Interview with Books and Company, Gourdon.
Books and Company is an English bookshop in the charming town of Gourdon in the Lot. It was opened in November 2005 by Hugues Teulat and his partner Nicole Killick and offers a range of Greeting Cards and Stationery as well as a wide selection of Books, Maps and Guides.
Why did you choose Gourdon in the Lot for setting up your business?
Hugues is French and Nicole’s father was French so France was a natural choice. Hugues’ family have a second home in the Lot and Nicole liked the area too, having been here on holiday previously.
Obviously, the shop had to be located fairly close to where we live. Moving to another area was not an option as the children were settled in schools so we concentrated our search on Cahors and Gourdon. In the end, lower rents and the fact that Gourdon could serve the Dordogne, with its wealth of British residents, and the Lot as well as being a pretty tourist town made the decision for us.
Why a bookshop?
The idea came about because we both love reading books. We found ourselves driving to Toulouse regularly to visit the English bookshop there and decided that there must be many more people like us who would prefer to have the convenience of a bookshop on their doorstep. Yes, you can buy from Amazon on the Internet but surely it is not as rewarding as browsing through the shelves of a bookshop. I still feel a frisson of excitement when we get a book delivery, the smell and feel of a book in my hands.
Although Hugues is French and reads plenty of French books, he is also very fond of English language authors and I really missed British bookshops.
Did you have any previous business experience?
Apart from owning a gîte, we have never had our own business before. Before moving to France, we both worked in the financial sector, Hugues in IT and myself in administration.
What research did you do before starting?
Hugues was recommended to Espace Gestion, a company which helps and guides people in setting up their own businesses. They helped us do a market study and drew up a business plan. This helped enormously. They helped us formulate our ideas by questioning some and suggesting others, as well focussing on the financial planning. They also guided us through the set up procedures which can be complicated if you are new to it.
What issues did you face when starting up the business?
Selecting premises – The major constraint on choosing the premises was the rent. We had to work within the guidelines set out in the business plan. However, we also needed to be accessible and not too far off the beaten track. Although we are not on the Tour-de-Ville, we are only just off it in the rue du Majou, which is the old town’s main street on the way to the tourist office and the massive fourteenth-century church of St Pierre.
Business registration – This was a complicated procedure to say the least, given the nature of French bureaucracy. After our first appointment with the Chambre de Commerce, we had to open a bank account to deposit the company’s capital for which we received an attestation de depot. We then signed all the statutes given to us by the CCE and sent everything to the Centre des Impots to officially stamp. We had to publish a notice in La Depeche stating that we had formed a company, for which we also received an attestation. Everything then had to go back to the CCE in order for them to issue a KBIS. The file is then transferred to all the legal administrations.
Obtaining stock – We sourced a wholesaler at the London Book Fair and opened an account with them. We then trawled through thousands of titles to choose our opening stock, which was no mean feat. Then, of course, there were some hair-raising moments with the first money transfer when we thought that the stock wouldn’t be delivered in time for our launch party!
What about promotional activities?
Some friends designed a logo for us which we used for all our advertising. We printed hundreds of flyers, put adverts in local newspapers, set up a website and of course put an advert on French Entrée! We were also lucky enough to be offered an interview on local French television by France 3 Quercy-Rouergue.
How have you found dealing with the French administration?
This can be very tedious but, fortunately, Hugues being French helps a lot. Understanding the cotisations and TVA can be a real nightmare, even for the French. Social charges can take an awful lot out of your turnover. We had an accountant from the start to help with all that. Unfortunately, he didn’t give us the best advice and we found out purely by accident that we were paying cotisations that we needn’t have. We are now changing accountants!
What has worked well?
The books and the cards have been a great success as have our book clubs (reading groups). In fact, when a French cultural group heard about our book clubs, they immediately set up one of their own. The cards are very popular with the English community as you just can’t buy them in France.
Anything that didn’t go as planned?
We received some advice that we should diversify to help grow the business beyond the books and greeting cards. The suggestion was to offer coffee to customers, effectively to run a tea room alongside the bookshop. However, we felt that we just didn’t have the space in the shop and have decided to simply offer a cup of coffee to customers who feel like browsing for a while.
What sort of customers do you get?
Obviously, the summer months are the best months as there are many more people here then. Having said that, as we have become more established, our turnover has increased for the winter months too. Our regular customers are mainly British, although we have a loyal French clientele too. In the summer months, our customer base is more international including Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians, Americans and Australians as well as many French tourists.
What are your main products?
We have new English books covering fiction, biography, history, travel, reference, cookery, interiors, gardening and children’s of all ages. We also have a selection of second-hand books as well as the very popular English and French greetings cards and English chutneys and jams.
How has the business developed over time?
The second-hand books evolved when people started bringing their books to us after a clear-out or when moving house etc. The greeting cards and stationery have expanded too as they are popular with everybody.
We are planning to further expand our cards and stationery. We will also be developing our website so that customers can buy products online. Finally, we are working on some author events for the shop.
What have been the best and worst aspects of running your own business?
The best – choosing books and then successfully selling them, meeting new people, the book clubs.
The worst – the administration, the bad days when you begin to wonder whether you are doing it right, people browsing the shop and then going away to buy the books on the internet. People seem to forget that although the cover price of the book may be cheaper on-line, by the time you have added postage from the UK it could actually end up costing more.
Would you do it again?
Yes definitely. Whenever you start your own business, there is always an element of risk involved. But if you don’t do it, you will never know if it would have worked or not. We said that we would give ourselves three years to see if it works so we are only halfway through.
Do you have any advice for anyone else thinking of starting a business in France?
Do a market study, have a business plan, get some good advice and a good accountant and then go for it!
© Books and Company 2007
Books and Company
29 rue du Majou
Tel: +33 (0)565 37 41 09
Email: [email protected]