Last summer there was much excitement when The Highland Bookshop opened up in Fort William, Scotland. It’s always inspiring to see a new indie bookshop take root especially when they begin to flourish. Now that they’ve had some time to settle in, The Highland Bookshop have kindly agreed to share some of their most useful experiences of launching the shop.
It’s been almost six months since The Highland Bookshop opened. How have you found it so far?
The shop has been busy. We spent a lot of time setting up and getting into the rhythm of summer before ramping up again for Christmas. It has been both hugely rewarding, in terms of response, as well as fun. No greater place to be than a bookshop.
How would you describe the response you’ve received from the local community? The wider industry?
The response from the local community has been wonderful, both within the village and in more remote areas around us. There hasn’t been a new Bookshop in Fort William in nearly 30 years so the town was delighted to see a fresh face on the High Street. Additionally, we offer plenty of author events, including Adam Nicholson and Chris Brookmeyer, all of which have been well attended and warmly received. The wider industry has also been responsive. Other Scottish bookshops have been keen to visit.
What was the most important thing you did to prepare for the bookshop’s opening?
Marketing. I suppose the shelves and the building were important but marketing our arrival and building a following were vital. In many ways, it also helped to establish us within the community before we’d even opened the doors.
What was the most challenging obstacle you faced in the first few months?
One of the most challenging obstacles we’ve faced is managing customer expectations when it comes to deliveries. As we are in the Highlands, we do not get next day deliveries. Curating author relationships is another challenge. We are often approached by local authors and we have many local authors on the shelfs. But we also try to curate our selection and strike a fair balance to both the local reader and the person from out of town.
Is there anything you wished you’d done differently?
The building we are in has four levels, three of which are available for shop space. We would have liked to have the first floor (technically the second floor) ready for opening day as well, but it was something we couldn’t swing due to time constraints. We’re going to be opening it this February with an enormous outdoor section, perfect for the area we’re in.
Was there anything that pleasantly surprised you?
The amount of people who ordered their books through us rather than Amazon has been astounding. They usually say they would rather use us first than Amazon. And that really warms our hearts to get that kind of support. We’ve also had orders from as far as California!
Would you say that the owners’ previous experience has been beneficial? How so?
The owners’ experience has been invaluable. Having operated many other bookshops, and shops, including the beautiful Aberfeldy Watermill, Kevin and Jayne Ramage made the whole process of setting up much less troubling than it would have been to the inexperienced eye.
You had an impressive number of followers on Facebook before the bookshop even opened, over 1,000. Did you do any special promotions to encourage this?
We did. We had a contest with the winning prize being £100 book voucher for the shop. But aside from this, we were very active, communicating straight away with our audience. The lack of a bookshop in the town really hurried the rise in numbers along.
Looking forward, what would you say is the next step for The Highland Bookshop?
Our next step is getting our upper floors ready and moving into a year of being open. The second floor will be full of outdoor oriented books, as we are in the UK Outdoor Capital. We want to work with the community of active, adventurous folk. Moving into a full year of being open is also going to be an important step. From there we can look back on our successes and failures, taking them as lessons to move forwards.
If you have any further questions for The Highland Bookshop why not try asking them on the forums?
Interested in other new bookshops? Read all about Lost in Books as they get ready to take Cornwall by storm.