I have always been a book reader but I started selling them after I retired.
I didn’t want to sit around and do nothing. So I thought to myself, “I enjoy books and I enjoy talking about books, I’ll open a bookshop.”
The most difficult part was finding the right premises. I found that I needed more space in the first place. I soon outgrew it and moved elsewhere.
That’s the biggest mistake I have made. We moved about three times before we ended up here.
It wasn’t expensive starting out because I had such a massive number of books.
My collection was pretty much across the board so I was able to open up with what I had.
I soon found that I needed more books. I advertised and I was open to buying books.
People started bringing them in on all different subjects and I accumulated more books over the next thirty years.
After you have been doing it for some time you get people asking for specific things
Some are only interested in one person or one subject. They will ask if you have anything on – it might be a movie star or something – and then you have got it in your mind. From there, It’s a matter of building a relationship with customers and supplying their needs when you can.
We get a mixture of people coming in. Not many children of course because – for some reason or another – they weren’t all that keen on secondhand books.
But, gradually, I started talking to people and they asked for their grandchildren or their children. I got more into children’s literature and then youngsters started coming in.
There was very little restriction in the bookselling industry.
If you go back to not that long ago, even newsagents had more restrictions. In the city especially you had to be an ex-servicemen or a returned soldier to be a newsagent.
Well, with second hand bookshops, the only restriction you had was that you had to keep a record of the books you bought, and who bought them.
In theory, the police could come and inspect those records at any time. In case there’s any stolen books.
That eventually disappeared because – there’s a rather strange story behind it – but people in op-shops complained that they had no time to fill in the details.
So they said, “if we’re going to make that unnecessary for them, we can’t insist on this for bookstores.”
But, as far as I can remember, you had to get two or three people to vouch for you. Unless you had a criminal record, it was relatively easy to open a bookshop.
We resisted online sales for quite a time.
I suppose it was about ten years ago that we started doing it. it’s just an extra income if you are in the right place.
You see, we have had people on our website from Queensland but when they worked out what the postage would be, it’s sometimes much more than the book.
If you are from somewhere like Queensland and you wanted a book, you probably wouldn’t pay $20 extra for postage.
In some countries, the postage is free. But not in Australia. It can be a bit of a handicap. Especially when you can meet the sale but a person doesn’t want to pay the postage.
Apart from that, I really enjoy dealing with people in the shop because you can see them walk away with the goods.
If you’re dealing with them directly – ringing them up and finding the books they want – you can build a good relationship. They might think “I have bought two or three books from them, I’ll try them again.”
I suppose that demand for certain books has dropped.
For a while, they would say “the young ones aren’t reading books” and I think that was true for a time. But now, they have come back to it with their parents and they are big readers.
I have a good example of that actually. A lady came in and said she was looking for a book for my nephew.”
“Is he a big reader?” I said.
“I was a bit annoyed with him because I got caught into buying one of these kindle machines,” she replied.
“I gave it to him and it cost me a couple of hundred dollars.”
A few weeks later, she said that he was in his room reading a book! I couldn’t help asking, “what’s happened to the kindle?”
“The battery has run out,” she said.
“It was in the corner of his room. I spent my $200 and now he has gone back into books.”
So I can say that they have come back into reading.
A different lady came in the other day looking for Moby Dick as a present, and we had a copy which cost $8. I asked if she wanted a copy for herself.
“Oh no,” she said.
“I can read it on my kindle. I don’t have to turn the pages.”
I do see the funny side of it.
Some people take a franchise, but that can be pretty expensive.
I’ve heard some amazing things from one of the big book chains. They wanted about $200k from someone just to open the shop. The stock you pay extra.
Imagine how much it would cost to completely restock the place with new books. Imagine doing that from scratch. You’d think, “why would you retire if you had half your money on display?”
But there you are, people do it.
You could open a secondhand bookstore for a lot less than that, especially if you open it on your own. I think there are quite a few franchises that have closed recently.
One shut down a few years ago – I think it was a Dymocks – and it looked like quite a busy business that I passed quite often. There’s rent that comes into it too, which can be quite expensive.
Once I sell all these books, I’ll retire and catch up on my reading.
I won’t be looking for a new job.
Not at 90.
I have a room full of books at home, half of which I haven’t read yet. I flick through them occasionally but I don’t have the time to read them.
I have a good look at the books that people bring in because you need to know where to put them. You can’t just plonk them on the shelf because they need to be classified.
“Is it fiction or fact?”
You only get that by looking at the books.
Well, I think what it comes down to is “listen to your customers.”
They will tell you what they want. What they are interested in. You’re not buying books for yourself, or you wouldn’t sell too many.
It’s not always easy as that because you don’t always find the books they are after. And, the only thing is, you’ll often find with books like bestsellers, people will ask you to find it but they have already bought a copy.
That’s one of the hazards of the thing. But for most people, if they ask you, they genuinely want to get it. The older books are harder to find anyway.
You can’t find them down the road.
It’s not like selling tins of beans.
You have to have a fascination with books and literature. If you’re a person who has never read a book you would be bored stiff.
Every day you are being asked for something different. It keeps your mind active as you’re always on the look out for something that someone is looking for.
I’m retiring because of age really. I can’t walk around the shop forever. But, if you’re a bibliophile, you never lose that interest.
Written by Aron Lewin. From an interview with Ken Cox that has been edited.