Owner: Thomas Koed
Based in: Nelson
Thomas Koed owns and operate independent bookshop Volume in Nelson with partner Stella Chrysostomou. The acclaimed store, open since 2016, offers a curated approach to literature.
How would you describe Volume to someone who doesn’t know much about it?
In a side street in Nelson there is a very small bookshop in which all the books are interesting. If you love books you will find what you want there (even if you didn't know you wanted it), whether that be interesting fiction, incisive non-fiction, excellent children's books, art, architecture and cookbooks, or discussions about literature and the problems of the world in general. The shop has become a sort of 'third place' for many people (after home and work), a place where their lives are enriched by books and by readers like themselves.
What led you to start Volume?
Aggressive overseas internet retailers and changing customer requirements have meant that the age of the cashier-focussed high street 'book supermarket' model of bookselling is over. It is impossible to compete with these internet piranhas on their terms, but we thought there might be real rewards in providing people with the opposite of Amazon or the Book Depository.
Instead of infinite stock range (which has been shown to make people buy more and more narrowly) we have a tightly curated selection of books for people to discover, including many that are not otherwise available in New Zealand. We don't try to be all things to all people: we don't stock genre fiction or mass-market non-fiction (though we can easily order anything for anyone). Instead of buying books in isolation or while they are doing something else, we thought people might like to have a place to come and spend time, somewhere where they are welcomed and (perhaps) eventually known, somewhere where they can build a book-oriented relationship with their booksellers (there are only the two of us) and with other people in their community.
Instead of being run by algorithms, Volume operates as an organism. We wanted to make a virtue of being small, agile and innovative. Volume was not only an experiment in trying to operate a new model in an exemplary way, but also an experiment in seeing if there was sufficient demand for a literary bookshop in a provincial town. We have been overwhelmed on both counts with the enthusiasm from our customers, both from those in Nelson and from those throughout the country.
Volume was named Nielsen New Zealand Bookshop of the Year 2018 and People’s Choice for Best Provincial Retailer on the NZ Retail Hotlist – what differentiates Volume from other stores?
Volume's online presence (website, newsletters, reviews, social media, etc) is very integrated with the physical shop and with the community that has built around both, around books and book-related activities and events. We're not trying to be like anyone else and we see our smallness as an advantage rather than an impediment. We think this model is a good way forward for retailers, and we know that others are having success with similar small characterful businesses.
What have been the struggles and highlights of running Volume?
Initially, one or two of our suppliers were worried that it would not be possible to establish another bookshop in a town that already had three bookshops on the main street. Fortunately, they knew us well enough to support us, and it turned out that people were indeed very enthusiastic about this different thing that we were doing. Highlights? Facilitating the moment at which a book and a reader find each other is an inexhaustible pleasure.
What tips do you have for other retailers?
Rethink everything. Question the model. Think small. Be agile. Never be satisfied. Follow your enthusiasms. Make what makes you different into your advantage. Investments of expertise and personality are your best investments. The overseas internet mega-corporates want everyone to forget that retail is primarily what we could call a 'social mode', an expression of our communal instinct. The more retailers express this communal instinct the better their community will respond.
What does the future hold for Volume?
We have lots of ideas and we tend to act on them fairly quickly. The challenge will be retaining the smallness that is necessary for the agility that we and our customers enjoy about Volume.