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
This is Week 1 at Woolfson & Tay at Bankside. My body thinks it's Week 23 though :) What a whirlwind the first week has been! But oh, what an exciting week too.
Old regulars made their way to us, neighbours and friends came by, and new acquaintances and friends were made. Better Bankside dropped off their signature pink tables and chairs -- which came into great use today when there was a wee spell of sunshine. (Thank you Xana for your piccies today, taken while enjoying the sunshine on the pavement with Kaelie's signature Red Velvet Cake).
Ex-team members dropped by... Tai Chi classes resumed... albeit with a small attendance, though quite a few people popped their heads round the door and want to join in the following weeks. Thank you to our facilitators Robin and Howard, who are always so willing to share their love for tai chi regardless of how many people turn up for classes.
Also, about 50 people crammed into our little shop for an event organised by National Arts Council of Singapore on Wednesday night. Thank you NAC, Alvin Pang, Colin Cheong, Joshua Ip and Edmund Wee for speaking at the event.
On the cafe front, I tried out some new recipes and was really glad that customers were adventurous to try unusual fare such as Soy Chicken with Chinese Mushrooms, Red Dates and Goji Berries (was so busy that day I forgot to take pictures but will next week!). All in all, an awesome week and long may it continue. Shivaun says she's 'quietly optimistic' about things. As for me, I have a good feeling in my gut.
And last but by no means least, thank you to our amazing team members -- Cui, Scarlet, Melissa -- for rising to the occasion (it's not easy when everyone's getting used to the new layout of the store and dog tired from set up work two weeks straight before we reopened). You all keep us believing. Onwards and upwards! Below is a snapshot of Week 1 in pictures...
Day 2 at the shop was our first day of lunch service. Didn't know what to expect. We weren't sure if word had got around that we were offering lunch. Come 12.30pm and we were still pretty quiet, and then... the folks arrived.
It was a hectic two hours during which we sold out both of our lunch options -- Malaysian Chicken Curry and Stir Fry Veg with Tofu -- as well as quite a few books, and the space was fairly full with people browsing and milling about. It was alive and buzzing with energy; a great feeling (proof: check out team member Cui below!) Quite a few neighbours also dropped by to say 'hello;' so we made some new friends too. It was lovely to see the quiet space earlier in the day (see photo above -- when ex-team member Monica dropped by) transformed. What was really nice too was that many people didn't rush away after they had finished their lunch, they stayed and chatted, had coffee. It was a bit of a crush but there was a warm, communal feel.
Came home and prepared marinade for tomorrow's lunch offering -- Grilled Lemongrass Chicken -- a recipe I'd dreamnt up. This week I'm trying out recipes and will see how the feedback is. I'm even going to make Soy Chicken with Oyster Mushrooms, Red Dates and Goji Berries -- which I know isn't very typical. So, onwards and upwards.
Thank you to all who ventured our way today, we hope you enjoyed your visit, and look forward to welcoming you again soon.
What's a book bundle, I hear you ask?
Well, when we downsized from our previous premises (about 1400 sq ft) to our new premises (900 sq ft), we realised we had waaaaay much less shelf space. So what were we to do with our overstock? Book bundles! At the delectable price range of £5 to £10 (well, a few are £12 or £15 but the majority, about 98%, are only £5 or £7).
How did the idea come about? Well, team member Scarlet and I were musing over what we were going to do with the boxes of books that Shivaun had de-selected for our shelves. We started joking about wet markets in Asia and how the hawkers would tie up bundles of vegetables at the end of the trading day in order not to have to dispose them. And so... Ta da! The idea of book bundles was born.
Our team (including a temporary member; Huey, who's an old school friend of mine who just happened to be visiting -- at the wrong time I might add -- and hence was roped in) got down to lovingly putting together these bundles you see in the photos below. We did our best to curate the titles into appropriately grouped bundles so that they would appeal to particular types of readers -- hence why John Grisham and Stuart Neville are in one bundle for example. I have to admit, my heart was aching somewhat when I was bundling some of these books. If only we had sufficient space on our shelves... I mean, honestly, Delphine de Vigan's No and Me and Bernhard Schlink's The Weekend together for £7?
So do drop by if you're looking for some interesting titles -- our book bundles are a fantastic bargain and a great way to explore titles you may have thought of but haven't gotten round to. -- Fran
Phew, we're open.
We didn't even think we would be open today. (Long story... suffice to say it has to do with bureaucratic red tape.) But we finally received the green light. So, on very short notice, we opened our doors. Which makes for an interesting situation, as we didn't announce in advance. Plus, we're still tidying up bits and bobs; so kinda at half mast. (I still haven't located the paper sleeves for the take away cups for example.) But oh well... at least we'll be able to tell people that chance by, as well as on the street, that we're here. (Shivaun's been leafleting the street and 'stalking' pedestrians!) We will be open tomorrow from 8am and will also be serving lunch. Have to do some shopping on short notice too, oy vey! Also, we are planning on a bit of an opening bash, so please watch this space! We look forward to seeing you in our neck of the woods soon.
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.
Had lots of fun last night at City University as one of the guest speakers at an event organised by EQUIP (Equality in Publishing
). [Thank you, Bobby Nayyar for all the hard work putting the event together!] Tim Godfray from Booksellers Association
spoke about the changes experienced by the bookselling industry and the challenges of opening and sustaining a bookshop, while Jen Campbell
, author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops
, shared more hilarious anecdotes from her experience as a bookseller, as well as her passionate belief in supporting local bookshops.
Moi? Well, I was there to share W&T's story -- the lessons we'd learnt from opening a bookshop, what bookselling is about, what it's been like to close down and in the midst of reopening again -- that sort of thing. [Shivaun *wink* *wink* Sorry folks, this one's an inside joke
And... Ahem, this is something I never realised till now. Sheesh, I pull a lot of faces when I'm speaking! While the other speakers look dignified and knowledgeable when they gave their talk, I kinda looked like I was auditioning for a cross between a comedy club sketch or a musical... eek.
But seriously, it was an informative and fun evening, and more importantly, inspiring -- a reminder almost to keep keeping on. Thank you to my team members who came along to lend some support and for the lovely company at dinner afterwards.
Work continues afoot here at the W&T 'building site' or 'ground zero' of sorts. Stood at the door today, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Builders probably thought I'd gone bonkers. One eyed me suspiciously - probably feels like I'm hovering over his shoulder or breathing down his neck. Though it was good fortune I was there too as he had mounted some shelves incorrectly, so that had to be redone. I keep dropping in throughout the day to see how things are going. It was just so good to see things starting to take shape, and for the first time, I could really imagine in my mind's eye how it's going to look. An undercoat of paint has been applied to the hanging bulkhead as well as some of the walls and the light colour we've chosen makes the space look a lot larger. An optical illusion to be sure, as we're working with a space that's about two-thirds the size of the previous premises. Nevertheless, it's starting to shape up.
I also like the fact that we are recycling the shelves and bits of wood we've salvaged from the previous premises to make things with. I was this close to asking the builder not to paint some of these bits of salvaged wood and instead to leave them as they were, so you could see the nicks on them. But, after mulling it over... nah. If we were going for a rustic look, maybe. As you know, it's real easy to go from shabby chic to just plain shabby. Best I suppose to give things a lick of paint.
So while the builders have been doing their thang, I've been doing mine. Been thinking about the next phase, including cabling for all the paraphernalia that needs to get into the counters etc. (As you can see in the photo above, I'm quite anal; I just had to draw it all out and count the wiring!) At our previous premises, there was a jungle of wires under the counter. Going forward, I am determined to avoid this as best I can, so am getting the counters customised to accommodate the practicals of where cables and wires need to go, etc. I reckon there may be some DIY on my part as setting up the equipment will be one of the very last things we do, apart from cleaning and unpacking stock etc, which means the builders may have left the building by the time I need I wire up everything. So have diligently measured and counted what's needed - from cable cover to trunking - though am sure must have missed out something. This time round, I'm going to even invest in cable tidy gear and cable ID tags! I am sure some of my colleagues are going to have a laugh at my expense when they hear this, as between Shivaun and I, I'm known as a bit of a 'Scrooge' [LOL!] The last time one of my colleagues asked me if I could buy some proper heavy-duty door stoppers to keep the door ajar, I replied, "What's wrong with cardboard? We've got plenty of cardboard! We can recycle!" [That last statement was my attempt at putting a positive spin to my suggestion! Not sure if she was convinced though...]
On other fronts, have been tackling my 'to do' list in systematic fashion. Feeling quite chuffed with myself actually. Among the 'to do's', finalised the design of our new cotton bags (left). My colleague Scarlet gave me the idea to play with fonts. I, feeling very uninspired, had come up with just our logo on the front. I think it looks quite handsome, if I must say so myself :) Though a test run on Facebook suggests that the message isn't very obvious. Someone asked me why imagine reading? Another totally missed that the word 'Bookshop' was part of the quote. Oh well, I figure it'll be quite fun for people to decipher. I've also been poring through possible new stock items as well as necessary restock, while Shivaun has been reviewing upcoming book title releases. So watch out for some really cool, fun stuff and some exciting titles :D
EEEEEEeeeeeeeeekkk! April now seems so near; though it felt so far at one point. We're still targetting 2 April to reopen, if all falls into place. [Fingers and toes crossed.] Will keep you posted :) Tomorrow, will lug a box of our new leaflets (image above) over to Bankside Press for insertion into SE1 April issue. Onwards and upwards! - Fran
I so liked this article by Kate Wilson (http://nosycrow.com/blog/you-ve-got-mail-how-bookselling-has-changed-in-15-years-and-why-i-m-rooting-for-joe-fox-nowadays
) that I added my comments but it was marked as spam. Why, why, why?So, hrmph, seeing that I actually bothered to write a response, I decided to post it here:
We're an indie bookshop and we have gone 'to the mattresses' in that we started out just selling books supplemented by coffees, teas and cakes. We also sold cards and wrapping paper. Within 6 months, we realised we had to sell other things too. We started doing homemade lunches so that there would be some energy in the shop during the 'death lull' in the middle of the day. Then we started selling more gifty items. More notebooks and journals. Selected toys for kids to supplement children's books.... and so on. But we didn't fare well. Our operating costs - rent, council taxes - etc was just too high. We were paying on average £300 for each sq m in tax, same as the chain restaurant next door. So we closed. But we are back 'to the mattresses' again. We're going to try again in a new neighbourhood, smaller premises, less rent, and with scaled back and more selective stock. We are going to reopen in April at Bankside, London, where we expect there'll be more footfall. The challenge will be fostering a community of locals, which we did very well in our previous location but was not enough to save us. We hope that a combination of higher footfall and loyal support can change the tide. Maybe this is just wishful thinking. Maybe we're destined to go the way of Meg Ryan's little bookshop. But booksellers are not always rational types, as you probably know :)
It's funny but my partner and I was watching You've Got Mail again during the Christmas hols. We were at that time contemplating closing down, so Meg's predicament cut close to the bone. Thank you for this article. To me, it's both a reminder of the 'danger signs' (ebooks, amazon etc) but also of why we opened a book shop in the first place.
Work continues apace at W&T's new home at Bankside. I love plaster boards and plaster! It makes such a difference, don't you think? [See above: Before and After photos - the wall, not Shivaun LOL) The plasterer has been doing a great job and the place looks a helluva better for it. Still a ways to go nevertheless, and the usual pain of unexpected obstacles continues to crop up. I won't bore you with the details, but we are feeling a bit like runners doing the hurdles.
Poor old Matzo has been horribly neglected somewhat. Last night, I found seven of his toys lined up in a row on the rug - it seemed to me that it was his way of complaining about the lack of attention. The night before that, he sat for what must have been 5 minutes with his ball in his mouth. He was as still as a statue - a silent protest?