My Day on the Shop Floor
16 – 23 June is Independent Bookshop Week – and we’re participating!
Over the course of this week, we’ll be sharing content about our favourite independent bookshops.
To start off the week, our Commercial Director Alexandra McDonald blogs about the one – one! – shift she worked in a bookshop.
Alexandra is a publishing trade die-hard who oversees sales, marketing, publicity, licensing, audio, ebooks, direct to consumer activity, export, distribution logistics, the Diffusion Prison Literacy programme and a couple of other things for SPCK. If she had spare time, she would like to spend it reading, yoga-ing and golfing but usually ends up spending most of it at the wheel of Mum's Taxi. You can follow her on Twitter at @alexmack2004.
My Day on the Shopfloor
So, here’s the thing - I have never actually worked in a bookshop, as unlike many, many of my publishing colleagues I didn't have a Saturday or part-time or first job in the local bookshop as my town didn't have one. So it sort of never happened. And my shift into publishing happened fairly soon after I decided my surveying degree wasn’t going to find me a job that kept me warm and in the dry. So today, 23 years and a few weeks later, here I was, early one morning driving to St Andrews in Great Missenden for my first ever day working in a bookshop and attempting to connect books to their potential readers. Nervous? Not really. Well, yes, actually.
So of course that I was late. Not a good start. I had an excuse - but as I had taken a tin of chocolate biscuits with me, I was forgiven fairly swiftly. And they gave me a cup of tea to warm me up and get me going.
My first task - once I had confirmed that I knew my alphabet (there wasn’t a test, they took it on trust), was to alphabetise the Christian Living section. That was a breeze. What shall I do now? I asked.
Next was to stock check the Hodder NIV section in the bible room. That was a little more tricky, as their spines and slip covers didn't match up to the cover pictures in the catalogue I was working from. But I got there in the end. Next!
I attempted to re-shelve a pile of books that had stacked up. I did eventually manage to get half way through it before I decided that I really wasn’t helping with all of my interruptions to find out what section which title should go into.
It's all fun and games until . . . .
Then I was given the pricing gun. I liked that tool, and was in charge of it for the rest of the day, firstly pricing up communion wafers (with crucifix or without? Same price) and then a range of Tear Fund Christmas cards. Bloomin’ loads of them! I got carried away and put the wrong price on a whole box of packs. Luckily I noticed before anyone else and managed to surreptitiously peel the incriminating stickers off and replace them.
My attempt to reuse the redundant stickers came to naught, as I managed to get them all stuck to my leg and then drop them all over the floor, sticky side down. My worst moment was subsequently stepping back from my beautiful (my words I hasten to add) card rack and after deciding that my art form was a supreme example of maximum stock creatively and attractively displayed, discovered that I still had about another (very large) box totalling about 5,000 cards to squeeze onto the shelves. Grr!! Cue everything off the shelves again. Once finished, I was pretty much done for, and was sent for a break before I had a breakdown.
None of that seems a lot, but intersperse it with attempting to engage with, and assist, the many customers that came in - some of which were regulars and had their loyalty cards ready but others were new to the shop or hadn’t been in for some time. Reader, I was exhausted!
A truly rewarding day, and to all those booksellers reading this - I salute you!
Things I learned during my time at St Andrews...
Every job takes longer than it might once customers are involved.
It’s amazing just how many boxes of communion wafers can fit on one shelf. Though it was a complicated jigsaw puzzle to complete without a picture to guide me.
Mince pies make a whole load of crumbs if you eat them while browsing a bookshop. Best avoided unless you have an easy-to-wield vacuum cleaner, and are willing to wield it!
Performance Review submitted by Andi Bray
Name: Alexandra McDonald
Role: Customer Sales Assistant
Date: 29th November 2017
I got Alexandra straight to work by alphabetising the Christian Living section. I knew this was a bit of a risk, not because of Alexandra’s presumed knowledge of the alphabet, but because of a temptation that I know all publishers suffer from...the desire to turn all of their books face out, whilst turning all other publishers’ books spine out. But my trust was well placed and Alexandra swiftly organised the section without any favouritism.
Whilst carrying out her jobs, Alexandra was confident and friendly with the customers. Alexandra was chatting with a particular customer and got on to the subject of Terry Waite (an author which SPCK publish) at this point Alexandra lit up and spoke passionately and knowledgeably about Terry Waite’s titles and in due course the customer bought a couple of Terry Waite books. It was great to see Alexandra's enthusiasm for books. It was a timely reminder that all of us in this trade whether publishers or bookselllers are in our roles because we love books.
Alexandra was a joy to have in the shop, and despite creating a Christmas card display that was more like a game of Jenga - threatening to cause an avalanche of packets if the wrong card was pulled out, we'd be delighted to have her in the shop anytime!