This summer British book retailer Waterstones decided to open a non-branded local looking bookshop in Suffolk sea-side town Southwold to very mixed reactions.
The Bookseller (June 17th, 2014) reported that this is the first time Waterstones "has opened a store bearing the name of a town, in the spirit of an independent bookshop. The move reveals the company is willing to experiment with different store formats to diversify in a challenging climate."
This small village bookshop ‘Southwold Books’ may just be the start to similar stores being opened elsewhere if it’s successful states regional manager Matt Gretton to the Independent. The initiative came after a vocal backlash from local residents when a Costa Coffee moved in, understandably as the town has 19 independent coffee shops. Managing director James Daunt made the promise that it would be a ‘quintessentially’ local bookshop, designed to fit into the local environment.
“We’re not trying to hoodwink people,” he said. “We aren’t pretending it’s something else. Can a chain run a truly independent shop? I think it can.”
“I don’t actually like the identikit chain and absolutely sympathise with that resistance. I hope everything I’m doing is about making our shops more individual,” he said. “If we put a bog-standard Waterstones in there it would be pretty dispiriting. As a quasi-resident I wouldn’t welcome that.” (Indepenent, 20th June 2014)
There are several conflicting issues here that can be addressed by considered and carefully researched embedding:
People feel that Waterstones are being dishonest by calling their bookshop ‘Southwold Books’ yet on the other hand they don’t want a street full of identikit chain stores and want to retain the unique identity of their town.
How embedded is the bookshop? It appears that because of its size and location it simply can’t be managed in the same way as normal store.
There is concern that chains moving in will increase local rates and rents. On the other hand more diversity and offering in the town encourages spending. An embedded chain store will have to make a considerable effort to contribute to and be part of community affairs to earn their place.
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