From a cowshed to an internet sensation – how a Cotswold bookseller is racing towards a £50m turnover

Once a fledgling online-only book business trading from a cowshed, Paperback Shop has seen demand surge through the pandemic pushing turnover towards £50 million.

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Gloucestershire success story, Paperback Shop, has seen a 400 per cent increase in sales during the pandemic.
Gloucestershire success story, Paperback Shop, has seen a 400 per cent increase in sales during the pandemic.

It was already working on its business plan for growth pre-pandemic, but it could never have prepared itself for a 400 per cent-plus increase in sales as the nation rushed online.

Paperbook Shop started its online life two decades ago after realising its former business model – as a small chain of bookshops – was on the verge of being swept aside by the emerging internet.

In 2005 the, by then, online-only trader moved from the cowshed it had been operating out of to its current Cotswold headquarters, in 2019 it became staff-owned and was planning to build on its £30m turnover, but it could never have anticipated 2020.

‘We had a three-year plan to reach £50 million turnover, and we are fast approaching that,’ said Caroline Summers, sales director at the Fairford-based business.

‘It was its relationships with 150 different publishers covering 11 million titles, plus suppliers and customers in 18 countries, that allowed it to capitalise.

‘Because we deal with countries all around the world we were able to see the impact of Covid-19 quite early and began immediately to look at our suppliers and who we would be able to rely on,’ said Ms Summers, who joined the business last year.

‘We knew that where the transport links stayed open we would be okay. We also looked hard at how we could operate and stay safe.’

Supply lines in and out of some countries, such as the Unites States of America, all but closed down, but many stayed open and it was able to adapt with the many that remained.

Demand for academic books to help with home-schooling, teach-yourself books, puzzles, jigsaws, all of which the firm can deliver, went off the charts.

By Christmas turnover was in the region of £1 million a month and staff were working flat-out, and perhaps with a very good reason – Paperback Shop is an employer-owned trust.

Its founder, Dan Cherrington, was determined the business would benefit its staff long term, and not get swallowed up by the behemoth of the online world, Amazon.

The growth since the start of the pandemic has created jobs in its IT department, as it futureproofs its own online platform and in its warehouse and finance departments.

With the pandemic persisting, and shopping habits of many customers now changed, the Gloucestershire firm sees no reason the turnover cannot be sustained and it has not ruled out a new premises.

By Andrew Merrell

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