We Sell Books: ‘If it’s got Cork in the title, we want to have it’

We Sell Books: ‘If it’s got Cork in the title, we want to have it’
The Nano Nagle shop on Douglas Street in Cork.

SHANE Clarke is CEO of Nano Nagle Place, site of the former Presentation Convent in Cork city, founded by Nano Nagle in the 1750s. It has been renovated as a heritage, community and education project, and has two retail spaces, one which sells books, crafts and design and the other which sells books of historical interest. It was recently announced as one of the Retail Excellence Ireland Top 100 stores.

How important was it to have a retail experience as part of the project?

I came in when the building project was finished, I suppose I was operational employee number one. We had two receptions, one on Douglas Street and the other one for the Heritage Centre. And so when I came in, there was a thought that we would have some sort of retail. The big move for us, working with my colleague, Dr Danielle O’Donovan, was that we engaged Claire Graham from the Old Mill Stores, down in Leap, to consult on the shop at the front. We decided to pitch it in terms of high-quality Cork craft and design.

The other big thing for us was it was going to serve two functions, first and foremost, it was going to be a reception, it was going to be where you were welcomed. That is our priority, whether you are a repeat customer or a tourist, that you get that really warm Nano Nagle welcome and orientation.

How did you come on board at Nano Nagle Place?

CEO Shane Clarke.
CEO Shane Clarke.

I’m originally from Dublin. I went to college in London, and lived there for 23 years. I worked in urban design and all things city management. And then myself and my wife decided that we would come back home, we had two small kids. 

We thought ‘let’s not do the obvious thing and go to Dublin’, so we cast our eye at Cork. And just as we were heading over in this direction, this job came up. It has turned out to be rather marvellous. It has been a great experience for me, I’ve learned a huge amount. I’ve never run a heritage centre or a bookshop before. Myself and the team have ended up meeting everyone in Cork — at some stage everyone passes through here.

What is your customer profile?

It’s a really interesting blend because we have our heritage centre, and that appeals to tourists, past-pupils, Irish visitors and Corkonians. We’re also home to a school of architecture, and to another UCC department so we get a lot of traffic from that side. We’ve got beautiful gardens, so people come in to see those. We’ve also got the Good Day deli and they bring a slightly different demographic. And we’ve also now got an ever-expanding cultural programme. We had over 2,000 people through the door for culture night. We’ve got everyone from the American with the camera to the little old ladies who come and see Nano’s tomb to the hipsters who go to the café, to the culturally curious who get off the ferry. It’s a good challenge to have, to see how we can press all their buttons.

Can you tell me more about the books you sell?

We’re a very big site, nearly three and a quarter acres, so as well as the reception at the front, we’ve got a reception at the Heritage Centre, at the Goldie Chapel. There was no thought of putting any retail in there at the start. 

But then I thought, if you’re coming in there, you’re interested in heritage, you’re interested in history, you’re interested in Cork, well, let’s sell you a book about Cork. So we are developing that bookshop and our focus is 18th century Cork, and Cork more generally — if it’s got Cork in the title, we want to have it. We also have Irish women’s history, and a bit of general Irish history.

How is business?

We’re well ahead of our targets for this year. We wanted it to be 25% up this year, but we’re going to be up at least 50%.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re going to change the design of the shop a bit in the new year to give us some more retail space. The other thing we’re looking at is a partnership with Cork Printmakers, so we will be selling really beautiful prints in there. We’re also in conversation with Holger Smyth who ran The Time Traveller’s Bookshop, to see if we can do something interesting with him as well. 

For next year, we’ll do a proper launch for the bookshop and the print shop and then we’ll start matching that with our cultural calendar. So we’ll have book launches, authors’ talks and book clubs.

The idea is that we are kind of taking the baton from Liam Ruiséal’s, an amazing bookshop which was a great loss to the city. And in some small way, at least in the next couple of years, it would be our ambition to find a home for their Cork history buff customers.

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