About 60 of our shop managers and key central staff met up in Stratford for an overnight stay to talk about the current state of play and what our focus should be over the coming months. It was the first time in five years that we had all met together.
The first presentation was by our Managing Director, David Prescott, and he set the tone perfectly for the whole Conference. He was very realistic about the current state of retail and the book trade (it’s tough out there and unlikely to get any easier) but was very convincing about how we can best help ourselves (put the customer first in all our thinking, take responsibility for the performance of our own shops and give our booksellers a real voice)
It was good to have our Board take a Question and Answer session – the questions from the floor were heartfelt and the frankness of the answers very welcome.
The other sessions in the afternoon were on Putting the Customer first, our Online strategy (exciting stuff to come here) and how to understand our P&Ls (a tiny bit less exciting despite the impassioned delivery from the magnificent Kate)
For the evening we had a short cruise along the Avon (a wee bit dull to be honest, but then again I am spoiled by living in Oxford) and then on to an awards dinner. It is always good to recognise achievement and especially when it is voted on by peers. The winners were:
Shop and Team of the Year: Blackwell’s at the Wellcome Collection – it truly is a fabulous shop and if you are in London well worth a visit
Shop Manager of the Year went to Nigel Cavill at our Exeter branch – so very well deserved
Local Marketing Campaign was won by Broad Street for the Creation ‘Dr Faustus’ campaign – Zool (or ‘The multi-award winning Zool Verjee’ to give him his new title) picking up more hardware
Bookseller of the Year went to Micha Solana from our shop at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh – his Franco-Scottish fusion of passion and hard work is proving a heady brew
Publisher of the Year for us was Oxford University Press and they also picked up Rep of the Year in Claire Jeffries
Our Shop of the Year at the Wellcome Collection in London
And so to the bar…jet lag and modesty prevent me from giving a true report on all that went on until the early hours (bung me a tenner and I may suddenly recall something about a manager cuddling a toilet)
Day 2 and everyone was bright eyed and bushy tailed for a session on how to improve Communication (always easier to say than do)
Myself and Ian from our Manchester shop then talked about Social Media and how it can be used to make our bookshops better and get closer to our customers. My focus was on Twitter, Ian talked about their brilliant blog
The one non-Blackwell’s presentation that we had was from the National Literacy Trust, a charity that we have supported in the past and will continue to do so. Some of the statistics presented were jaw-dropping but the work that they do is effective and creative. We must do as much as we can to help them.
David Prescott presenting a cheque to the National Literacy Trust
The final session was on running Events by an impressive panel – Zool from Oxford, James from Edinburgh, Steve from London and David from Cambridge. They talked about the whole gamut of events and fired up everyone in the room.
So, an afternoon, evening and morning in a modest hotel in Stratford…but an invaluable time spent learning and networking. Since the conference ended there has been a palpable upturn in the energy and confidence felt throughout the whole of Blackwell’s. Testament indeed to all those who contributed. Here’s to next year!