In The Company Of: Why post-Covid boom is good news for Knaresborough book shop – Harrogate Advertiser

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Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do and how did it start?
A: Castlegate Books is an independent bookshop in Knaresborough selling new books in store and online. We order books in for customers on request and offer sidelines such as book tokens, calendars, diaries, greeting cards and postcards.
I had the idea of opening a bookshop early in 2008 as I was looking for a new challenge and had always loved reading. I found the right location that summer – a fine Grade II listed building, well positioned on the corner of Market Place and Castlegate – and left my previous job in October 2008.
I spent two months fitting out the shop, with a great deal of help from my dad. I acquired stock and went on various courses hosted by Business Link, which covered different aspects of running a business.
The shop opened its doors in the first week of December, just in time for the Christmas Market weekend.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing about it?
A: After the effects of Covid on town-centre footfall the biggest surprise has been the way in which trade has not only returned to pre-pandemic levels but has surpassed them. As the economy is currently taking a downturn, clearly this may change in the coming months.
In business you need to accept there will be highs and lows along the way and adapt accordingly.
Q: What do you do in the business?
A: I work in the shop on a daily basis, taking sales, handling deliveries and restocking. I also handle the finances, place orders and arrange various events.
For instance, we’ll have a stall at the Knaresborough History Society monthly meeting at Kings James’s School in December. I also maintain our website.
Q: How did you end up here?
A: Before opening the bookshop I worked in IT for 10 years as a software developer. I started out working in VAX/VMS before moving to Java and Oracle. My last IT job was at HBOS (Halifax/Bank of Scotland) in Pudsey.
With the impending financial crash, during my last few weeks at the bank, news broke about how much trouble the bank was in. There were reporters outside our building daily and also camped at the head office in Halifax. Looking back, it felt like a risky time to open a new business.
Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
A: My education background was in the sciences; my degree was in Physics. If things had turned out differently I may have had a career that was science-based.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I usually spend a couple of days at the annual London Book Fair in April. It has a truly global reach and regularly pulls in 25,000 visitors over the three days.
It’s great to see authors, publishers and booksellers come together and provides a strong personal motivation for the year ahead.
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Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
A: I wish that I had known more about the art of negotiation. It’s such an important skill to possess in many different situations and can make a real difference to the success of your business.
Q: What excites you about business?
A: Getting in new stock is one of the more positive and important aspects of the job. Putting books in customers’ hands is very rewarding, whether helping to get young people into reading or broadening the interests and knowledge of older readers. When a young child leaves the shop with a book that they’re happy with, it’s wonderful to see.
Q: What is your pet hate in business?
A: I’d have to say cold-calling, phone calls and emails.
Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?
A: I would advise anyone starting out not to wait for someone else to give you opportunities – you should create them for yourself.
You can’t always wait until the time is right; as long as you have planned carefully and are adequately prepared, then you should just go for it.
Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?
A: I could choose one of many, but I’ll pick someone largely forgotten today: Jack Tramiel, who founded Commodore Computers. A concentration camp survivor, he moved to the USA and went into business manufacturing typewriters and calculators before moving into the home computer market in the 1970s.
He led the company to be the first to sell a million computers, before Apple and IBM. He was resilient, able to adapt to the times and was an immense influence in the early consumer electronics and computing industries.
Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?
A: Setting up and opening my shop in just a couple of months was a high point.
Then also, surviving those first couple of years in business, when the economy was struggling after the financial crash of 2008.
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Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?
A: A strength of independent bookshops is that each one is unique. Over the years we’ve carefully built up a hand-picked selection of titles. We may display a book because an author visited or to support a local author, or because a book has particular local relevance. Sometimes obscure titles are chosen that won’t be seen elsewhere.
I continue to hand-deliver books locally free of charge, particularly to those who struggle to get into the town centre.
Q: What is the most difficult challenge your company has faced…?
A: The biggest challenge we’ve faced was during the Covid pandemic lockdowns. When people aren’t spending time in town centres, it’s easy for them to stop using local businesses and buy online instead. To keep in touch with customers I regularly hand-delivered books locally, which people were grateful for.
Q: …and what challenges are you experiencing at the moment?
A: Current challenges include how the pandemic has affected other businesses that we trade with. One of our major suppliers collapsed in 2020, which has left us with more limited options for buying stock. When a large, market-leading company fails, it can take time for their competitors to grow to fill the void.
The trend for buying online has steadily increased throughout the last 15 years, which is an ever-present challenge.
Q: Have you got a five-year plan for the company?
A: I have a continually evolving plan that covers the current year and the year ahead.
It’s very important to have goals to achieve that allow you to progress your business, and they must be realistic.
You’ll make bad decisions along the way, but as long as you learn from them you’ll come back stronger. You can’t afford to stand still.
Q: Why is it good to do business from Knaresborough?
A: Knaresborough has a wonderful range of independent shops and other businesses which give the town a unique feel.
Its ever-popular weekly Wednesday market, along with the monthly farmers’ and artisan markets, continue to pull in visitors.
The castle, its grounds and Nidd Gorge also attract a lot of visitors and tourists, which gives the town a real footfall boost compared with other similar-sized market towns.
Annual events such as the Bed Race, FEVA and the Christmas Market all help to put the town on the map.
Local people know the importance of shopping locally and strongly support businesses in the town. All in all, it’s a great place to work.
Name: Gary Cooper
Age: 48
Birthplace: Wetherby
Job title: Bookshop Owner
Company name: Castlegate Books
Company address: 13 Market Place, Knaresborough HG5 8AL
Website address:
Company founded: 2008
Turnover: n/a
Number of staff: 2
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