It’s been almost 12 months since we published our ‘Spotlight’ feature on indie bookshop Imagined Things, and for owner Georgia Duffy it’s been a whirlwind year. From winning the Pan Macmillan Independent Bookshop Innovation Award and celebrating the shop’s first birthday, to hosting famous faces like Ann Cleaves, author of ‘Vera’. Oh, and who could forget that viral Tweet?
In November, Baltzersen’s is going to be hosting the Imagined Things Book Club (20th Nov 18) so we popped over for a catch-up with Georgia. Read on to find out how she reacted when Imagined Things suddenly became national news and how she feels about being an independent shop in Harrogate, plus more about the book club and how you get can involved.
A Tweet you posted back in June (which has now been shared more than 5,000 times!) really highlighted the need for people to support local, independent businesses. What was it like suddenly gaining online support from so many, so quickly, and has the subsequent media coverage been beneficial for Imagined Things overall?
Yes the Tweet really did go viral, it was seen by over 1.5 million people in the end! I never expected anything like the response that I had.
On the evening I put it out, I noticed the impressions going up – 17,000 about an hour or so later. By 1am it was at 147,000 and I realised something very different was happening, something that had never happened before. I tried initially to reply to everyone but it soon became impossible.
The next day it continued and the shop was so busy I could barely believe it! We had lots of people who weren’t local wanting to buy books through Twitter too but we didn’t even have PayPal set up, so were getting lots of wonderful people calling up to buy books over the phone and have them posted all over the country.
Once we had PayPal set-up we were sending books all over the world – America, France and even Kazakhstan! It was amazing, humbling and just astounding to see such care about our bookshop. We even had donations of £12.34 and other amounts just to help us out, buy a bottle of wine or snacks to keep us going. People really are wonderful!
We only took £12.34 today😔…if anyone was thinking about buying a book now would be a great time! Things have been tough recently – today the worst day ever. A card,a book,anything makes a huge difference to a small business like ours. We’d be very grateful for your support.
— ImaginedThings Books (@ImaginedThings) June 25, 2018
And the shop was busier, much busier! Loads of local people had found out about the shop through the social media activity or things that led from that. I was on Stray FM, Radio 4, in The Daily Mail, on Radio 5, most read on BBC News Online, and more – it was crazy!
It was wonderful to see that lots of local people were delighted to have found us, as that’s what we wanted most of all. As a new business it takes a lot of time to get know people in the community, and all of the publicity has helped speed that process up hugely. It was just what we needed.
It’s lovely to have so much support online and to have grown our following on Twitter and other platforms dramatically. To have people supporting the shop from afar is brilliant. Having local people’s support though is even better, that’s why I opened an independent bookshop – for people to come in and find books they didn’t know existed, to experience the wonder of being somewhere that celebrates books, and to be a part of the community and unite book lovers. To keep the high street vibrant and interesting for now and the next generation. It’s amazing so many people want our bookshop to survive – the amount of support has been astounding!
I think it’s great too that it’s highlighted how hard it can be to survive on the high street at the moment, and prompted people to think more about supporting their local shops. It was great to see people online saying they’d gone out to their local shops that week after reading our Tweet. And I think it’s helped people in the local community be more aware too.
The thing with supporting local, independent businesses is that one person really can make a huge difference to us. If every person in Harrogate bought just a book, just a card, just a coffee from local shops we’d all keep going. We linked with the #justacard campaign online which is a national campaign to highlight the huge difference lots of small purchases can make to small businesses. Just a card can be the difference between us staying open or closing down.
On the back of that I started the #notjustabook hashtag on Twitter as buying a book from us isn’t just buying a book, it keeps our shop open, it keeps independent bookselling alive on the high street so you can talk to real people about real books, and it supports our town and local economy. And people have carried on supporting us – those who have from the start and those who have recently found us – every one of them is a bookshop hero, and we are immensely grateful!
If you were to Tweet about the shop’s “Worst day ever” again, is there anything that you would have done differently? Were there any downsides to having a Tweet go viral, especially as a small business?
I think it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what was going to happen. My tweet wasn’t meant to go viral, or get that much attention. It wasn’t planned. It came from the heart, and from the worry that my business – my dream – might fail, and desperation to hope that if people knew we were in trouble more would come through the door to support us.
We’re always upbeat and passionate on social media – I love the shop, and being a bookseller – so nobody really sees how hard it is underneath all of the nice stuff. I sent the tweet because I thought perhaps if they did they would see we need a bit of help and for more people to come to the shop, which they definitely did, more than we could have hoped for which was wonderful!
What we didn’t expect for one second was the amount of response online. If we’d known that perhaps we would have got a PayPal account set-up, got our website finished and had someone in to man the phones!
I might have been more prepared about what to say to all of the journalists and radio presenters too. I would definitely have got help ready to answer all of the emails, and maybe tried to find a more efficient way. The emails were literally pouring in, and despite several nights at the shop until 11pm or 12pm and getting as much help as I could, there was no getting through them all. There were just too many that all came at once. At the same time, the shop was much busier and I was also speaking to journalists and being on the radio. There just wasn’t the capacity to reply to everyone and I feel terrible that we couldn’t get back to everyone on email and anyone who commented on Twitter too. There were so many Twitter notifications I couldn’t even get to the bottom of them so missed all sorts. I did put multiple social media messages up to say we were overwhelmed and to encourage people to ring, which I hope anyone who didn’t get a response saw, and could understand how sudden it all was and how unprepared we were for such an influx!
Imagined Things has been open for 15 months now – congratulations! Do you think being an independent business in Harrogate has got more difficult in that time or easier? Are you seeing a different kind of customer come in now than you did when you first opened?
Thank you! I still sometimes can’t believe I actually have a bookshop! I think it’s a difficult one to answer because when you’re new you can’t gauge things properly as so many people still don’t know you exist. In the early days it felt like we were making progress, but since March things seemed to be getting much worse. The couple of weeks before our Tweet in June had been horrendous and I don’t know why. I’m just grateful that things have turned around for us, we haven’t had any more £12.34 days, and are working towards being secure and around for the long-term.
In terms of the types of customer we’ve always had a real mix of lots of different people which is one of the wonderful things about a bookshop – there’s a book for everyone no matter your age, your background. Whether you’re local or visiting we welcome book lovers (and non-book lovers!) in all their wonderful differences through the doors, and hope to be able to do that for many years to come! The difference now is that there’s more of them, which is wonderful, and I hope we can continue to build our reputation and see increasing numbers through the door!
One thing that you’ve started doing recently is your own Imagined Things book club, which you’ll be holding at Baltzersen’s in November! How did the book club come about and what made you want to run your November book club at Baltzersen’s?
Yes the Imagined Things Book Club has been lovely! A chance to sit down with fellow book lovers and talk books (or the book of the month in this case, though we do digress occasionally…!) – it’s great!
I had so much on when starting the business I really didn’t have time to start a book club, but I increasingly thought it was something that would be really good to do and it all started in June this year. We’ve read and discussed four books so far, and are reading October’s presently.
The November book club will be our sixth – the half year mark! I wanted to do something special for it, and I’m always looking for ways to work with other independent businesses in Harrogate. Baltzersens is great and near the shop, so we’re really happy we could work together on this. Your cinnamon buns may also have something to do with it!
The book we’re reading in November is one that is very special to me, and particularly fitting for a book club at Baltzersen’s as it’s Dark Pines by Will Dean, a Scandi Noir crime book set in Sweden. Will donated 100 books to local schools to he’s an amazing guy too.
His book is brilliant. It’s dark (but not too dark – and especially not that scary unless you’re planning to go into the middle of a Swedish pine forest alone), with an absolutely fantastic main character – Tuva – who you can’t help but care so much about. She’s a deaf reporter for the Posten (the local newspaper) who ends up having to face her fear of the forest in order to investigate the recent murders – eyeless bodies in the forest mimicking a crime that was never solved from years ago. The plot is as twisty as the road through the pine forest yet you never want it to end and I would recommend it very very highly. I can’t wait to hear what the book club make of it!
If people wanted to join your book club how can they get involved? Is there a cost involved/where is book information communicated/where do you meet etc.
You can dip in and out of the book club. There’s no need to come every month, unless you want to of course. And you don’t need any prior experience of book clubs or special knowledge of books, just the desire to read the book and come along and discuss what you thought of it – good and bad!
The only cost involved is to buy the book from us, that’s it. You need to also tell us you want to come along to the book club when you buy the book so we can put you on our list, as places are limited. If you’ve already got the book, you can get another book from us to go on the list or you can get a voucher to decide later to keep it fair for everyone that month.
We communicate about the Book Club by putting posters up in the shop or you can chat to us about it. Plus, we also have a Facebook Group too. We have met at a couple of different venues so far, and haven’t settled on anywhere permanent yet – but it’s usually the third Tuesday of the month at 7pm and somewhere we can get drinks (tea/coffee etc.) and snacks in the town centre. Cinnammon buns anyone?!
To enquire about the Imagined Things November Book Club on 20th November, contact Georgia at Imagined Things, 4 Westminster Arcade, Harrogate, or call the shop on 01423 391301. There is also more information on the website here.