The Book Centre

Maeve Ryan, with The Book Centre https://www.thebookcentre.ie/, talks about managing four locations in Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and Naas. 

I’m with Maeve Ryan, who runs The Book Centre, Maeve do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do?

I’m the Managing Director of The Book Centre and Barker and Jones in Naas. We’re an Irish owned family-run business. We’re in business since 1971. We are four shops, we’re bookshops predominantly, but, they’re about 10000 square feet each, so they’re large stores. So we sell books. We have a huge children’s selection of books and games and then we also sell lots of other products. We have a magazine department, and a large gift department, greeting cards, stationary, eco-friendly products, Leonidas Belgian chocolates and school books. 

Book Centre

That’s fantastic Maeve, I have to say your shop in Waterford is absolutely phenomenal. It’s not just a bookshop. It’s so much more than a bookshop and it’s an experience, I imagine if I lived in Waterford, it’d be a place that I would frequent quite often. Really stunning. What have you done there to make yourself more special? I mean it’s the experience first of all but all those things you offer what’s been most successful for you?

To be honest with you Sarah-Lyn, harping back to, people talking about the recession, they talk about how are books doing, that sort of thing and really our biggest success has always been our books and our book product and also as you mentioned the experience and the atmosphere of our shops. People often say to me. ‘Oh, my treat to myself, is going into The Book Centre on Friday evening or Saturday, or whatever day it might be and I grab a cup of coffee and I relax and I browse a few books. I browse the magazines or the gifts.’ We have created an environment where you don’t have to feel like you have to buy all the time, you can come in. You can spend time at the one in Waterford, for example, it is an old art-deco cinema, so there’s a huge mural, actually all of our shops have  murals on the wall. The one in Waterford is up where the old cinema screen would have been. It’s all about what’s going on in the shop, the atmosphere of the book shop in general. We have a Cafe in all our shops as well. People just love to come in and browse, chat with the staff and the staff know that this is to be a welcoming place. It’s not about the hard sale and while all our products do work for us. Thank God. you know it’s the books and the book related products and especially the children’s books that do really well for us. 

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I imagine your own children like to go into the shop?

They love it and because, I’m always here for work. They give out that I don’t actually bring them in enough, they tend to come in with their Granddad more than they do with me.

Maeve, you joined us last year on our AIB Growth Academy programme. So just for the listeners. This is a programme that’s run by AIB and it’s facilitated by the Entrepreneurs Academy. It’s all about leadership, so it’s for businesses that are a bit more established. Can you tell me Maeve, how you felt before you went on the programme?

I was thinking about this, Sarah-Lyn and about the programme when I knew I was going to come on to chat to you. I think, before the programme, I suppose, yes, I did see myself as a leader, but to be honest, I had a little bit of an impostor syndrome, like, no, the business would run without me and I’m not really a leader. I’m just saying I’m the managing director, and I was a little bit lost, I think I was kind of going along and reacting to a lot of things. I suppose not seeing the importance of me in the business and the importance of my role as a leader to my entire team. So, it really helped me put myself at the forefront of the business. If I become a better leader, my people, my managers, my staff will become better at their job and then it will all benefit the business in general. I think it definitely gave me a sense of purpose and kind of self-reflect and a say as to how can I improve myself as a leader and also say yes, I am a good leader for the business. I know that I can follow through with that. It gave me the confidence to do that.

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You’re leading quite a substantial team. How many are on your team now?

There’s about one hundred of us, which is great. We would have a four central people, three of them would be managers and then we have four shop managers. Then we have all the staff.

Having completed the AIB Growth Academy programme Maeve, do you see yourself as a leader now?

Yes, I do. It’s amazing, like it’s even funny saying that out loud, but I do. 

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It was a lovely programme, the group of ladies that came on that programme. I have to say I think they were an amazing bunch.

They were fantastic and the fact that we’re all still in contact is just really lovely. It gives you a circle of people who, as somebody else said to me, ‘I’m glad I’m not the only crazy person in the world’, you know there are other people who can have family life and do all that sort of thing. They’ll like-minded people.

I suppose the fact that the network of that group as well, even this year, and going into the years going forward, you’re still in touch and you’re still providing support for each other, which is a massive thing at the end of a programme.

I know if I have any query on anything, that I could ring up any one of those girls and just say listen what do you think, which is a lovely asset to have because sometimes you don’t have anybody to knock ideas off. To have a whole group of people that you know in a similar position to you, it’s really good. It’s really comforting you know. 

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Maeve, what are you most proud of in your business so far?

I think it probably comes from having done the course. Actually, I think I’m more proud of actually now taking the business on, you know I inherited it from my dad. My dad is 83 now, he has retired, but I still always said and I still do say it is his  business, I think now I’ve made it my own and I just said right, no, this is me, I am the leader of this business and it’s my business to take in my direction, the way I want to do it and I’m proud of myself. I’ve been able to get up and to do that and make it my own, which was a hard thing for me to do having grown up in and always seeing it as somebody else’s. 

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It’s really important and it’s great that you’ve come to that realization. Maeve, what advice would you have for someone going into business and running their own company?

I think just do it. I know that might sound like a cliche, but if you know you have an ambition, go and do it and then don’t be afraid to turn up to all the networking events that are around you because it is an effort to go, and you go on your own, it really might push you out of your comfort zone, but it really is a help to meet people that are like-minded to you and they’re in similar situations. So it’s to get out there and meet other people that you can chat about and to make you feel more normal in what you were doing and the problems that you have because everybody has all sorts of different problems in business. Especially when you’re setting up first. I do think it is important to surround yourself with like-minded people.

Great advice Maeve, thank you for your time today. 

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