Little Alex came for a stay over at grandma's, and so he was hanging out at W&T yesterday. I asked him if he wanted a hot choc, he said, 'Yes.' As he was sipping it, Shivaun asked, 'How's your hot chocolate?' And he looked up, smiled, and said, 'That's just perfect.' We thought it was so cool we asked Alex to repeat this for our phone camera. The priceless moment captured on film - LOL! :) If that's not a 'perfect' endorsement from a satisfied 'customer,' I don't know what is!
I really shouldn't be doing this. I really should be doing something more productive. Like, sort out month-end bills. Or continue writing my PhD chapter that's due for submission next week. But I felt sufficiently incensed to consider making an effort -- for the purpose of fulfilling my civic responsibilities, no less.
Okay, when you start a new business or relocate your business -- and this is advice that so far I haven't ever received from anyone -- what you need to know is that direct marketing companies, spammers and scammers will crawl out of the woodwork like leeches and come after you.
In the UK in particular, I have come to realise that direct marketing is a free-for-all, no-holds-barred exercise. The all-seeing eye of Big Brother is all too palpable here. It's like, sign a lease for a new home, and by the time you step over the threshold with your first carton box, there's mail from TV Licensing to real estate agents, to utility companies, to cleaning agencies, etc etc etc, on the little mat behind the door -- all wanting your business! Seriously, what omnipotent power is this? What gigantic mainframe somewhere has all our details and is spewing them out in wanton abandonment?
As I was sorting my mail today -- as I was saying, it is coming to month end and the bills have to be paid -- I came across more post directed to Mrs Francis Katie, whoever she is. Now, I have been throwing out countless junk mail directed to Mrs Katie for weeks now. But today, just today, I decided to look at them closely.
Here are my observations (see images below):
1. Obviously, they are all addressed to Mrs Francis Katie
2. They all stem from the same postal address - 296 Farnborough Road
3. The letters don't look like proper pre-printed letterhead paper; the company logos appear to have been generated from a mass laser printer
Conclusion: They come from the same source - some company that is doing mass direct marketing and has sold our details (albeit inaccurate details) to other businesses under the guise of B2B marketing [Oooh, I too can use fancy business jargon!]
This makes me think the following:
1. Are these various businesses legit or scams? I could do company checks etc but that would frankly be wasting even more of my time
2. If these are legit businesses that are buying such services, do they realise that they are coming across as scammers?
Now, you may think: Just some harmless junk mail. Keeps Royal Mail in business, what's the harm? Well, I tell ya, unfortunately, the reason why I have such a disdainful response to these direct mail shots is because I have fallen prey to multiple mass marketing scams, as well as aimless drivel aimed at businesses for I don't know what reason -- ever since W&T opened in 2010. That's right -- obviously I haven't been the sharpest knife in the drawer and I'm willing to admit that for the public good.
I've paid for ads in non-existent charity magazines that supposedly was in aid of the fire brigade and the police...
I've been suckered by a business agency that tried to force me to pay for services the company hadn't yet rendered...
I've answered meaningless emails concerning book queries, asking for obscure medical and legal texts which required research but inevitably led nowhere...
I even replied to senseless, badly constructed comments in response to our blog entries once or twice -- until I realised there was a certain pattern to these randomly generated drivel...
I've also replied once to an email to tell the person who wrote us know that the tickets he/she booked on our website was for an event that had already taken place... and then I realised that we have quite a few of those in our inbox, and they inevitably have weird email addresses with lots of random numbers and funny names.
To counter these sorts of harassment -- yes, that's what they are, plain and simple, a form of abuse -- I've made complaints and lodged reports with various agencies, even registered our phone numbers so they are excluded from marketing databases. You know I know that all of these were exercises in futility of course. I still get regular calls on behalf of various banks about PPI, accident insurance, etc etc etc. Oh heck, I admit it, I just wanted some satisfaction, some way of protesting, some means of venting my frustration. (Plus nurse my wounded pride -- I mean, doh!)
In the last month, we (my team and I) have fielded more than 50 calls from marketers about the 'emergency rates' we are paying for electricity, which often turn threatening and very uncomfortable when the marketer on the other end of the line won't take 'no' for an answer. The sure-fire way we've discovered to ending the conversation quickly is to ask for their company name and phone number. They usually hang up when you ask for this.
So all by way of saying -- if you want to stay sane and avoid trouble, here are some suggestions based on our experience to date:
1. Any cold calls you get -- ask for their company name, company registration number, VAT number, BEFORE you agree to even answer any questions or continue the conversation. Then make that marketer wait while you 'google' them* (if he/she hasn't hung up already). *see point 5 below for relevance of Google ;P
2. Don't respond to mass/direct marketing letters issued from nameless PO Boxes or addresses -- if these companies (and I presume there are legit businesses among these clients) are willing to let some direct marketing agency send thousands upon thousands of generic letters out in the hopes that the usual 2% will stick, think -- what is their marketing strategy? I will tell you from bitter experience that it's all about volume and stats. Not customer service. As for the scammers among them who use such methods, they are only interested in extracting small amounts of dosh from as large a pool as possible.
3. Never ever give your credit or debit card details over the phone
4. Never ever agree to anything on the phone -- ask for written correspondence of some kind
5. If engaging a person or company for some sort of service you've never used, if they ask for your credit or debit card details on the phone to 'make a booking' or 'secure an appointment' -- hang up
5. Google is a very useful tool -- when in doubt about a company, search in multiple combinations -- using words like 'scam' and 'complaints' -- along with the name of the company and see if any red flags are raised
Good luck! I hope sharing what we've experienced will help you avoid the pitfalls with direct marketers, cold callers, spammers and scammers. - Fran
Shop signage went up today. Well, sorta. Apparently the very cold weather was not helpful, and the black vinyl was brittle and tore. Which means, we're now - until tomorrow at least when the workmen have to come back - officially known as 'Lfson & Tay'...
Well, could be worse I'm sure, given the spate of unfortunate incidents we've had to endure.
The inside story of an indie bookshop where books aren't just commodity and where bookshops aren't just retail outlets...
This is a short documentary on BooksActually in Singapore - inspiring as it is sobering. This makes me think of the many trips where Shivaun and I always make it a point to drop in at the local indie and pick out something unusual because we see in the owner-booksellers a shared dream to create a haven or a community hub of some sort, and we recognise in them the same pressures of staying solvent.
We like to talking to indie booksellers and to hear about their experience. For example, several months ago, we were in the US for a holiday, so we dropped into McIntyre's at Fearrington Village and also The Golden Notebook at Woodstock. At the latter in particular, we saw almost a mirror image of ourselves - their journey was reminiscent of ours: owners who didn't earn a minimum wage for a long time (or in our case, never have), who put in unearthly hours because they wanted to (though we do have a great team who help shoulder the burden so I can work in my home office and Shivaun still gets to do other 'projects' - among them, her PhD), and a little doggie in his bed which reminded me of Matzo...
I don't like to 'guilt' people into buying from an indie. It would be easier to pontificate if we weren't bookshop owners ourselves. However, watching this documentary makes me want to get on my soapbox and I hope you'll indulge me: Go on, go to your local indie, drop in, say 'hi', buy something if you can, even something small little like a greeting card. (Here's a link from the Booksellers Association to find your local bookshop - http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch) They'll appreciate your supporting their efforts. I also hope you realise that your support doesn't just feed the owners' egos or aspirations and helps them survive (though that's all part of the deal for sure), but that in doing so, you have become an integral part of a little sanctuary for the senses.
PS. I really like how Renee (Kenny's team member) puts it in the documentary, that their journey has been a humbling experience in that the survival or success of BooksActually could not have been done alone without their supporters and customers.
There are several things which get us down over at W&T... Here are some of my main pet peeves:
1) Someone asking if our shop is a library
2) BT phone line - no dial tone
3) BT internet - no connection
4) Till system crashes or freezes
5) Stock system crashes or freezes
Notice how 4 out of 5 of the above are IT-related or ICT-related?
See this despondent bookseller on the left? She has lost the will to live. Why has she lost the will to live? The BT phone line died, the internet died in sympathy, and one of our counters was not in operation because the till system and the stock system also threw themselves off a cliff. Now you know why this bookseller sees no reason to go on living. And this lasted for two whole, very loooong days....
PS. Thank you Cui for catching this candid moment and Alexandra for letting me post this - LOL!
Like kids waiting for Christmas morning to open the pressies, we waited for Monday morning to see if the lease agreement was in the post. We finally signed off on it yesterday and sent it off. YES! Step 1 completed. Now, we are waiting for the licence to alter so we can get into the premises and start our fit-out works. Spoke to Jack at Bookworks Design yesterday; am so glad he has a steady hand and a confident manner - we need the assurance. Shivaun and I have had late night discussions about what would happen if the fit-out was delayed. But it looks like things are falling into place. Still some niggly things to iron out, but nevertheless all in hand.
Went to work yesterday creating the artwork for the large format vinyl sticker prints for the doors. This is so that during the fit-out period, we can let passersby know we will be coming soon to the neighbourhood. My poor PC groaned and wheezed, the file was humungous and making any adjustments took ages.
I wanted to have images of people. Shivaun didn't. But I thought plain text wouldn't cut it. I reckon smiling faces and some colour is much more attractive than plain text. But that's one of the key differences between Shivaun and I; I've always been more visual, while she's more text-oriented. Chalice, Shivaun's daughter-in-law, helped me pick out a stock image. We must have looked through hundreds. Some were too corporate, some too GAP, some too family-cereal-ad-ish. We finally settled on this one. It's kinda GAP-ish but hey, has a nice mix of old and young, men and women. So this is what you may see when you are next at Bermondsey Square in a week or two. S'alright, no? :) - Fran
My all time favourite!
It's Saturday evening. Really I should be lying on the couch, catching up with my SKY box, watching recorded episodes of The Good Wife, Britain's Got Talent, or even Randy Jackson: America's Best Dance Crew... there's only 3% space left for recording, so I have a lot of viewing to do. Instead, I am sitting in front of my PC, pouring through publishers' back lists and trawling through my memory for favourite books to put on our international list of must-have books.
Shivaun and I have decided we should each focus on our repective strengths. She's great at American, European, African and Middle Eastern authors. I, on the other hand, have a little more knowledge about Chinese and Japanese authors. This is because, in my younger days, I went through a Sino and Japanese phase.
I remember how it all began. I was in the library and the cover of Yukio Mishima's Sound of Waves had caught my eye. I was 13. From then on, until about 21, I read works by quite a number of Japanese authors - Tanizaki, Kawabata, Akutagawa, even the really old classics - Murasaki's Tale of Genji and also the lesser known Tale of Heike. (I must say I actually liked Heike more than Genji. While the former dwells on the intricacies of court life, I enjoyed the historical sweep of Heike; it's an epic tome involving clan rivalry, samurai battles, honour and betrayal.)
I even remember the first time I read Haruki Murakami's Pinball, 1973 and Norwegian Wood. I think this was in 1988 or 1989. A Japanese friend had bought them for me. They were English translations but unlike usual paperbacks had soft paper covers, and inside, neat, small print on soft, smooth yellow paper, typical of Japanese novels and manga, measuring only about 3.5 inches wide and 5 inches long. These stories blew me away.
And so, here I am, 20 years later, asking myself, what books will I select for the international selection bookshelves in our store? What would best represent a good cross-section of Japanese and Chinese literature? As a rule of thumb, I think they have to be pretty memorable. For example, I found myself searching for Ryunosuke Akutagawa's story The Dragon. I remember it almost as if I had read it yesterday. So surely that's got to be on the shelves. Then there's the heartwarming, heartbreaking autobiography Six Records of A Floating Life by Shen Fu, which was originally published in the 1870s. This book taught me that lesbianism was pretty common and accepted among the gentry, and dispelled for me the general notion that historically Chinese men perceived their wives as chattel. Instead (yes!) love was alive and kicking, and Shen Fu's outpouring of love for his wife is an amazing testament to read.
What can I say? I hope some of the books I select will warm the hearts and stir the curiosity of others as they have done me. Now it's off to the back lists I go, or maybe, just maybe I should nick downstairs and reacquaint myself with my SKY box. - Fran
Thus far I've left all the blogging to Fran. Let's face it, she's far better equipped for the task than I will ever be. She carries her camera with her as a matter of habit, ever ready to whip it out and capture aspects of the world around her which link to her current passions. Besides she usually manages to get the object of her attentions within the frame, whereas I invariably focus on legs or ceilings. She's an old hand at Twitter and Facebook and actually remembers all the relevant passcodes and how to navigate between sites. For some time now she's been saying, 'You know you can add a blog if you like.'
So here it is:
This morning I awoke early to the sound of rain (in June!) and couldn't get back to sleep. I glanced over at my nightstand and realised I had no less than twenty-eight books sitting there gathering dust. I am actually reading about four of them. I then looked over at the dresser and saw another thirty or so volumes; the bedroom, much like every other space in our home is beginning to resemble a makeshift bookshop, one good reason to own one I guess. Another rationale for our latest venture is that I can't actually pass a bookshop without entering... and purchasing.
I tend to judge the ciites I visit and remember them by their bookshops. Shakespeare and Co in Paris, Books and Books in Miami, The Book Lounge in Cape Town and Daunt in London are among my favourites. It is exciting to think that we might create a similar space of our own. When I enter bookshops, subconsciously perhaps, I am looking for the theme or the essence of the place. This is written not only into the selection on offer, but also into the decor, the ambience and, of course, the people who own and run it. I want to know what they like, in effect, who they are. Just as clothes, cars, homes reveal the identities of their owners, so too with books. For what's it's worth, following are a selection of books that have moved or struck me over the past few months.
An Unfinished Business by Boualem Sansal, banned in his native Algeria for his criticizing the government. This book is about two Algerian brothers living in Paris who discover some disturbing truths about their father's Nazi past and undertake a foreboding journey home. I read it in two sittings.
Everything is Connected, a memoir on the power of music to speak to all aspects of the human being: the animal, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual by conductor Daniel Barenboim.
Love Begins in Winter, heartbreaking stories about people for whom chance meetings with strangers force them to face responsibility for lives they believed had continued on without them, by Simon Van Booy.
The Armies, about the violent life of a small, fictional Columbian town by Evelio Rosero
Last Night on Earth, a chronicle of the life and experiences of choreographer Bill T. Jones
and my favourite -- Wandering Star, the moving story of two women, one Jewish, one Palestianian, caught up in the turmoil of the Middle East, but who aspire for peace by J.M.G. Le Clezio.
Reading through these I am aware that they are all by male writers. Not intentional, I promise. - Shivaun
So Mark Twain's autobiography will finally be released and apparently it'll be a 400-page tome. How cool is that? Though I must confess I don't have a burning desire to know about his life. I don't know why but I've never felt compelled to find out too much about the person behind the tale. I'd read an author's profile on the back of a book cover if it's there, but I won't necessarily take the next step to google them or buy a book about their life. Even when I absolutely adore his or her work.
Among some of my favourite books for example are House of Mirth and Totto Chan: The Little Girl at The Window. I must have re-read these like half a dozen times. I was blown away when I read them and these stories have burned into my memory. But that didn't set me on a quest to find out what I can about Edith Wharton or Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Somehow, who they are or the lives they have led don't seem that relevant to me.
I know for example some people who will read a book or watch a movie because they adore the author or the film star. Or conversely, boycott their work because they have been revealed to be abusive drunks or lying cheats. I guess I'm not that discriminatory. (Well most of the time that is. I draw the line when it comes to Roman Polanski.)
Nevertheless, I found it fascinating when I read this article about the impending release of Twain's autobiography. I think what has caught my imagination was his motivations for doing so. Fans of Twain I am sure will be anticipating this with bated breath. As for me, I think I'll like to continue imagining him as an intrepid Southern adventurer and a bit of a rascal, quite like his character Huck, inaccurate though this characterisation may be. To read the article in the Sunday Independent, click here. - Fran.