A family business has hit more than one million sales of jigsaws

David Wavre worked in publishing before launching A Great Read in 2007 – after being inspired by book clubs and growth in e-commerce.

They initially sold books, but as the pandemic struck, the company diversified their offering by selling board games, jigsaw puzzles and colouring books for children and adults. The company, based in Westbury, Wiltshire, also increased its range of children’s educational books to support home-schooling.

“Like many small businesses, David and his team at A Great Read have demonstrated their resilience and ability to adapt to the challenges of the last eighteen months. As the economic recovery continues, it’s exciting to see their plans to expand and grow. We’re pleased to have helped them access the finance they needed to invest in their future.” – Lisa Jacobs, Funding Circle’s UK Managing Director

In the face of online behemoths which dominate the market, A Great Read has seen its website turnover rise by 139 per cent. With travel curtailed for so many, A Great Read also recorded a spike in customers buying cooking books as they looked to bring Mediterranean and Asian holiday cuisines to their own dinner table.

And demand for domestic travel books has soared as Brits look to spend their spare time enjoying the delights of the United Kingdom.

“Like everyone else, we didn’t know what would happen when lockdown hit and whether we would have to stop operating. But online retailers could continue and with people needing entertainment, orders more than doubled in a week. We saw huge website growth and it helped us enormously.

“With this came various expenses. We needed to hire more staff and have doubled our warehouse size, but we also had to improve the technology. We needed new servers and increased our defence against online threats. At one stage, shortly after improving our computer system, we had 200 orders in five minutes. This is something that we would have struggled to cope with beforehand.” – David Wavre, managing director of A Great Read

To deal with the growth, they took over a large vacant warehouse next to their own, increasing capacity to almost 30,000 sq/ft. But while the company, which employs 25, has experienced remarkable online growth over the past 12 months, they have also faced significant challenges.

Due to increased freight charges caused by Covid and new regulations around exporting to Europe, they have almost entirely ceased selling outside the UK. In 2020, the company saw its turnover increase from £4.5 million to £7 million and despite overseas sales being drastically affected, they anticipate similar results this year.

However, if overseas freight costs fall, the target is to hit £10 million in turnover next year. A Great Read prides itself on its personal level of service, with customers able to phone up and speak to a real person rather than rely on an automated system. During the lockdown, many customers expressed their relief that they were able to have a “proper conversation” with their customer services team.

And on occasions when signed books arrive in stock, they are dispatched to customers as a surprise. As a result, it has a 4.9 (out of 5) rating on Trustpilot after more than 9,000 reviews. In a commitment to sustainability, A Great Read also uses environmentally friendly packaging wherever possible. The company’s success has been highlighted by Funding Circle, the UK’s largest SME loan platform.

David used the platform to access a Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS) loan, designed to help the nation’s SMEs access the finance they need to grow and power the economic recovery. Funds from the loan are going towards improving its premises, expanding marketing, continuing to ramp up technology and increase staff numbers.

“Fiction has maintained itself but with pubs and restaurants shut and people getting bored of the same food, they’ve looked to cookery books. We have also seen an increase in sales of books on psychology, economics and psychotherapy along with people buying books about the pandemic.

“We have expanded our offering and we’ve seen huge interest in jigsaws for adults. After watching all the boxsets, they’re looking for something new to keep them entertained and they’re buying 2,000 and 5,000 piece jigsaws.” – David Wavre, managing director of A Great Read

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