Wanaka women take bold step into new life as booksellers

Independent booksellers (from left) Kate Gordon-Smith, Mandy Myles and Sally Battson reflect on...
Independent booksellers (from left) Kate Gordon-Smith, Mandy Myles and Sally Battson reflect on their respective businesses one year after launching their start-ups in Wanaka. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
Covid-19 was not the end of the story for three bookish Wanaka entrepreneurs, who have turned the pages on their careers and written a new chapter in their lives.

In one hectic year, former medical practice manager Sally Battson, former fashion retail worker Mandy Myles and freelance motoring journalist Kate Gordon-Smith created new purpose for themselves in the independent book trade.

The trio told Ignite Wanaka’s Women In Business Coffee morning this week that they were not threatened by each other’s businesses because each came to book-selling through different routes and business models.

Despite challenges with supply chains, competitor discounting and juggling income streams, the entrepreneurs were determined to press on.

"The biggest challenge, and it is getting worse, is stock delivery. Pre-Covid, books would be on the doorstep in five days. Now, anything out of Melbourne is taking at least 60 days. It just makes things really difficult," Mrs Battson said.

"It is always a challenge trying to play the same game as Amazon. It is very competitive but we knew before we got into it... We have to find other ways to keep customers," Ms Myles said.

"It is challenging balancing time and earning money... wanting to put time into something you know will have a future. But sometimes you have to pay the bills," Mrs Gordon-Smith said.

Mrs Battson co-founded independent book shop, The Next Chapter, with business partner Jenny Ainge in August last year.

Her first job at 13 was in an Auckland bookshop and her new venture closed the circle, she said.

After a career that included teaching, running a Makarora tourism venture, and managing the Aspiring Medical Centre, she and Ms Ainge began looking for their "next chapter".

At the beginning of 2020, they had established a strong market in Wanaka for hard copy books but the biggest challenge, pre-Covid-19, was finding premises because the town was buzzing and every shop was leased.

Cinema Paradiso operators Calum and Andrea MacLeod came to the rescue, offering an empty glass building at the front of their Brownston St premises which might otherwise have been used by a food vendor.

"We are so thrilled with the space we have got. We love the synergy we have got with film and literature," she said.

Although Kindle and online reading had taken off, hard copy books remained popular with readers who liked the sensory, tactile book experience, she said.

She and Ms Ainge were encouraged by Booksellers NZ reports that one independent book shop was opening in New Zealand every three months, and by other reports from the United States and Japan, that the most successful start-up entrepreneurs were aged in their 50s and 60s.

When she left the medical centre, she had not wanted to retire. She wanted to do something meaningful, something she loved and to give back, she said.

Mrs Gordon-Smith runs an online sales channel for self-publishing children’s book writers, Kiwi Kids Love Kiwi Books.

Her start-up was sparked by the loss of an important motorsports writing contract after Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the Rally of New Zealand Championship.

With a limited budget and a waning heart for motorsport, she had time to create a children’s fantasy world and her first book, Lily and the Unicorn King, was born.

The process was an epiphany.

"The day I held my book in my hand, that was pretty exciting."

She still does freelance writing to help pay bills, but has now built up her sales channel to represent 40 authors and 200 books.

She is encouraged by the uptake from libraries and schools, and is confident things will keep growing. Writing stories about unicorns and red collie dogs tops the list of things she loves doing.

"When I came up with this side hustle, I realised it was authentically me," she said.

It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that Mandy Myles got the idea for an online retail store, Bookety Book Books.

Her pivot was completely out of the blue. She had studied fashion, worked in lingerie and fashion retail, including at 47 Frocks in Wanaka, and was an online fashion buyer.

She posted some book recommendations on social media during lockdown, which sparked questions about where to get them.

Ms Myles was inspired to provide an alternative option to major online booksellers, and in August last year, from her parents’ spare bedroom, she launched a curated, sustainably packaged online book range for women aged 20 to 60.

Until January, she worked full time hours across two other jobs to make ends meet.

Her challenge now was the 60-day delay in receiving stock. Last year, she was selling everything in a week, she said.

She has built an online community of book lovers, created a book club and is working with fashion store Ruby on a fundraising book drive.

For now, she is sticking to the women’s literature market.

"I may look at expanding but for now, I’m one person, one market."

- By Marjorie Cook

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