Independent bookshop adapts to changes over seven decades
One of the oldest independent bookshops in the country has grown into an institution among book lovers in the Bay, with 70 years of devoted personal customer service, knowledge and keeping up with the latest trends.
While the first chapter of the business was written in 1946 by Basil Fogarty in a basement shop in Govan Mbeki Avenue, his daughter and now owner Teresa Fogarty, 64, took over the reins after the shop faced liquidation in 1987.
Teresa along with her late business partner cashed in some insurance policies to get the business off the ground again – which took some convincing as former customers were reluctant to return. But after much persuading, sales picked up.
She said growing up around books made it an obvious career choice as that was all she knew.
The shop moved to its current location at Walmer Park Shopping Centre 21 years ago and Fogarty said there were no plans to move.
“This spot is excellent because everyone who walks through the doors, be it from near or far, knows that we are still right here.”
Fogarty said technology and the evolving online shopping market had crippled the traditional bookshop industry.
“Kindles, online shopping and the fluctuating exchange rate play a role in how our business does – but the thing about having a hard copy is that you can pick it up again.
“If you have it on a device you don’t have a hard copy of the book and you can’t lend it to someone because what we have found is that people download quick reads on their devices that are easily accessible when travelling,” she said.
While customer service plays a big part of her business she said honesty was the number-one priority.
“One thing I have learned over the years in this industry is that you cannot lie to customers. If you tell them something is good and it is not, they will never believe you again.
“You need to say when you don’t know something, because people expect you to know what you are talking about when they ask for advice on a book, so honesty is very important.”
Fogarty said the driving force behind the success of the business was keeping customers happy.
The array of products offered stretches beyond books. They also offer stationery, diaries, audio books and calendars.
Customer service forms part of their bread and butter, and the bookshop will go to great lengths to track down a particular book for the customer.
“We do our best to track down what the customer is looking for, even if it is a year later. We go the extra mile because that is what gets the customer to come back.”
Speaking about inspiring young erentrepreneurs who are looking to venture into the industry, Fogarty said that giving up was the biggest mistake one could make.
“In my experience in the industry, you should be able to delegate properly and surround yourself with reliable people whom you should appreciate and be honest with.
“Giving up will keep you from reaching your goals, and do not try to smudge the truth,” she said.
The bookshop tenders to all the major municipal libraries in the Bay, while book clubs are also a large part of its business.
While it may be a traditional store, its marketing strategy is based on two important elements – social media and word of mouth.