27th January, 2022
4 min read
Big Changes as we move into 2022
In early 2021, we had some big decisions to make regarding the way our books were distributed to the trade. The pandemic has closed bookshops and our existing third-party distributor, with whom we had worked with for many years, was having some problems with supply. Aligned to this, for some time we’d been questioning the benefits / drawbacks of continuing to outsource distribution (especially as we had for years handled all direct and Amazon sales ourselves).
Our conversations around this topic also started to consider sustainability; we’d launched a scheme where we plant a tree for every new title we publish, which no longer felt connected to the model of us shipping physical stock between printers, authors, our warehouse and a distributor… and sometimes back again! Not only was this starting to feel environmentally unsound, but also increasingly uneconomic in a pandemic and post-Brexit world of higher shipping and fuel costs.
Therefore, the decision we made in early 2021 was to cease outsourcing distribution and to take back full control ourselves. This was clearly going to bring many challenges (although ones that we enjoyed solving), not least that we needed a seamless transition of distribution. One of the first facts to face was that we could not do any of this from our existing office / warehouse complex – it simply was not big enough (the premises we were in could hold 245 pallets and had an inconvenient pick-and-pack area that we could not further extend). So, a new physical warehouse location was required, and to make sure we met the future needs of the company, this larger warehouse space would need to also contain new office and event spaces that the publishing side of the business required.
A new location was found and secured, plans were drawn up and put in place (a project with a tight deadline). To take back full distribution, we didn’t just need a new building, we also needed to ensure quality of data and tech systems to make sure we could give price and availability (P+A) information to retail customers on a daily basis. As well as investing in tech, we also renegotiated contracts with trade partners, wholesalers and sales reps, to make sure supply would not only be unaffected, but also improved.
While the office fit-out and build started, and these contracts were renegotiated, we began to bring our stock back from the existing distributor. The stock was moved over three tranches during the summer. Moving significant amounts of pallets around the country at the height of the HGV driver shortage was not without its sleepless nights, but by the end of the summer we had all our stock back under our own control. We opened a temporary warehouse office at our new site, and our Distribution Manager worked across the old and new buildings for a short time, necessitating some incredible planning and organising – and patience – of his own!
We wanted to be fully operational on the new site by December 13th and the final stage of the move once the build was completed was the move out of the old complex. This final push saw us shift the complete pick-and-pack operation over one weekend, having managed to keep it operational throughout the transition. The challenge of keeping the warehouse open to ensure continuity of supply and sales to our customers during this process was huge, but the decision behind the move has paid off. We had long suspected that our distribution could be done more efficiently and at a lesser cost (both financially and environmentally) if we managed this ourselves; now we are fully operational we are enjoying the benefit of control that managing our own distribution brings us. Sales look strong and we have now also started to build bookshop relationships by offering competitive terms with indies who want to trade with us direct, giving us further control over our own titles.
We now have 700 pallet bays (giving us room to grow) and have doubled our pick-and-pack capacity. In addition, our purpose-built office space has been completed to a high environmental spec, with solar panels, PIR lighting, smart ventilation and super insulation. We have incorporated space that we will use to grow our events channel for authors and indie publishers, via face-to-face and online events (so far, those planned for 2022 include events with the Society of Indexers, Nielsen and creative writing workshops – watch this space for more news).
We’ve also been able to open our own bookshop – which is in the reception area of the new offices. After a year of immense change and planning, we moved into our new space on time, on December 13 2021. The final build not only expands our warehousing and distribution facilities, but houses all staff in a purpose-built office. The £400,000 investment positions the company for growth in the author services market and will enable us to broaden book distribution operations to other publishers, but also shows what an indie publisher can do when they able to embrace the entrepreneurship that being in the indie sector entails.