Hazel Walker admits she has upped her reading habit since she joined Waterstones last March as senior buyer but she also reveals that the bookshop chain’s greeting card sales have increased significantly too – and there is more to come.
Since Hazel – the former greeting card buyer for Paperchase – joined the book retailer last March, its card sales have increased almost 10%, with double digit growth on Christmas cards as part of this. Waterstones’ Calendar sales too have nudged ahead.
While Hazel is buoyed by this growth as she sees it: “We’ve only just started! There is hopefully a lot more to come.”
The move away from being supplied via brokerage in 2015, Hazel feels set Waterstones on the right path, enabling it to curate the right offer for its customers.
“It is challenging as we have 285 stores in the group which vary considerably in size as well as in the demographics of their respective customer base,” explains Hazel.
For greeting card purposes each Waterstones store falls into one of ten different types, the largest of which will offer around 1,000 different card designs while the smallest have a condensed selection in one display bay (less than 100 designs).
But there are then permutations within these, as the design selection differs store to store. “We accommodate not only the demographics of the customer base, but also reflect the local flavour with around a fifth of the designs in each store being pertinent to the area, be it in subject matter, artist or text,” elaborates Hazel. “We feel we could further improve on this and are making it a big project for this year, especially as some publishers cater for different regions, but we may currently only stock them in one area of the country.”
The retailer deals with 100 different card publishers at any one time, from leading brands through to tiny regional makers. Always a big fan of “newness”, Hazel is keen that logistical challenges should not get in the way of a fresh selection.
“If we see a range we really like at say PG Live, then we can make sure it is in store within a matter of weeks. You cannot afford to sit back,” believes Hazel.
Art and blank cards account for around 35% of Waterstones’ card sales, according to Hazel, with Museums & Galleries, Woodmansterne and The Art File being core suppliers within this. “Our adult birthday selection generates 15% of sales and humour around the same, both areas we very much see as opportunities to increase.”
Another opportunity is to continue to build on Waterstones’ environmental credentials. “Right now 20% of our cards are sold unwrapped. In the next six months I see this increasing to 50%. Plus all our cards are printed on FSC or recycled stock,” stresses Hazel. She also believes that a card retailer’s responsibility on the environmental front continues right through the product’s life cycle, something that extends to designs supplied on SOR.
“We are definitely being more cautious on our ordering quantities, irrespective of SOR agreements as it is our responsibility not to generate unnecessary waste,” believes Hazel. “For Valentine’s Day for example we include non-specific designs that can then go into the everyday selection after the event,” highlights Hazel. Waterstones also has eight promotional stores, in price sensitive areas, that it uses to clear out old stock at £1 each to avoid them going to waste.
Commenting on the improvements that have been made by the sector as a whole, Hazel plays tribute to the industry’s collaborative efforts. “It is great how the card trade has led the way in coming up with solutions on the sustainable front, I hope other sectors follow suit,” she says.
Up close and personal
Hazel shares some of her inner most thoughts…
What are your guilty pleasures?: “A decent red Malbec, strong cheese and Instagram. On the latter I am forever scrolling. I freely admit I take a long time to get a perfect snap.”
A magic carpet awaits, where do you want to go?:“Everywhere! Places I would most like to go back to would be Cartagena in Colombia and Lake Como in Italy. As for somewhere I have never been to, then Tel Aviv is high on the list.”
If you were not a retail card buyer, what would you like to be when you ‘grow-up’?:“I love art and food so I would be a part-time interior designer and part-time top chef.”
Who would be your dream dinner party guests?:“Anthony Bourdain, as I share his love of food and travel, and Graham Norton, as he would be great for celebrity gossip.”
If you were an animal, what would you be?:“A cat. I’m independent, you’ll know when I’m hungry and I like a nap.”
Has working for Waterstones changed your reading habits and what book would you most recommend?:“Working here has made me read more. One standout for me is The Power by Naomi Alderman, a dystopian novel in which women are the dominant gender.”
Top: Hazel joined Waterstones in March last year as senior buyer.