At the Gem Retail Hotlist this year, Time Out Bookstore won the ‘Hottest community connection’ award. We shared the ways this independent bookstore brings customers together.
It’s rough out there for a bookstore, but Auckland independent bookseller Time Out is still going strong at 31 years young. A significant part of its strategy has involved strengthening reader loyalty by creating a sense of community, with personality-driven “hand selling” service, a heartwarming story, and a strong message encouraging customers to shop local.
As well as its extra-long opening hours, which run from 9am-9pm seven days, Time Out works hard to promote its work through regular book reviews at Radio New Zealand and bFM; blog content; launch events and book clubs in a dedicated space upstairs; and an entire separate Instagram account devoted to showcasing the dogs which visit in-store.
It’s branched out from selling simply books, offering Time Out merchandise such as enamel pins and postcards, book subscriptions and miscellaneous goods such as socks.
Time Out Bookstore manager Jenna Todd shared some thoughts on community with NZ Retail.
What does the concept of community mean to Time Out?
We follow sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s philosophy of the ‘third place’. We aim for Time Out to be a leveling place for customers, where regulars set the tone and is home away from home. Anyone is welcome here.
How does a business begin to build a community?
A business can create a community but a community also creates a business. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation! But I think if a business endeavors to be a space where people want to be, the community will naturally congregate. Furthermore, once you establish what type of community your business is growing, you can nurture this further by expanding what your business does – such as events, workshops, customer newsletters, blogs etc.
Can you share some thoughts on tension between commercial activity and community building?
If we are thinking of the extras we do at Time Out, such as events, commercial activity is just a bonus to the community building. However, to maintain this we aim to be mindful of expenses when putting events on – we achieve this with creativity and ingenuity! As long as you have authentic intentions, I don’t think the community can be too suspicious!
Can you share some unexpected side effects of being so open to shoppers’ input?
When our owner bought Time Out 16 years ago, she saw customer demand for the store to be open later hours as we have a vibrant nightlife in the village. She re-established our opening hours to 9am-9pm every day. We have also refreshed our website to be a user friendly and efficient 24 hour store for customers who are unable to make it in person! These are key things that have lead to a steady rise in sales since 2012.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 764 October/November 2019.