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Long live the independent bookshop - A profile of Smallprint Books

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Here is Havelock Walk in Forest Hill, South East London. It’s an established artist community and not where you might expect to find a little independent book store tucked away.

But here it is. Small Print Books - an independent bookseller specialising in children’s books opened at the end of the street just over a month ago. Its location, although tucked away in a backstreet, is conveniently placed next to a nursery. This provides plenty of foot-traffic of perfect customers for a range of books aimed predominantly at 6 and under.

Owner Jenny Thomas, who launched Small Print Books online in 2015, chose to open the store in response to her need for more space for the growing business.

The key to the success of Small Print Books is Jenny’s eye for selecting the most beautifully illustrated and high quality children’s books. The titles that you see here will delight the intended recipients but could also be proudly displayed on a parent’s coffee table.

The books are displayed to their full advantage, front-facing on spacious shelves or attractively arranged on tables. It’s like shopping in a gallery with the added advantage that everything can be picked up and explored.

Jenny freely admits that many of the titles she stocks could be found on Amazon, WH Smith, or many of the larger book sellers. But even in a large Waterstones (which have vast children’s sections) these books are most likely hidden between thousands of others. Small Print Books is a testament to the powers of curation - the thoughtful selection of the highest quality children’s books using a simple but powerful criteria (the emphasis on illustration) has created an enjoyable and inspirational shopping experience.

It may seem counterintuitive to open a new bookshop when the number of UK independent bookstores has dramatically declined, falling to under 1000 this year.

“Whenever you say that you are going to open a physical store, the first thing that people tell you is that you are mad” said Jenny. “They tell you that the high street is dead, and who knows, maybe they are right? But I’m a spontaneous person, and I wanted to create a physical space.”

With a flourishing online presence, she had the confidence in her product offering and brand to expand into physical retail. She also knew that many of her customers were local which was another bonus.

“Had I not already tried the concept out online, I would not have had the confidence to open a shop” she said.

Smallprint are part of a growing trend of ecommerce businesses opening up physical retail spaces. Missguided and Boden are two large examples of this trend - pure-play etailers making the move into bricks and mortar. Appear Here, who provide pop-up spaces for retailers, have found that their biggest client base is from online retailers wanting to try out physical retail.

Physical retail allows companies to connect and communicate with their customer in a way that online channels cannot offer. They also allow the creation of hybrid spaces, where customers can not only shop but enjoy other benefits.

Small Print Books are an excellent example of a retail space offering experiences as well as physical goods. Their generously-sized long and narrow shop has been cleverly laid out - offering both a showcase for their stock as well as an exhibition/story telling space at the back. With author visits, story-telling sessions and crafting all on offer, there are plenty of activities to draw customers in.

“I could have spent my budget on online marketing instead, but where’s the fun in that? said Jenny. With the retail industry undergoing an enormous transformation, fun and inspiring retail spaces couldn’t have come at a better time.

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