Page-turning business adventure

Page-turning business adventure

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Audrey, the My Little Bookshop caravan, pops up at markets around Perth and in the country.

Audrey, the My Little Bookshop caravan, pops up at markets around Perth and in the country.

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A travelling bookshop operates from a renovated 1950s caravan.

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"MUM'S quirky idea" has paid off for Perth-based Kerry Ridley, who turned a redundancy from her real estate job two years ago into a whole-family business which has quickly grown.

Ms Ridley lays claim to Australia's only travelling book shop, which she operates from a renovated 1950s-themed caravan which she takes to farmers markets, events in Perth and into country.

Pre-COVID, 'Audrey' the caravan, which takes its name from screen icon Audrey Hepburn, popped up in the Wheatbelt - at communities such as Narembeen, Katanning and Bruce Rock - and even attended the Nannup Gardening Festival.

With regional travel now re-established, a My Little Bookshop vehicle last Sunday headed to Quairading.

And more travelling bookshop visits to Pinjarra, Kalgoorlie and the Quairading show are already on the 2021 calendar.

"We are tossing up going back to Katanning because we loved it there,'' said chief bookworm Ms Ridley, who runs the business with her fly-in, fly-out worker husband Simon and with social media help from daughter Casey.

"Or we might just pin-point another spot on the map where we haven't been yet.

Chatting with Donald Duck at Brookton.

Chatting with Donald Duck at Brookton.

"That's how we did it initially - with a pin in the map where we haven't been before in WA.''

My Little Bookshop serendipitously combines Ms Ridley's two great loves - reading and travel.

She said as a 12-year-old, her parents bought a caravan, packed up their household and took the family of five travelling around the country.

"And the reading bug has always been there,'' she said.

"As a child, I went on adventures with Enid Blyton and the Magic Faraway Tree.

"As a teenager I was eagerly solving the mysteries of Trixie Beldon and Nancy Drew.''

When her government and real estate career came to an end, Ms Ridley gathered up her savings and spent three months scouring the classifieds to find "the right caravan for me''.

"I saw this 22 foot van on Gumtree, bought it and renovated it,'' she said.

"It was great fun, but there was lots of swearing involved, with any renovation that happens.''

Lacking retail experience, Ms Ridley turned to Facebook, trying to find out how to link up with the circuit of farmers markets and other events held regularly around Perth.

"I joined some Facebook women's business groups,'' she said.

"I put my van on one and introduced myself and my business and within a few hours a lady from the National Trust contacted me and said 'we need you'.''

Cruising Casey, and her counterpart Juggernaut Joe, can go places Audrey can't and can each accommodate about 550 books.

Cruising Casey, and her counterpart Juggernaut Joe, can go places Audrey can't and can each accommodate about 550 books.

That phone call ended up with her first gig at the Rock and Read children's reading festival at the Trust's Samson House, in Fremantle, in May 2019.

"That was how it started,'' Ms Ridley said.

"It was great and there were a lot of WA authors there as well, so there was that connection straight away.''

Over the next six months, the family took Audrey to more events and as their exposure increased the travelling bookshop was invited to more markets around Perth.

For the past 18 months, business has been brisk with plenty of invitations and at least six regular gigs on Fridays to Sundays in Perth - book-keeping and her online bookshop keeps Ms Ridley busy for the rest of the week.

"My vision of a lovely little lifestyle number has really turned into a full-time job and then some,'' she said.

"But I absolutely love it."

But as the business grew, Ms Ridley discovered that her beloved caravan was sometimes just too big to fit in the market sites - so she bought and renovated two vans, Juggernaut Joe (named after her father) and Cruising Casey, which can be used instead.

Before the bookshops arrive for a country town visit, Ms Ridley said she gets in touch the local shire, the school, local women's groups and the community resources centre, seeking potential input and collaboration for a combined event.

"In Narembeen, the ladies' group put on high tea for the women of the town and the bookshop,'' she said.

Chief bookworm Kerry Ridley has turned a "quirky mum's idea'' into a thriving, whole-family business.

Chief bookworm Kerry Ridley has turned a "quirky mum's idea'' into a thriving, whole-family business.

"I was just blown away."

That nostalgia inherent in these high teas, and their social connectedness, is reflected by the distinctive décor of the travelling bookshops - which are liveried akin to the famous Tiffany's pale blue and have a 1950s vibe.

"It all came about because I am a bit of a fan of the 1950s,'' Ms Ridley said.

"Even though I didn't have a visual in my head, I knew what colours I wanted.

"Audrey's black and white checked floor was along the lines of a '50s diner - because I loved (the TV show) Happy Days growing up.

"The blues are from Breakfast at Tiffany's and that whole kind of vibe.

"That is why we named the big caravan Audrey, she is an icon and I love her.''

The caravan can accommodate 2000 books and each of the smaller vans carry about 550 titles and the inventory can be shuffled around depending on where the vehicles are headed.

"We do a lot of gifts for people,'' Ms Ridley said.

"At Christmas time, the big coffee table books were being snapped up and we sell a lot of cookbooks.

"But it depends on where we go.

"It is a constant shuffle to feed the demographic of where we are going."

Children's books form a big part of My Little Bookshop's inventory.

Ms Ridley also seeks books by WA authors or who are inclusive or cover topics of the day.

These have proven popular with childcare centres, doctors and their staff, who buy for clients, and teachers who buy for their classrooms.

New release biographies are also popular.

"In the country towns, customers tend to buy more novels and cookbooks, entertaining and interior design books," she said.

"In the city, its all about health and wellbeing or a novel from the latest movie.

"My niche is stocking books that are very inclusive and that promote awareness of things, such as autism and children's development, which is going very well because people can't find that anywhere else.''

Ms Ridley said some of her best sellers were local, self-published authors, whose books sold particularly well to teachers.

She also makes a habit of accepting an initial five copies of books from self-published authors on a trial basis.

The authors always sign the books, "which people love".

"When I started I never realised how difficult the system or the process is to get published, even with a small publisher,'' she said.

"It is very, very difficult.

"Self-published authors do an amazing job in promoting themselves and when they come to me - they might see me on Instagram or at a farmers' market - I will always say yes and I will stock a book and see how it goes.

"I love it because when you go anywhere and you say "this person actually lives in your town', you are connecting the author with the book and the community and people are amazed.

"They say "I never knew we had such talent in our town' .

"It is great.

"There are so many (undiscovered) Tim Wintons and Craig Silveys and Rachel Johns who sit under the radar that don't get a look in with the mainstream bookshops."

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