- Focus on activities with higher margins
- Bring your systems up to date
- Network with peers for solid support
The Little Bookroom has been supplying schools, libraries and retail shoppers with childrens' books since 1960. Leesa Lambert and her business partners took over the business in 2008.
Since then, Leesa and her partners have changed the way The Little Bookroom operates, updating systems and increasing the focus on the retail side of the business, including opening a second store in Degraves Street in the centre of Melbourne.
'Before we took over, it wasn't computerised at all. We put a lot of time and effort into our website. There were some fundamental changes we had to make to get the business up to scratch.'
'We transitioned the business from a school and public library supplier to a mostly retail business. We've found that's going to be what's sustainable.' For Leesa and her partners, sustainable means minimum stress and higher margins.
When they took over, The Little Bookroom was three different businesses rolled into one. 'We had a shop, we had two reps on the road going out to school libraries and we had the public library side of the business as well.'
She says growing the retail side of the business makes it more manageable.
'With a retail shop, you just need to get people in, but with the school and library supplies side of the business, you need to invest much more to grow the business. Also, you need to carry more stock, and the margin just isn't there.'
'Retail is more enjoyable, there are return customers, we don't have to hold as much stock – and the margin is better.'
Before shifting their focus, the retail would have been about 25 per cent of their total. It's now running at about 60 per cent and increasing. As margins are better in retail, it's also having a positive effect on the business.
'Our revenue has been stable for the last four years but our margin has increased significantly, which I'm really proud of.'
Know your customers
'We're running events to bring people to this part of town. We've found that once people have been here once, they return. The range is second to none when it comes to kids' books – and we provide a service.'
'Our key demographic are Facebook users so we have a terrific following on Facebook.'
Leesa says they're also willing to try anything new that their young customers are using, such as Instagram and Tumblr. They're using Tumblr to reach teenagers, with reviews written by their peers.
'Getting reviews from kids is very helpful for generating content and reaching out to other readers of the same age. It's valuable for the readers as well because they're putting pen to paper and thinking in different ways about what they're reading.'
Leesa also uses reviews to provide feedback to publishers about what the readership likes.
'You can work really hard to match a child with a book, but all it takes is for another child to say "That's stupid" or "That's good" and that's what they'll listen to.'
Network with peers
'When I started I felt like networking wasn't a luxury I could afford.'
Leesa had been working at The Little Bookroom for five years before she and her partners bought the business. She knew a great deal about the business but still had a great deal to learn.
She has since joined the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA). 'I have a few terrific relationships where I can just pick up the phone – and that's a huge comfort. We've moved past being polite and I can rely on honest answers – even if they're not always nice things to hear.'
Colleagues running businesses similar to hers are often the best sources of advice: bookshops like Books for Cooks in Gertrude Street and Embiggen Books in the city.
'It's turned out to be one of the most valuable ways of spending my time.'
Leesa Lambert and her business partners have ensured The Little Bookroom has a bright future, by giving this iconic book supplier an increased retail focus, with higher margins and more customer contact.