Good Books, Good Business Sense

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-By Mark Golombek

In this age of technology, distractions abound. Computer games, downloaded movies, iPads, smart phones, Facebook, and the list goes on. While the aforementioned examples have gained popularity at breakneck speed, reading has been distributed over more mediums than ever before over the past few years. E-books have done fair business, but AllBooks4Less has up until this day not catered to that model of sales. David Bolitho is the CEO and he believes that it takes a lot more than a good book to do good business.

In the face of these new distractions, many book sellers have downsized or been forced to close shop. AllBooks4Less, on the other hand, started up in May of 2011, and has been expanding ever since opening its first store in Warringah Mall in Sydney’s Northern beaches area. So, what was the impetus for starting a chain of bookstores in a market which seemed less friendly to them than ever? How could a business flourish when all others had failed or were losing money? To answer this we need to start by looking at a short history of the industry in Australia.

REDgroup Retail, the former Australasian parent company of Borders, Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls went into administration and ultimately collapsed in February of 2011. TB Clarke, Australia’s largest discount book wholesaler and primary discount book supplier to Angus & Robertson lost its biggest Australian customer but realised a new opportunity opening in front of it. Many shopping centres around Australia were left with vacated Angus & Robertson, Borders and other stores. Reusable shop fittings were also readily available. AllBooks4Less was born. “Landlords were keen to have us take up residency,” says Mr Bolitho, “as it was a convenient fit, we were quick to set up and start trading and start up costs were minimised. In just over a year one store became 50.”

The landlords have been pleased, but what of the customers? Mr Bolitho grants us an inside look into what makes AllBooks4Less work. “There is a conventional ‘book store’ model within the industry and an expectation that you must carry a certain type of range. Normally, a general bookstore would deal with traditional backlist stock and new releases, and we don’t.” What AllBooks4Less does is buy up a lot of books that no one has seen before, books that for one reason or another had not worked in the conventional book stores, are out of print and or otherwise totally unavailable. By doing this AllBooks4Less has developed a niche market, and so customers entering one of its stores know that they can find unique product at a great price.

AllBooks4Less also works with local publishers to bring exclusive product to its customers. Currently working with the Pearson Group on a variety of works, AllBooks4Less understands that exclusive product can be a great draw for customers.

Once the customer is in the store, of course, AllBooks4Less offers something else that the conventional bookstores do not. “95 per cent of stock is sold at $5,” says Mr Bolitho. It’s hard to top that, and this kind of accessible product line goes a long way to explaining AllBooks4Less’ success and expansion in the marketplace. The other five per cent of stock varies in price from $10 to $50, and some amazing collectors’ items at higher prices, still well below original RRPs.

Another reason for the company’s success is that it has been able to cater to certain niche markets. “Cookery is a major category for us,” says Mr Bolitho. “The trend is toward TV chefs. Cookery is hugely popular in Australia, and our range is second to none.” AllBooks4Less carries a huge selection of adult fiction, great kids books for all ages and the most interesting and eclectic non-fiction. It’s clear that the company appeals to a broad audience whilst carrying the best of the best in specialty ranges.

Being part of the new age of technology means that any business has to adapt in order to remain in the black. To better engage with its customers, AllBooks4Less has incorporated Twitter and Facebook into its business strategy. “Social media is an essential part of our business. Many customers want to talk directly to us and we can respond easily in this way. It is a great way to promote our brand, our stores, our offers, our website and our newsletter.”

Other ways that AllBooks4Less is promoting itself are through the traditional media. Building better brand awareness is a crucial facet of its business strategy. “We have started some brand advertising on TV in specific regions where we have sufficient market density,” explains Mr Bolitho. “This will continue and at some point we will advertise specific products. This year we will try many forms of advertising including TV, radio, press, catalogue, internet and social media.”

As a company which makes customer service a key part of its offering, AllBooks4Less has to be confident in its managers and employees. As front-line representatives, they can make the difference in a customer’s shopping experience. Mr Bolitho describes the company’s philosophy of empowering its employees, saying that, “there is no complicated hierarchy within the business. We empower our employees to make decisions. There is a common brand, look and theme throughout our stores but each store is a different and unique experience for the shopper, and the employees can use their own flair in setting up each store.”

Due to its rapid growth, AllBooks4Less has had to develop ways to meet the rising demand for its product. One way it has been able to accomplish this is by enhancing its flow of stock. Big volumes of books are moving out of the shops daily and, “we ensure that it is constantly backfilled with the same volume of new product. We have an 8000 square metre warehouse,” Mr Bolitho adds, “which is a huge area!” He also mentions that although AllBooks4Less is expanding, it is important to make the hard decisions to close shops which are not performing.

Until recently, Territorial copyright has been a point of contention within the publishing industry. The Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) and Australian Publishers Association (APA) are now working together on the Book Industry Speed to Market Initiative that goes a long way to improve the supply of books to Australian consumers while also protecting local production. Mr Bolitho speaks to these issues. “Global companies such as Amazon have been completely unrestricted by Territorial Copyright. This initiative will help local competition while protecting the future of local content. It all makes sense. We will continue to work closely with local publishers to develop product and form AllBooks4Less to whatever shape it takes in the future.”

Most new businesses need time to find themselves in order to grow. AllBooks4Less, however, has accomplished something that very few new companies can claim; it has grown by leaps and bounds within a very short period of time. The company has demonstrated that given the right business plan, the right attitude, competent staffing and niche products, any new start-up has the potential to be effective and efficient despite the odds. The truly amazing thing is that AllBooks4Less has not yet even scratched the surface of its enormous potential for continued success.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:25 AM AEDT