As we ran Barefoot from our homes for many years – I had four children between 1992 and 1997 – the culture of the business is very grass roots, community-focused, and relatively unconventional. The working atmosphere is highly creative, innovative, and pretty fast paced. The 30+ members of the Barefoot team in Bath and Cambridge all really love our products and believe in our vision. We have always done things a little differently than most children’s publishers and believe strongly in our goal to create an international Barefoot community of discerning parents and educators who share our values, want the very best for the children in their lives, and support independent, innovative businesses.
I often think that traditional publishing is a bit “ivory tower” – the large houses create their seasonal publishing programs with very little feedback from the customers who actually buy their books and they rely heavily on the big box retailers, including the major chains, for distribution. We do not sell our books and gift products through the mass market channels but prefer instead to work with smaller, independent partners – bookstores, museums, gift stores, children’s boutiques, catalogs, librarians, educational suppliers, etc. – who believe in our products and our mission. We have also developed a network of Barefoot representatives – we call them “Stallholders” and we now have over 900 members – who sell Barefoot in their homes, in schools, and in their communities, often to support fundraising causes. Finally, for those customers who want to buy Barefoot directly from us, we sell through our mail order catalog and online. We believe strongly in giving our customers choice and to building the Barefoot community as innovatively and creatively as possible, while at the same time, from a business distribution standpoint, creating a level playing field as much as we can.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve encountered during the last 15 years of running Barefoot Books?
Overall, the biggest challenge for me is running a small, highly creative business producing what we believe is an important and wonderful product, where we know our target audience is out there, but it is very difficult to reach them through the conventional distribution channels. Publishing is a very traditional industry and a pretty difficult one; children’s publishing is even more challenging, but beautiful and meaningful picture book publishing is perhaps the hardest. Add to the mix a changing business and social landscape with the internet playing a rapidly increasing role in the way buying decisions are made. And finally, throw in the challenge, in a world where there is not enough time and too much information, of focusing parents, librarians, and educators on the importance for the next generation of global and environmental awareness, literacy, imagination, and a love of beautiful art and fascinating stories…and you have a tricky situation on your hands! To keep going, we have needed a lot of perseverance and a fundamental belief in what we’re trying to achieve.