February 25th 2016 sees the 3oth anniversary of our founding. It’s hard to get your head around judging an enterprise in decades (four of them!) rather than years or months. It’s also amazing to look back and see how the whole nature of the business, indeed on business in general has changed in that time. We’ve gone from doing most of our business from printed catalogues and waiting for the mail to arrive with cheques and postal orders to being almost entirely on-line with almost every order and payment done electronically and by wireless. In between times we’ve passed through the phases of having shops (three in all), of doing events with a bookstall almost every summer weekend (still doing a bit of that) and doing most of our trade on eBay (good while it boomed). Now we are spread across various media and referring outlets, in effect as suppliers for the online giants ABE and AMAZON .
We’ve gone from printing our own 100 page catalogues to maintaining thousands of pages on the website www.simonlewis.com . From spending thousands a month on magazine advertising to almost zero and marketing our wares through the dizzying colossi of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We have passed through the boom-and-bust of VHS and DVD sales, of F1 merchandise and the wax and wane in autographed items and art prints to come back to the thing that got us going in the first place – rare and out of print books.
We’ve seen competitors in the field come and go. At least four of them started out as customers who admitted they drew their inspiration from us. For years we sourced new books from a London based wholesaler who sadly found the Amazon/Waterstones/ABE era drained the life from their business, which eventually forced them to close. We’ve seen the rise of small one-man author/publisher outfits who have survived by operating outside the mainstream bookshops (such that remain) selling direct or via specialists such as ourselves. I’m proud to say we have helped several such projects to see the light of day and encouraged and aided the production of several titles that received widespread critical acclaim and have gone on it achieve far greater monetary value in the collector’s market than their original cover price. We’ve also had the pleasure of hosting book signings for authors like Joy Rainey (left)
We’ve published two book ourselves and supplied material and photos for dozens of others. It’s rather nice to see that one of the most expensive motor racing books currently on the market – now long out of print and selling at four figure prices has an acknowledgement in the front to SIMON LEWIS TRANSPORT BOOKS and in the case of my long-suffering and utterly loyal P.A., Gill, it was even better to see one of our photos used in the autobiography of Jacky Ickx who has always been one of her heroes.
It’s always exciting to find yourself dealing with people you have admired. Finding the voice at the other end of the phone is a racing driver you watched with awe when you were a 7 years old can be very memorable – never more than when I spoke with 70s Touring car legend Gerry Marshall who played me along like a fish on a line for half an hour before revealing who he was (thank heaven’s I had been complimentary!) Curiously he was buying a book on the rather un-sporty Bull-Nose Morris!
So 30 years down the line from a stock of books you could put in two cardboard boxes we now have many thousands of rare titles and tens of thousands of back-number motoring and motorcycling magazines. The scope of the stock has widened. It began mostly as car and motorcycle material and moved into railways, trucks, buses, trams, aircraft, maritime and even horse-drawn vehicles, with a bit of military history along the way (which often tends to encompass several of the other topics in one volume). We also moved into selling photos (mostly motor sport) and now have tens of thousands of negatives and slides in the archive from which we produce prints and supply images for publishers.
And for the past few years we have been very happy to act as stockists for HERGEST DESIGNS who’s produced car-themed bags, scarves, ties and even steamer trunks. Who would have imagined selling designer handbags from the starting point of second hand books on MGs and Fords?
So there we stand, four decades in business and it’s both the same and yet very different to how it all began. Some years ago one of the event organisers I deal with was watching me build the marquee (from which I was selling that weekend) early one cold and damp morning. “What will you do when you want to retire?” she enquired. I was puzzled, looked up the term “retire” in my dictionary and decided it didn’t apply to me!
Maybe in time my two young daughter’s will decide the fashion industry (one as a designer the other as a photographer) is less appealing than carrying on the old man’s works? No..? I didn’t think that very likely either, but it was worth a try!
- A Vintage New Year’s Day Treat – Much Marcle VSCC Gathering 2016
- Speeding Into Spring : Bromyard Speed Festival April 3 2016