There’s something distinctive and consistent about bookstores – as soon as you take your first step inside, you have a fair understanding of what you’ll find there. The intoxicating smell of ink on paper, endless rows upon rows of neatly aligned novels, and a friendly face pointing you in the right direction of Jane Austen or the latest Michael Robotham crime novel.
So while you’d be forgiven for thinking that very little has changed in the approach towards selling books, the Managing Director of Dymocks Books, Mark Newman, explains that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I often talk to the team here about innovation, because people say, “What’s innovative about a bookstore? You’re just selling books,’” he laughs. “But as a company, we must have innovated and changed many, many times over 142 years to still be here today. And we’ve got to continue changing to be relevant and be here in another 142 years.”
A large part of that, Mark says, is thanks to Dymocks’ continuing flexibility and adaptability – qualities that were well and truly put to the test when COVID-19 first began wreaking havoc on Australia back in March 2020. Like many businesses, it pivoted, looking for new ways to engage its readers even if they couldn’t physically visit a store.
“We launched a platform called Chapter One, through social media, which meant we were able to organise virtual live events with authors from Australia and around the world,” he reveals.
The pandemic also happened to coincide with Mark’s arrival at Dymocks which, at the same time as presenting a whole new set of obstacles to deal with, also had its benefits – namely, that lockdown meant people were ravenous for literature, as not only a way to pass the endless stretches of time at home, but also to escape into another world.
The more franchises that we have, the more stores that we have, the more successful our business is.
“Retail spending increased; after a negative first quarter the book market grew 12% from the middle of June,” he shares. “So it was challenging starting a role during that time when it wasn’t as easy to meet with the team, and when the market was growing. There have been very few times in my career that I’ve started a new role where the market’s actually been growing. So I feel very fortunate in that respect.”
With an extensive career working in the luxury goods industry, and men’s fashion and apparel for such giants as Alfred Dunhill, Ralph Lauren and Oroton Group, Mark brought with him a wealth of experience when he was appointed Managing Director in May last year. “I didn’t want to rush in and start making assumptions and changes immediately,” he says.
“The most important thing for me, apart from getting to know all my colleagues, was getting to know all of our franchisees and understand what their challenges were, learn what they saw as the opportunities for the business and hear about things we’d tried in the past that hadn’t worked, and why that was.”
Given its reputation in Australia not only as a reputable heritage brand but also as an unrivalled icon of the industry, Mark says it may come as a surprise to many that Dymocks is in fact a franchise.
“Within the book world, there can often be a perception that you should go and support your local independent bookstore because they’re hard done by business owners,” he says. “And that’s really what we are – a network of locally owned and operated stores.”
He explains that the franchise model means customers are truly getting the best of both worlds: a credible name as well as the personalisation that comes from local knowledge.
“The people who serve you, they own their business, so they are going to give you a level of service that’s not expected anywhere else, because they’re passionate about customer care and about serving their community,” Mark points out.
“During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we had one franchise owner who was delivering books on her motorbike. One of our key values is philanthropy, so we have a Dymocks children’s charity, and each of our franchise owners raises money to support local schools and deliver books to children who are growing up in underprivileged environments.”
Unsurprisingly, an enduring focus for Dymocks has been nurturing relationships with suppliers, publishers and, of course, franchise owners, some of whom have been with the business for over 30 years.
“Collaboration is absolutely fundamental in any business, but particularly in a franchise business, it’s essential that we all work together,” he insists. “As a result, we can harness that incredible knowledge and experience across the franchise network to our advantage.”
Now, as he prepares for the next chapter, Mark says the game plan from here is simple: get the word out there and continue to grow the Dymocks franchise network as, “the more franchises that we have, the more stores that we have, the more successful our business is”.
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