We Sell Books: ‘Word of mouth is amazing’

Mandy Fogarty in Kinsale Bookshop. Picture: Denis Minihane

Mandy Fogarty is manager and buyer at the Kinsale Bookshop, located on Main St, Kinsale, Co Cork.

How long have you been in business?

It has been in business for 21 years now. 

Liam Barrett owns the shop, it is the oldest bookshop in continuous ownership in Kinsale, he is a great book-lover and he has stuck with the shop through thick and thin.

How did you get involved in bookselling?

I’ve been working in bookshops for nearly 20 years, and I’ve been working here in Kinsale for nearly six years. 

I’m from Kinsale originally, this is where I grew up. I live in Blackrock in Cork now. 

I used to work in the Douglas Bookshop in the Douglas Village shopping centre, then that closed and I moved down to work here.

How is business?

It is very good now. The summer seems to have extended — it used to be really busy in July and August, now we get a good June, July, August, and September. 

Then Christmas shopping starts in November; Christmas is a boon for every bookshop, people who don’t usually buy books are buying them.

What kind of challenges has the shop faced over the years?

The biggest challenge has of course been from online retailers, especially Amazon and Kindles. 

But I was recently reading something by a bookseller in the UK who was on a plane and he did a headcount of who was using Kindles and who was reading books — he said it has turned around completely now, that people have gone back to the physical book.

How have you tackled online competition?

Customer service is very important to us. 

We have a lot of local customers who trust us, and we trust them. 

We have a symbiotic relationship. 

People don’t even need a receipt, we just put in a bookmark, and if someone has the book already or whatever, there is no problem getting something else.

What kind of books do you stock?

We have a huge selection of fiction. Liam and myself, we love books in translation. We have a lot of central European fiction. 

I am an opera fanatic and I go to see opera throughout Europe. 

I go into bookshops there and ask what the top-selling titles are — we have quite a few quirky titles now from all around the world, for people who like something a bit different. 

For example, take the Elena Ferrante books, they were like Harry Potter for adults… we couldn’t wait for the next book to come out. 

When the fourth one arrived a week early, I screamed when I opened the box. 

I even had to deliver some on the way home, that’s how bad we were.

What is the tourist trade like?

We have a lot of Americans and French people, it seems like we have fewer English people coming in, but they love to read Irish writers. 

The older Americans who come in love to buy books for their grandchildren so we would always have stock of the Irish myths and legends, Children of Lir, the Fianna, Fionn Mac Cumhail, and all of that. 

There are some beautiful illustrated versions of those.

Our bestsellers are The Dog from Dingle who Lost his Bark and The Dingle Sheep Who Could Not Sleep. 

They are written by a couple from Dingle [Mark Stratton and Martine Moriarty]. 

They are quirky, A4 and flat, which is handy for packing for people who are travelling. 

That is just one of the things we take into consideration when stocking books for tourists. 

They love the look of those big coffee-table books but they can’t carry them.

How do you decide what books to buy?

I read reviews an awful lot, and our suppliers are very good at telling us what is upcoming. You get a feel for it. 

We also have very interesting customers, who make suggestions. A book I am telling everyone about at the moment is called Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. 

He is a famous American writer who is dead now but a customer whose daughter lives in the States recommended it to her, she told me about it. 

We all love it.

Word of mouth is amazing. It is all about listening and taking people’s ideas on board. 

We did a new section recently which we called Books of the Century, it is almost impossible to answer the question “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?” so we decided instead to think about books that have made a huge impression on people.

I’m in my 60s now, but one of those books was The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. 

Loads of people named that book as one they had read at a crucial point in their life.

“It was interesting to see the books that people came back with... there were a few really quirky suggestions that came in, as people come up with ideas, we can change it around, we would like it to be an evolving section.

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