Novel idea for a bookshop

It's the little innovations that can make all the difference to a small business, the co-owner of Canberra's Beyond Q Bookshop, Simon Maddox, writes.

When customers enter Beyond Q, they are greeted by several kilometres of bookshelves, the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and a frog that croaks hello. Even if they don't realise it, they're experiencing a series of small innovations that have been pieced together over the past few years.

How we started innovating

They began when I took over the bookshop with the goal of turning it into a store that customers would feel at home in.

By talking to them - and really listening to them - I found out what they liked and what they didn't like about the bookshop as it was.

One of the first things I noticed was that many customers wanted to stay in the store longer but had partners who weren't interested in books. So, I looked at different ways to get non-readers involved.

Over time, we introduced a bar, live music and a café that looks like a bloke's tin shed. It makes for something that passers-by want to come and experience - even those who aren't into books.

Innovation can mean lots of small things

There's not any one big innovative idea that has shaped who we are. Instead, they are small changes that we have tested and measured every step of the way.

For example, a while ago we replaced two aisles of cheap metal bookshelves with wooden shelves. We found that there was a big increase in sales in those areas of the shop.

People may say 'well, you've done something different and that's what has attracted people's attention'. However, when you measure the results over six months and find there's been a 20 per cent increase in sales from those shelves, there has to be a reason for it.

I think there's warmth in the timber that makes people feel more comfortable in those aisles where they have wood all around them.

Innovation has shaped our business into a community

In any case, our customers have helped Beyond Q expand to become one of Canberra's biggest second-hand bookshops.

But it's more than that.

The bookshop has become a community resource of sorts. Not only do we have local musicians performing every Saturday, but people use the shop as a venue for their out-of-hours book clubs.

Our staff members take the time to talk to customers, and not just about what's happening in the bookshop but about what's happening in their lives.

From our experience, it's important that small business owners ask questions when looking to innovate. Ask everybody: other business owners, friends and, most importantly, your customers.

Customers are the ones who keep the shop alive and well, and if they know you appreciate them they will become loyal.

For example, we recently started selling toasted sandwiches because a male customer said there wasn't enough 'bloke-food'.

It was only a little idea but it's often the little ideas that make a big difference - and now we've got one more happy customer.

Thanks for your feedback. If you have any ideas on how we can improve, we'd love to hear them.

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