Jenny Thomas is the founder of internet bookshop Smallprint Online. After spotting a gap in the market, Jenny curated a beautiful selection of children’s books that’s a huge hit with customers.
Jenny opened her first bricks and mortar bookshop in Forest Hill in 2017 and now also offers activities for pre-school and primary aged children. How did she do it? Over to Jenny…
What inspired you to set up your business?
I was scared that I couldn’t go back to my part time job and manage the childcare juggle on my tiny salary. I decided that it would be worth trying to start something when my youngest was a tiny baby and gave myself those early months to make decisions and get moving.
I was inspired by beautiful books for children. The ones we had at home were being read umpteen times a day and made me want to gouge out my eyes every time. I settled on an idea to curate a collection of surprising and intriguing books from a range of publishing houses. Smallprint was finally introduced to the public in 2014, about 10 months after my son.
How did you do it?
I started with a few hundred pounds for stock and a budget for a website. I knew I needed to get that perfect from the off. Once you have kids you can never go back to sort stuff out – it would be like trying to paint a house once you have moved all your stuff in.
I learnt a bit about basic photography, started messing about with the website and doing local markets to sell books. Gradually they sold and I could afford to buy more. It has grown from there, from 30 titles to over 350, a website to a bricks and mortar shop.
I was scared that I couldn’t go back to my part time job and manage the childcare juggle on my tiny salary
How did you manage childcare?
During that setting up time my daughter had 3 days at nursery and my son was with me at home. I would work around him where possible and catch up in the evenings. It was a hard process and one I felt guilty about, but looking back it was the only time I think I could have put the effort in.
What’s your greatest success to date?
The way we have managed to grow slowly and comfortably is an achievement. The temptation is there to throw money at a new business when you are worried about it working. The bricks and mortar shop was a bolt out of the blue as it wasn’t part of any plan. But it made sense at the time and it’s a great success so far.
We won the Smallish Design Award for Best Online Retailer in 2016 which was a great confidence booster. We’ve also had some great write ups in magazines and blogs which helps enormously. In a world where social media is so rampant we are fortunate to have a good following of engaged and loyal book-lovers, who all feel like our extended family! We are starting to get approached by publishing houses and authors/illustrators for events. It’s amazing. It’s taken 3 years and adding a shop to our online sales to be taken seriously, but it’s happening!
And your toughest challenge?
Finance is the toughest challenge to date. We’ve had to say no to holidays, meals out and treats. When you are in your mid 30s and working hard you feel you should be allowed a bit of slack. Paying myself hasn’t come easily and mostly that is reinvested to pay for the overheads, but it is still working and viable which is encouraging.
Childcare is a nightmare. I don’t have the money to pay for holiday childcare and no-one pays me to take the time off work to be at home – so that can be hard work. The kids are great at guilt-tripping me as they have had the fortune of having me around a lot in the early years. I make the school pick up 3 days out of 5, so they don’t give me much wiggle room when it comes to working at the weekends.
What’s your USP?
Smallprint is there to take the time out of shopping for great kids’ books. We don’t just order the new releases from wholesalers. We check out each book and take the time to go direct to the publisher and furnish a good relationship there. We look at the illustrator and author, so we get to know them a bit better.
All of our books are road-tested on our own children and over 200 are reviewed on our website, most receiving 5*. These books are the ultimate ‘gift’ books – something a bit special, a keeper to create memories and please both the adult and the child.
What do parents and children like best about Smallprint?
In our shop we have all books forward facing. Children can see what they like the look of and choose something that excites them.
We have a reading area at the back with cushions and a teepee where customers can relax with a book. We also have classes taking place in the reading area during the week and on Saturdays. To keep little ones entertained, there’s a magnet board and plain paper for drawing and colouring.
As we have children, you need never be worried about a tantrum or needing a spare hand. We have space to breastfeed, we have drinking water in the tap, and we always have lots of fun.
I have got used to working quickly from the time when I had to squeeze everything into nap time
How do you manage to juggle work/life balance?
Tricky one to answer as half the time it doesn’t feel like I am. The hardest bit is switching between mama brain and work brain. But I have got used to working quickly from the time when I had to squeeze everything into nap time. I am fortunate to now have childcare that allows me to work every day, albeit not all day. Although my kids are particularly unforgiving of me working when it’s their time (which they like to think is ALL the time).
What keeps you sane?
Citalopram – I’m not ashamed to say that I take these tablets to control anxiety and it has been a life changer for me really. It is a long old story of how I got here, but I feel in a good place now. I also love my friendly group of working parents who all bring inspiration to me when it feels like swimming upstream.
Tell us your best parenting tip/advice for new parents.
Don’t expect to always like your children. If you feel like the only one who isn’t cooing all the time then trust that you are not. You will always love your child but you don’t have to always LIKE them, or how having them makes you feel a bit rubbish at times. Parenting is hard enough without the competition as well, so don’t judge and be kind to yourselves and others.
What’s your Happity Hero and why?
I went to Tippee Toes with my eldest daughter religiously for about 2 to 3 years, and then with my son when he was little. The children LOVED the combination of familiar songs and actions and the opportunity to go crazy within Kim’s parameters!
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