Nominees: Sabato, Evo Cycles, Moore Wilson’s, Caughley, Tea Pea, Global Baby, Smith and Caughey’s, Bello, 77 Art + Living, Little Red Fox, McDonalds’, Mecca Maxima, Citta Design, Parker & Co., Lush, Fresh Collective, The Wine Cave, GoodFor, Frankie Did It, Barkers Chop Shop, The Department Store, Giapo, T2, Unity Books.
A bookshop seems like a pretty straightforward store experience, but the independently owned Unity Books makes finding that perfect novel feel all the more special. With two sister-stores in Wellington and Auckland, Unity Books is famous for having one of the best collections of obscure, interesting and unusual books in the country. Priding themselves on being ‘expert book hunters’, the passionate staff can probably find that book you’re looking for in-store, but if not, are dedicated to sourcing it from wherever they need to.
Unity Books is a place of wide and high literary ideals. The busy atmosphere is often one of anticipation, as customers bustle about finding treasures curated by the team at Unity Books.
“We have an attitude,” says co-owner Tilly Lloyd. “Which is, there is no point coming inside if it isn’t interesting. We’ve been going for 50 years, and we inherited this attitude from the previous owner, Alan Preston; his attitude was that we must have an opinion and that we must know our stock, and because it’s books and intellectual property. So, we must know it even if we don’t like it. We have to know where it sits in the current offer of books.”
In an ever-fiercer bookselling environment, Unity aims to keep renewing old loyalties and fostering new ones.
“We’re constantly a social and intellectual exercise. Therefore, when people come in, they get this feeling, and they can see us doing it with other people, that they will be looked after.”
With a large range that holds the ability to draw people into purchases they didn’t even know they needed, Unity Books feels more like a library of new books rather than a bookshop, where customers are encouraged to take their time to flick through new finds.
“I like to see a lot of professionalism, I want to see customers looking happy,” says Lloyd of a good in-store experience. “So that’s the overview thing, that’s the critical thing. And you can sense that the minute you’re on the shop floor. Everyone’s busy, by which I mean the customers are busy. No one’s looking lost, they’re being industrious.”
A slow-paced environment is often key to getting customers to spend time within a store, yet Lloyd says Unity Books has an active atmosphere which works well with the hustle and bustle of the high streets.
“The dialogue here just incessant between the customers, us, the publishers who call in, and the community people that call by with the news; it’s quite a vibrant environment. It is like when you’re at a party and things are quite quippy, that what is it like here sometimes, it has a good vibe to it.”
Unity Books has a large offering of all different genres for all different demographics. The process of curating these books comes from a rigorous selection process, taken out by the Unity Books team itself.
“We have got really strong relationships with our publishers. And they see Unity as a place to talk about upcoming titles. All the publishers have distributors. So, our relationship with the distributors just much more just seeing the representatives… The situation then is to filter what the reps are bringing in and to do that in the nicest sporting way. And the way to do that is to be a good snob.”
Lloyd knows the market better than any other, as you would expect after decades in the industry. This inside knowledge is communicated through the store, as a love of good books and connecting those books with the customer is at the centre of its ethos.
“Which isn’t to say there isn’t a place for a bit of trash here,” she says. “But we need to be the best of the trash for that genre. That’s a job of anticipation in the market, you’re thinking what are people going to be in love with this time, or what are we going to let them know we could be in love with in a few months’ time.”
The in-store experience of Unity Books is truly one of a kind. It’s store that has managed to thrive despite advancing technology and international threats. The high level of knowledge from helpful staff, and a clear respect for the industry translates into a true magnetic pull for these little locations in a big way.
Judges’ comments from Sarah Dunn: We all agreed that Unity Books’ no-pressure environment, knowledgeable staff and outstanding product selection made it our winner. You just can’t buy an experience like Unity offers on the internet.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 756 June/July 2018