Love Your Local: Sublime…Clerkenwell’s one-stop shop

Moving to Clerkenwell after nearly fourteen years of working in the heart of Soho was a bit of a cultural leap for me.  I was nervous.  What would I do at lunchtime?  How would I manage without Liberty and indeed Fenwicks to wander around for a bit of retail entertainment? Where was the nearest Boots?

Clerkenwell is probably the epicentre of epicurean London, but it is not the retail heart of the city. I soon discovered that actually I didn’t need the distraction of shops as much as I thought I did, and instead I have enjoyed exploring the neighbourhood’s ancient churches, museums and parks which are surprisingly abundant.

But we all know that on occasion you just have to go to a shop. You always need to buy that last-minute birthday present, a new baby gift, a card or an author present, and here in our little corner of Clerkenwell we have the suitably named Sublime.

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Sublime is a wonderful shop with just enough of a little bit of everything to offer and a range of choices on most things from scented candles to Frye boots, greetings cards to earrings.

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Sublime is perfect — they even have a wonderfully named dog, Bliss, who can be found pottering around keeping an eye on you as you peruse the stock.

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Bliss, sleeping on the job.

Arranged over two floors, everything on sale is lovingly and carefully hand picked and reflects the tastes of the managers in its delightful boho chic sensibility.  There is a wonderful range of clothes for women and a delightfully varied selection of gifts.

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All our publication day cards that we send to authors come from Sublime, as do most of the office birthday presents we buy.  I can also now confidently assert that anything new that I wear, from a shirt to the aforementioned boots, is picked straight from the Sublime stock. No more department stores for me. I am a dedicated fan of the small and local, and Sublime answers all my retail needs.

Almost.  It is still a long walk to nearest chemist.

Sublime is hard at work right now on their web site and social media streams. Soon, you’ll be able to shop online on their brand-new web site! For now, bookmark their site, and  follow them on Twitter.

Have you been to Sublime? Or do you have a local Sublime-type shop you just can’t live without? Let us know below or give that amazing store a shout-out on twitter using #loveyourlocal!

How can I help?

One of the really interesting things that constantly came up in last week’s celebration of Independent Bookseller’s Week was the wonderful depth of knowledge and care that so many booksellers show.

And this got me thinking about customer service in general, especially in the context of a recent event put on by Flamingo called “The Future of Shopping.” The researchers at Flamingo studied how the decline of the high street affected real shoppers, and also how real people shop — both online and offline. What they discovered was no surprise to me. Bricks and mortar shops cannot just be suppliers of goods anymore — they need to give people a reason to come in. As the Flamingo study said, ” The future strategy for the high street is clear: become a retail destination or turn those empty retail spaces into something more useful…”

A critical part of becoming a “retail destination” is customer service — a somewhat rarely-assumed part of the customer experience here in the UK. The general lack of good customer service in the UK came as a shock to me when I first moved here. And what’s even more shocking, is that people are actually really bothered when they get bad customer service, but then they don’t seem to do anything about it. Why. WHY? I just don’t get it. So, I sat down with Sarah B, who is also frequently appalled by bad customer service, to ask her about this curious aspect of British culture.

AO: Sarah, as a UK citizen, can you please explain to me why there isn’t an over-arching expectation of good customer service?

SB: I don’t think there isn’t, but I think that our expectations are lower than they are in the US. I certainly recognise that every time I go to the States, I remember how pleasant the shopping experience can be.

I do think it’s a sensibility thing too, I know lots of people that find people offering them help offensive.

AO: Really? Why?

SB: Because of the natural British way of keeping things to yourself, a lot of people don’t like interacting with people while shopping.

I suppose that once you’ve experienced great service in that kind of environment, you start to appreciate what’s possible in a shopping experience.

AO: What do you mean by pleasant? Is there something about American shop service that sticks out for you?

SB: Politeness! A proactiveness. I find that in many UK shops, only if you’re confident enough to ask do you get service. In America, they are absolutely there to help you the moment you walk in the door, and this country, they’re hoping that you don’t ask.

AO: OMG, that’s how I feel too! I do feel like sometimes when I walk into giant chain stores, they are extremely put-out if I ask where something is. Which is weird, because I want to spend money in their shop. And that somehow doesn’t enter the equation. Why is that?

SB: I think it’s all down to what that staff thinks they’re there to do — at a lot of big stores, they don’t treat staff very well, they are just there to stack shelves and take money. The staff don’t have a share in their store’s success. They are not invested in going over and above their job description.

AO: But OK, so my question is, that in the standard job description for a cashier, let’s say, don’t you think provide excellent customer service generally included?

SB: Certainly was where I worked. I worked in a small, family-run department store as an assistant on the perfume counter. We had really strict standards of customer care. One of the main things I remember is not being allowed to talk to my colleagues if there was a customer in sight. We also were trained to engage with the customer and know our regular customers by name.

AO: About how often would you say you receive good customer service? And along those lines, when you receive good customer service, do you revisit those places?

SB: I would say about 20 percent of the time, to the extent that when I receive good customer service, I am over the moon about it. I’m generally quite loyal to the places which give me good customer service, so every time I go to those places I would be very surprised if I didn’t have a good experience.

AO: Share please! Where are you finding this wonderful experience in London?

SB: I have been quite lucky in that I used to live in Stoke Newington, which is a hive of small, independent retailers and restaurants. It’s such a competitive environment and there’s so much choice in terms of restaurants that service is something that sets people apart. There was an absolutely fantastic butchers and green grocers that I really miss now that I am no longer in the area. A Saturday walking down the high street was a generally lovely experience because there was such an interesting and diverse mix of retailers. And that’s something that’s quite hard to find these days. Shopping is no longer about browsing, but getting what you need and getting home as quickly as possible.

Even though I no longer live close to Church Street, I have already found a new favourite place in my new neighborhood. It’s a place called Coffee7, where they are a real community focused coffee shop. They have this program called Suspended Coffee where you can buy a cup for yourself and one for someone else who can’t afford a coffee. The staff are lovely. The first time I went in there, the woman behind the counter just struck up a conversation with me about the area.

On a bigger retailer scale, I’m a huge John Lewis convert. I just feel like they generally do everything they can to help you in-store and online to help you get what you need. And that leads to continued, repeat purchasing.

AO: What does good customer service look like to you?

SB: Being helpful, I’m quite an impatient shopper now, and I quite like to be able to ask someone if they have something rather than having to wander around. And I would expect that person to know or to be able to find it. Otherwise, I might as well order it online. What I’m looking for is, “We don’t have that, but we have this instead…”

When you are looking in a larger chain store, and if they don’t have something, they used to call another branch to find it. That seems to happen less and less these days. Office shoes is actually good at this — they can look up sizes and styles in any store (or you can do it yourself online).

AO: Thanks Sarah!

LoveYourLocal

Following on from our celebration of wonderful Independent Booksellers and motivated by our love for good customer service, we are launching a week of blogs devoted to shops in our area that are doing it right. We’re calling this week LOVE YOUR LOCAL WEEK. All week long, we’re going to be talking about the shops in our area that we love, and that love us back. At the end of the week, we’ll post a map of all the shops we mention so you can go visit too.

And we want to hear from you! Does customer service matter to you? Are you more inclined to buy things in bricks-and-mortar stores which provide you good customer service? Where have you received excellent customer service (please tell us, we want to visit!)?

A journey into the VORTEX

Today’s blog is from fifteen-year old Agnes, who has been doing work experience with us this week. She’s a massive reader (honestly it’s like she eats books), loves music, art, history and bookshops. Plus she’s been wowing us all week with her awesome outfits – we’re in love with her shoes! A big fan of INSIGNIA, here she discusses whether its sequel VORTEX has been worth the wait…

On reading Insignia; as soon as Tom stepped into the Spire and hooked in his neural processor for the first time, I was hooked right along with him…

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The year is 2015, and the world is divided and fighting a war in space with robots to avoid loss of human lives. Teenagers are being selected and provided with supercomputer implants in their brains, then trained to control the ships and eventually win the fight. Massive corporate companies control everything, and Tom and his friends are stuck in the middle of it. With a fantastically futuristic, yet realistic world, incredible technology and immediately loveable characters (even the bad guys), Insignia definitely became a new favourite. And Vortex didn’t let it down.

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In Vortex, Tom has returned to the Spire for his second year, as a Middle. He has access to new rooms, new skills and new weapons, and an opportunity to win over the Coalition companies and become a Combatant.

The year starts with aspects of both light and dark. Wyatt and Vik are still at (well-intentioned) war, constantly thinking up new programmes to use against each other; and life at the next rung of the food chain looks to be action-packed, exciting and hilarious. But, after Tom publicly uses his special gift — being able to interface with any machine –  Medusa is already on his case. Tom must try and succeed at the Spire whilst also keeping his talent under the radar, keeping it a secret from men like Vengerov lest he find out not only about Tom, but Medusa too, and try to fashion them into weapons.

The plot is bursting with mystery, action, and excitement with more twists and turns than the magnetised vactrains in the interstice. The Spire faces difficulties; someone is hacking the sims and Blackburn is becoming more and more angry and distrustful, continuing his vendetta against Vengerov. Tom is having difficulty working out whether Blackburn is an evil maniac, or someone who he can trust to protect his secret. Things are changing in the Spire’s social hierarchy: Elliot Ramirez is starting to doubt his place in the Spire and looking for a way out, whilst the gorgeous but untrustworthy Heather will do anything she can to get to the top, no matter how ruthless her methods or who she betrays. Tom encounters problems of all kind: struggling friendships, career failures, blackmail, personal loss, severe mental and physical traumas, and doubts of Yuri’s loyalty; whilst also developing his relationship with Medusa. Tom has to balance his association with the enemy, and his desire to get to the top of the Spire, without ruining both.

With more machines, technology and action, Vortex is fast-paced and exciting from start to finish. Incredibly witty and very well written, narrated with a wonderful, mischievous voice, it is a story of friendship, politics and war, and creates a world buzzing with life and technology, corruption and power (as well as proposing a logical war strategy, that, if it ever came to it, the world should definitely consider in the future!). A book that anyone can, and will, enjoy.

Meeting Maureen, a GOLDEN opportunity!

Today’s blog is by Charlotte from the fabulous Stoke Newington Bookshop. Charlotte is a big Maureen Johnson fan, and had the chance to meet the woman herself last month at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival! Here’s how it went down…

I found out about Maureen Johnson through another author, John Green. The first book of hers I read was 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES and was hooked from the go. Her writing style is comedic, detailed and all round entertaining. When I found out that she was coming to the Stoke Newington Literary Festival to promote the publication of her book THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD, I have to admit I was extremely excited.

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As daughter of the Stoke Newington Bookshop owners and volunteer at the festival, I subtly suggested to my Mum that I thought it would be a good idea for me to work the event. Having someone who knows the books could really help and I just happened to be free that weekend. My subtlety was like no others, so soon I was packing up boxes of THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD and heading to the venue.

Before the event started I was given the opportunity to meet Maureen and Sarah Rees Brennan with whom she was doing the event, and I obviously took it. My plan was to be confident, cool and casual. I’m pretty sure I was shaking when I shook their hands but that definitely didn’t take away from my confident, cool and casual approach.  Neither did stumbling on my words and talking about giant disco balls. I wished them good luck and went to hide behind my bookstall at the back of the hall.

Sara Manning, me, and Maureen!

Sarah Rees Brennan, me, and Maureen Johnson!

If asked to describe the event in one word, I would undoubtedly say it was hilarious. They told anecdotes about how they had started writing, other authors and their families. Questions were asked and answered with off-topic chatter, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. Maureen and Sarah were incredibly entertaining and the event was everything I’d hoped it would be.

We started with a table full of books, and by the end we had almost no stock. THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD sold the most, as it was Maureen’s newest, and it definitely deserved it. It is a fantastic novel written in Maureen’s iconic style, with humour and emotion laced throughout.

If you missed the event at this year’s literary festival – bad luck you missed out; but you can still read the book!

Head over to Stoke Newington Book Shop or your local indie to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week and grab a copy of KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD!

Favouring FRIDAY on a Wednesday

Today’s blog is from Charlotte Morris, another amazing Independent Bookseller who can be found at The Book House in Oxfordshire. Charlotte picked FRIDAY BROWN by Vikki Wakefield as her staff choice for the summer, and here’s why she chose it…

This summer my staff choice is FRIDAY BROWN, the heartrending new novel by Vikki Wakefield. From the very first page, Friday grabbed me by the hand and pulled me along on the tsunami of her journey – a definite contender for favourite book of 2013.

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How far would you go to outrun a curse you aren’t sure you believe in? Named to avoid a tragic fate, Friday was raised on the open road of the blistering Australian outback and her mother’s hazy campfire stories. But when her mother is the latest in a long line of women in their family to drown mysteriously on a Saturday, there seems to be nothing left to do but run. Friday sets out to the city determined to find her father. Lost and alone, her plan soon derails and she finds herself trying to stay afloat, surrounded by dangers and haunted by her memories, stumbling onto a train platform that changes her life forever.

It is the endearing Silence who captures your heart from the moment he appears at the train station. He scampers through life with an ageless quick fingered agility, rescuing Friday in her time of need. Mute but with a loud personality, the ferocity of his love and Silence’s loyalty and determination is just as likely to lead him into trouble as out of it.

He leads you to the powerfully seductive clutches of Arden, a girl who collects runaways like modern day Lost Boys, except far from holding on to the innocence of childhood, Arden’s children are forced to grow up fast and face the harsh realities of living on the streets. Together they form a found family, bound together by their individual circumstances and dark pasts, tangled in Arden’s web. Friday can’t help but follow Arden and her gang as the need to endure leads her ever deeper into murky waters.

Follow Silence and fight for survival with Friday in this scorching, fast-paced psychological thriller that will leave you gasping, but reluctant to fetch a glass of water. Vikki has written a dazzling story filled with unforgettable characters and death defying twists.

With writing so vivid you can feel the heat of the campfires and the outback sun burning you as you read, Friday Brown is a story of revenge, justice, myth and identity. But with a cast full of liars, be careful what you choose to believe. Friday’s band of misfits leave marks on their surroundings, lingering on in the mind of the reader long after the final page. In a world of inescapable adversity, the threat of an ancient curse pales in comparison to the horrors of surviving everyday life, and tragedy strikes when you aren’t careful.

Drink some water, grab some tissues, prepare to feel your heart race, and make sure you read Friday Brown this summer.

“No more tears now, I will think upon revenge.”

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out what THE BOOK HOUSE is doing for Independent Booksellers Week and for a fun summer promotion:

One lucky customer will win a rare illustration drawn exclusively for The Book House by Helen Craig, the author of Angelina Ballerina. This competition has been running through June, and the winner will be announced on Friday. To enter, just buy any of Helen’s illustrated books and write your name on the clipboard, and we’ll put that name in a hat for the prize draw!

We’re also celebrating the long lazy days of summer with our special summer reading scheme. Every year, The Book House selects top titles from new releases and smacks a gold star sticker on the back of the book. Buy any combination of three gold star titles and get a £5 Book House voucher to put towards your next read. (No expiry date on the voucher and the scheme runs until the end of August.)

From the YA books I’ve asked to include FRIDAY BROWN and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and there are lots more to choose from! Hope to see you at The Book House soon!

Check out THE BOOK HOUSE on Twitter and Facebook too!

Head in the clouds, book in the hands

Happy day 2 of Independent Booksellers Week!

Today’s blog comes from George Hanratty, manager of the magical, award-winning Tales on Moon Lane children’s bookshop in Herne Hill, south-east London. Here she reveals a guilty pleasure of  Independent booksellers – working out what book suits which type of customer – as she reads THE CLOUD HUNTERS by Alex Shearer.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS was sent to me with the very first set of Hot Key proofs over a year ago; I thought it sounded great but amidst a growing pile of ‘must-read’ proofs, it ended up languishing in my to be read pile. Out this week in paperback, it seemed like the perfect excuse to move it right to the top of said pile!

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Christien lives on Sovereign, one of an unknown series of islands floating in the sky spread over thousands of miles – the remnants of a long ago destroyed planet earth. The skies all around are filled with Sky Fish, trader ships and Cloud Hunter boats – traveling wherever they can to find clouds to convert into water – this world’s most valuable resource.

Christien is fascinated by the Cloud Hunters, a fascination which only grows with the arrival of Jennie at his school – beautiful, mysterious and bearing the ritual scars particular to Cloud Hunters. Enthralled with Jenine and her family, he longs to join them on their adventures and finally gets his wish to travel with them, encountering an adventure the likes of which he never expected. At its heart, THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a classic fantasy adventure but is given depth by the fantasy world Alex Shearer has created – a world spread across the disparate islands with all the complexities of our own: religious intolerance, warring nations, environmental issues and prejudice in all its forms.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a novel that is perfect for hand selling. It is ripe for discussion and so I will be recommending it endlessly to teachers and librarians.

But then comes the favourite part of my job, and the part that I suspect all Independent Booksellers love, reading a book and figuring out which of my regular customers it will be perfect for: those with a fantasy and/or sci-fi interest are obvious choices, but then there are those who love books with a strong female heroine, or the avid readers who always want something a little different. I’m also adding the members of my children’s book group (see our events page) to this list, as THE CLOUD HUNTERS is being added straight to the pile as the next book we will be discussing.

The amazing Judith Kerr will be visiting Tales on Moon Lane on Thursday 4th July at 4pm as part of the celebrations for her 90th birthday and IBW. For more information go to: http://talesonmoonlane.co.uk/events/

GRINNY: A new old favourite

It’s a huge week! Not only is it July pub week, but it is also Independent Booksellers Week! To celebrate, we’ve invited a few fantastic independent booksellers to write about our books publishing this week, and to let us know what they’re up to for IBW.

Today’s blog is from Katie Clapham, who helps run the fabulous Storytellers Inc. in Lancashire. Katie writes below about discovering the newly republished classic GRINNY for the first time. Katie also shares a bit about the activities for she has planned for IBW, so make sure you drop by Storytellers Inc. if you’re in the area!

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For some, that name recalls a deep-seated fear from the depths of their youth, wedged somewhere between an inexplicable worry about the threat of UFO’s and that natural repulsion that some old ladies just seem to incite.

‘You Remember Me’ is both Grinny’s hypnotic catchphrase and the name of the story’s stunning sequel. Actually, Grinny, I don’t remember you at all. Grinny isn’t a book from my childhood – but it’s a book I’m hoping I can invade other people’s with, so I’m delighted that Hot Key Books are reissuing it for a new audience (me included!) including both stories and an introduction from the lady of the hour herself, Malorie Blackman.

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These two short stories offer a strobe of disturbing violet light that basks in that original fear of aliens – namely that they’re intent on world domination. Turns out they are, but they didn’t bank on Timothy Carpenter and his dramatic sister Beth trying to stop them. Twice!

The set-up in both stories is fabulously chilling; Grinny invites herself into the Carpenter household as their Great Aunt Emma, then reveals herself to be something quite different after a series of seriously suspicious events, while the second story moves into the future to see Tim and Beth battle the follow-up attack, this time led by a glamorous celebrity that seems to have captured the nations’ heart (and minds! Arrghhh).

Reading it today, it feels like quite a retro idea but its delicious simplicity makes it quite radical and refreshing in amongst today’s offerings. No one’s looking to make friends (or date) the aliens, this isn’t science fiction that is heavy in theory or technology and like all the best sci-fi, it raises real questions about our society – questions that remain important 40 years after they were written.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction – it too often leads into fantasy territory that I struggle to stay interested in, but I’d happily read more from Nicholas Fisk after this. The text is smart, snappy and funny. Even the format – a diary/letter style (with Fisk himself featured as a correspondent) adds another layer of interest. I can’t wait to sell this horrible little gem in my shop; GRINNY and YOU REMEMBER ME, I certainly will now!

What are you doing to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week?

Here at Storytellers, Inc. we’re celebrating Independent Booksellers Week with a series of events including two author visits, parties, games and offers.  We are delighted to have the IBW Collectibles available in-store including the recent Carnegie winner, Maggot Moon. You can read our full schedule of events on our website http://www.storytellersinc.co.uk and we’ll be posting updates throughout the week on our blog http://abookplaceforchildren.tumblr.com where you can also view our IBW poster series.

We love any excuse to shout about indie bookselling so we’re thrilled that for one week the whole country could be listening. Bookshops on the high street are really important and its exciting initiatives like IBW that can energise booksellers and book buyers everywhere.

What are your memories of Grinny? Share them below or tweet at us using #grinnymemories.