Don’t worry folks – we’re not talking about the1980 fantasy film with Olivia Newton John…
Picture a completely full carpark (evenearly on a Tuesday morning), rows upon rows of paperback goodies and narrow aisles chocka-block with people from all walks of life.
Welcome to Xanadu Book Exchange – the unassuming warehouse-style store in Papamoa East, full to the brim with second-hand novels, literature, cook books and everything in between.
“I could fill this warehouse two orthree times over with the number of books I have in storage,” says Xanadu owner Briar Simons. “There’s an additional 12 containers down the road waiting to be unpacked!”
When bookworm Briar quit her job in retail after 24 years to pursue her dream of launching a business, she had no idea it would escalate to what’s become a pre-loved book store behemoth (and the only second-hand book store left in the Bay) churning through 8,000 books per month.
“I used to sell books at the weekend markets before setting up the exchange originally on Domain Road. About three years ago we’d outgrown the space, so I signed a long-term lease here on Ashley Place and haven’t looked back.”
Xanadu doesn’t have a website (and its Facebook page is barely active) but thousands of customers from all over New Zealand and abroad walk through the doors every year.
“I’d say 99 percent of our customers know about Xanadu by word of mouth alone,” says Briar. “Our customers are ‘anyone and everyone’ and we have lots of regular visitors from out of town and overseas who stock up on books en route towards another destination. We recently had a carpark full of people from Whakatāne, and not one of them knew each other!”
Xanadu’s not only a destination for book lovers, but also those downsizing, going overseas or wanting to clear their book shelves.
“People can bring their books in and I’ll either give them cash or they can take a credit. We sell hundreds of books each week, but I’ve had to ease off buying in the last few months due to the sheer volume of back-up stock.”
Briar has a couple of volunteer staff who help with restocking, but whenever you enter the store, you’re almost always guaranteed to see her smiling face at the front desk. Briar’s friendly demeanour draws customers in, and her knack for knowing almost every book in store has them coming back time and time again.
“I remember each book as it comes in,” she explains. “I have a pretty good idea of where most books are located, and if someone gives me a hint (like the title) I’ll usually be able to remember the author and find it for them. It’s a skill that’s come from a deep love of books, and the fact I love meeting people helps – I like to make everyone feel welcome and totally at home here.”
Xanadu’s success also comes down to its competitive prices. You won’t find a book in store for more than $5, even if it’s still a new release retailing for $40 elsewhere.
“My customers are so grateful for the service we provide because they have access to literally thousands of books, all at an affordable price,” she says. “Yes, I’m thrilled to be able to make a living, but the main reason I opened this business was to share my passion and make other people happy. If someone leaves with a book they’ve been searching for, it really makes my day.”
A closer look in-store reveals masses of DVDs, CDs, records and games… which may seem strange at first glance, because aren’t DVDs and CDs past their use-by date?
“Even with today’s technology, many people still prefer to hold a book rather than read a Kindle,” she says. “And you’ll be surprised at the amount of people who don’t have Netflix, or those who still listen to CDs in their car. DVDs and CDs are quite hard to find now – so I’ve cornered that market, too.”
Briar is a savvy businesswoman who certainly knows what she’s doing, but like most women in business, she had to take a giant leap of faith in order to pursue her goals.
“Everyone said I was crazy for opening a store in the middle of nowhere, and it was true – when I moved into the space here in Papamoa there was nothing around, and now I’m surrounded by 3,000 houses!
“I wanted to give the business my best shot before retirement so I went with my gut instinct, and with a little luck and a lot of hard work, it’s been a great success. I truly believe that if you love what you do and work hard, you’ll be successful.”
With exciting plans to expand Xanadu (yet again!) in the next year or so, it seems Briar’s been following her own advice – “if you’ve got a great idea, go for it! Don’t let other people change your mind.”