. Before that there was no bookshop in Hexham.

What did you do before becoming a bookseller? I came straight from Edinburgh University where I was studying international business studies and French. Before opening a bookshop, my father was MD for a company in the carbon industry.

What does a typical day involve? There is no typical day, which is one of the things that makes independent bookselling so interesting. It’s about being in the shop, serving, matching people with books and giving advice.

What kind of books do you sell? We’re a general bookseller and we have a large children’s area. We also sell a lot of poetry, fiction, travel, across the board really. We tend to stock one copy of each title which allows us to have a greater range and we can restock quickly.

Where do your customers come from? Local people from the town and surrounding villages, and tourists. (We’re not far from Hadrian’s Wall.) We saw a lot more visitors after the Hadrian exhibition in London and when the Wall footpath was opened.

Why are bookshops important? They are a huge part of the community; a hub where people intersect. The range of conversations you can have in a bookshop is brilliant and that can’t be replicated on the internet.

How would you describe the current state of the trade? Not brilliant. We opened up after the net book agreement had been abolished and one of our main concerns is how much publishers have devalued their products through discounting. People think that’s what books cost. By selling at such low prices, publishers are not getting in the money to invest in new authors and ideas.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? These are extremely challenging times but you have to be optimistic. When you see the great love and excitement people have for books, that’s encouraging. You have to find ideas and new ways to keep people involved with real books.

How do you compete with the chains? The shop was originally on 1st and 2nd floor premises, but when Ottakars arrived my father moved to the current shop as he knew it was important to have a good shop front. There is no point in discounting and selling the same things as the local Waterstone’s so we look for something different. People come in for the quality of service, to browse and the serendipity of what they might come across.

Do you compete with the charity bookshops? There’s an Oxfam bookshop here and charity shops will take some sales from us, but we can order in books for the next day, which they can’t do and the chains can’t do either. The BA has recently made a stand and the situation does need to be looked at.

Are online sales important to you? We have a transactional website that generates some sales. People will find us on the site then email us or come in to the shop. It is important to have an online presence but we put most of our energy into the shop.

What aspects of the business do you most enjoy? Introducing customers to new titles; connecting people with books, and being part of the community. It’s a two-way thing and we get recommendations all the time from our customers.

What aspects of the business do you most dislike?
The paperwork, and the frustration of receiving damaged books, the waste and inefficiency.

How do you choose stock? From the wholesalers’ guides, reviews and customers’ orders.

Do you organise in-store events? We have lots of events, but not necessarily in the shop. For five years we’ve run events called ‘Writing on the Wall’, which are literary lunches and suppers with Jenny Uglow, Chris Mullin, Martin Bell, and many other fantastic authors who have come to meet their Hexham readers. We’ve started doing ‘Crime and Cake’ events and have had Ann Cleves and her CSI advisor, Helen Pepper. We also support the Hexham Book Group, have late-night Christmas shopping evenings and we supply the books at events. We recently hosted an evening with Alexander McCall Smith at the local independent cinema.

What have been this year’s bestsellers? Hare with the Amber Eyes has done very well, and local histories. A book that’s doing well for us at the moment, partly because dad is very interested in the First World War, is Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse.

What advice would you give to someone considering opening a new bookshop?
It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. It requires a lot of time, energy and patience, but it’s really good fun, rewarding and you enjoy what you do. It’s not a 9am to 5pm job: it’s part of who you are, not what you do.

What are you reading at the moment? A friend and I did a big charity fund-raiser last week, which was called Big Read Tynedale, and I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s for that and thoroughly enjoyed it. Cogito donated profits from the sale of the books. We teamed up with the local film club to show the film and we had a Tiffany’s cocktail party with people dressed up in glamorous dresses and dinner jackets. I’m also reading Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, which is beautifully written and a treat to read. He’s one of my favourite authors.

Batch and Your Business

How long have you been using Batch? We’ve used Batch for four or five years and Batch Returns for a couple of years.

How does Batch help your business? It makes it easier and more efficient, and helps to reduce bank charges.

Which BA services do you use? We use the carrier bags and we have taken the BA Christmas catalogue for the first time this year. We stock Book Tokens and we also have our own gift tokens. We also use the IndieBound bookmarks and messages as well as attending the Independent Bookseller Forums.


Is there anything the BA could do to make your life easier? The BA’s voice is being heard at the moment, which is a good thing. It is shouting a bit louder. It is better that booksellers’ concerns come from a national body rather than individuals. It helps us to remain optimistic and positive, but at the same time there is the reality of the situation. Mary Portas is making people think about high streets. People don’t make the link that going on the internet and buying a book cheaply will lead to the closure of somewhere; that there are additional costs involved in selling books in a shop.

Cogito Books
5 St Mary’s Chare
NE46 1NQ

Tel: 01434 602555
Fax: 01434 600555

Below: Zeus, the Cogito Bookshop dog, makes his selection.

Claire Grint was talking to Janet Ravenscroft