In 1999, we decided to create a strategy that enabled us to speak more directly to the customer on the street. Traditionally, publishers sell books to booksellers, librarians and so on, who then sell to customers. But Barefoot Books now has more direct routes to the customer through online and mail order, and through our homesellers' network. A homeseller is typically a mother who buys the books from us and sells them on at home or at local schools and events. The beauty for us is that we work with lively, interesting people who are getting our message out there and showing our books without any rival books alongside.
On the business side, we can forecast our sales in a much more strategic way. We have an audience we know will buy our books, and we can decide what to promote. It's not like promoting to a buyer at a book chain. And we can sell the same books year after year, which you can't in bookshops because of the preference for new books. The homesellers' network is growing like topsy; we've got 200 in the UK and the US.
MY WORST ...
We overstaffed ourselves when we moved our US office to Massachusetts. We had opened an office in New York in 1998, but it was hard to run, as co-founder Nancy Traversy and I were in the UK. Nancy decided to move with her family to America, and we shifted the NY office to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We thought we needed identical teams on both sides of the Atlantic, but it turned out to be far too many. It was like herding cats.
Many of the US employees were expensive and wanted to do their own thing, so the management was challenging. Having such a big payroll didn't help when we weren't making money in the market, and we started making a loss. We realised we had to cut staff. At our peak, we had 36 and we now have 26. We have had even fewer than that, but we've started expanding again. The advice we were given at the time was: if you're doing something wrong, change it as fast as you can. We're now making a profit again, so we feel we've turned the ship around.