I’ve always been a bookseller. When I started out I worked for a book chain in Wellington called London Book Shops. I worked with them for about twenty years as a store manager and then a regional manager, until they sold the business to Whitcoulls.
I then got asked to go and work for Paper Plus Group where my role was to grow their book business… that took another 10 years… I reckon at the time it was the best book trade job in the country.
A change of senior management then led me to a role in Harper Collins Publishers as a sales manager for five years, but when they too had a restructure and my role no longer existed I found myself out of work at 60 years old and thought: “That’s not good timing!”
I’d been aware of Poppies for some time and I knew the business was for sale. There were six or seven stores dotted around the North Island and I liked what the group were doing, so I bought myself a job by buying the business. At that time, booksellers large and small were experiencing low morale and a lack of confidence in their future. Everybody was really scared of internet resellers, online books, kindles and all that sort of stuff. I thought differently and my customers agreed. I moved the Poppies Remuera store to Howick after I was walking past Readaway Books and I saw a huge sign over the window saying ‘closing down sale’. I’d known Readaway owner Barbara Rosie for a long time and she agreed moving Poppies to her location was a great idea… a natural fit.
I’ve always had faith that traditional bookselling has a future; that’s what we try to preserve here. We curate a range of books that reflect our values and what we think our community will be interested in. When you shop online at places like Amazon or Fishpond, there are thousands of books available and it’s hard to know where to start, but we’re able to refine those down to select the books with lasting value. We can order anything which is in print from anywhere – it’s fun to track something down and be able to ring the customer up and say: “Yes, we found it!”
Children’s books are the mainstay of our business, which gives me enormous pleasure and cements the reading habit in future generations. I hope that what people experience when they come to us, is a feeling of being welcomed and valued.
We strive to provide good old fashioned service that’s unobtrusive and unhurried. Poppies aims to be a lovely oasis where folk can slow down and enjoy the experience of finding their next favourite book or a gift for friends and family.
We love Howick. It’s a bit out on the edge, but still quite close to everything. My wife Margaret and I shopped locally even before I worked here; we hardly ever go to a shopping mall as they have no soul and nothing anchoring them. There are very few precincts anywhere in the country that have the genuine village atmosphere that Howick has, or that personal touch. People here feel as though they’re connected.
Our customers have supported us 100% over the past two years, which has been incredible. Nobody expected the lockdown to last as long as it did and it was a shock. People have said “We want you to be here when this is all over!” and thanks to their support, we’ve come through in good shape.