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Rossiter Books, UK

Rossiter Books
Above: Monmouth store on opening day.

Andy Rossiter explains his journey from Waterstone's manager to being an international bookseller in the Wye Valley!

Where are your shops? We have two shops: one in Ross-on-Wye and the other is in Monmouth. They are both market towns in the Wye Valley, about 15 miles apart. We like to think of ourselves as international because we have one shop in Wales and one in England!

How long have you had the business? The Ross shop opened four years and two months ago. There was a bookshop in the town, but we opened in a larger more attractive site. We opened the Monmouth shop in November 2011 in the former National Trust shop. Both shops are in Grade II listed buildings.

Rossiter Books

How many people work with you? So that we don't get cabin fever, we swap between the two stores. My wife Victoria and I run the two stores. We also have two full-time staff: Richard Thorne (store manager) and Rusty. In addition there are two part-timers, one of whom used to be assistant manager at Waterstone's in Cheltenham and now purely does our events.

What did you do before opening your own shops? I was in Waterstone's from 1988 when Tim Waterstone was still in charge. I worked in many locations for them, including as manager in Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Manchester Deansgate, then I left to be a Debenhams store manager for two years. I really missed books so I worked for Ottakars, which was then taken over by Waterstone's! We moved to the area and I was commuting to Cardiff, as I was the store manager there.

Rossiter Books

Bookselling can be a minefield – it's far more complicated than people realise. Being a Waterstone's manager is probably a very good grounding to have: you realise the importance to turning the stock around to keep it fresh, to use Batch, etc.

What kind of books do you sell? We carry a high quality range of new titles  plus children's books, maps and local guides. We will also source second-hand books for customers for a small finder's fee. We also offer free delivery within a five-mile radius.

How many titles do you generally have in stock? We have about 6,000 titles in each shop, usually as single titles unless we know they will be big sellers. Typically we put a bay of signed copies by the door. We have a large cycling audience, so we have signed copies of the Chris Froome autobiography (The Climb) in, for example.

Rossiter Books

How do you choose stock? We use a variety of means to find new books, including reviews and reps. In terms of backlist, we went back to each section after a year and tried to identify which books we wanted to be in the shops to give us a core backbone of quality.

What are your current bestsellers? The Chris Froome title; Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty and Horatio Clare's Down to the Sea in Ships.

Where do your customers come from? They are mainly locals plus visitors who come to the Wye Valley to camp or canoe, or are on their way to or from the Hay Festival.

Are online sales important to you? They are particularly important for signed copies. We haven't had a transactional website, but have introduced a limited range of signed copies you can buy online as we are the official Bookseller for the Abergavenny Food Festival from this year. We get a steady stream of customers ordering books via a contact form on the website. We can get over 250,000 titles delivered the next day.

How do you feel about e-books and e-readers? Whilst I see they have a place, I have no interest in encouraging the development of e-readers because I think that's not a sustainable market for any independent bookseller. I think we should be championing physical books and using our bookshops to celebrate quality writing, and particularly beautiful, tactile books that are visually appealing like new Leaping Hare Mind, Body and Spirit range.

Rossiter Books

If someone really wants an e-book, we are in a position to sell them one. We are signed up to the Indie e-bookshop scheme, and we have a page on our website. But we wanted nothing to do with Kobo because, again, it is not a sustainable model: after a while those customers become Kobo's customers. It would appal me to lose a customer to e-books and e-readers through something I've done in store!




How important are Facebook and Twitter for your business? They are of growing importance. We have a slightly older audience, but if we tweet about our Gruffalo day, for example, we will get young mothers coming along who are aware of it that way.

Rossiter - shelf help

What type of events do you run? We have 50 to 60 signings between the two stores each year. During Independent Bookselling Weeks we'll have a signing a day. We support events like the Monmouth Women's Festival, for which we lined up Kate Adie. We've also had Victoria Pendleton, Griff Rhys Jones, Alison Weir, Jung Chang, Sir Roy Strong and Rachel Joyce. This year we will be supporting the Abergavenny Food Festival. On the children's front, we support the Monmouth Schools' Festival and have had a Gruffalo day recently. We have events in the shops in the evenings, but we also use local theatres and other venues, including a country house. We typically charge £3 for a bookshop event which is knocked off the price of the book, and customers get a glass of wine. The events are crucial to what we do not only for the cultural vibrancy they bring. They can also be equal to a day's sales.

Rossiter Books

Who do you see as your competitors? Locally there are only WH Smith and The Works and we can differentiate ourselves from them in terms of service, range, ambiance, and author events. The main competition comes from online sales. But bringing customers face-to-face with authors is a real Amazon-killer. It's something that indies can do that Amazon can't.

Matt Sewell at Rossiter Books
Above: Matt Sewell event with Carol (events), Matt (author), Andy with oldest son William, and Richard (manager).

What aspects of the business do you most enjoy? I've always loved working in bookshops: it's partly the books and partly the clientele. You've got to love serving customers. I love being in a small team and working with my wife, who is an ex-history teacher. It's all about the work-life balance.

What are you reading at the moment? Richard Asquith's Running Free: A Runner's Journey Back to Nature. He talks about the pleasure of running and appreciating the sights, sounds and smells around you. I love cross-country running so he is slightly preaching to the converted.

What book would you most like to have written? I'm not a frustrated writer so I'm going to say the Harry Potter series, but only because of the royalties!

Rossiter Books - Ross interior
Above: Inside the Ross shop.

What would you have been if you hadn't been a bookseller? I'd have been in retail or IT. I started life as a Sainsbury's trainee manager but gravitated to books after a few months. I've been an EPOS trainer at Waterstone's. For the BA I've been involved with Nielsen and have talked at the BA conference about using data. I've been with a small group of indie booksellers trying to get 'Above the Treeline' running in the UK. It's a system that independent booksellers in the US have credited with helping them drive sales and make their stock work harder for them.

Rossiter Books - art and craft

Batch and Your Business

How long have you been using Batch and Batch Returns? We have been on Batch since we opened the first shop. We spent about a year researching independent bookshops before we started and everybody said that we ought to use Batch.

Do you use the Claims facility? Yes, we find it tremendously useful. It was a nightmare before: we would have damaged books coming in and would phone the distributor who would promise paperwork that never arrived. Then we'd ring and be told that we were outside the reporting parameters and we'd have that argument. Now there is no argument to be had. If they haven't sent the paperwork through you can go back to the Batch claim and say 'there it is'. It's in black and white.

Rossiter BooksHow does Batch help your business? It dramatically speeds up and simplifies the payment of invoice process. I cannot imagine what that would be like without Batch. We would consider ourselves champions of Batch. Every now and again we get a query from someone saying that we haven't paid all our bills. We say 'yes we have, because we're on Batch' and it always results in their saying they've made a mistake. We find the returns process to be much better using Batch.

Rossiter Books

Rossiter Books
5 Church Street
Monmouthshire NP25 3BX

Tel: 01600 775572

Rossiter Books
The Corn Exchange
7 High Street
Herefordshire HR9 5HL

Tel: 01989 564464

Twitter: @rossiterbooks
Facebook: Rossiter-Books

Below: the Ross-on-Wye shop.

Rossiter Books - Ross shop front

Andy Rossiter was speaking to Janet Ravenscroft in July 2014