Hugh And Cornelia Topping Outside Edinburgh Bookstore

A much-loved independent booksellers is reopening its doors and returning to normality thanks to a six-figure loan from Lloyds Bank.

Family-run Topping & Company Booksellers had to close its stores in Ely, Bath, St Andrews and Edinburgh, in accordance with government guidelines back in March. The company furloughed almost all of its 50 employees, sales dropped significantly and their popular literary events and reading groups were all cancelled.

With face-to-face transactions previously making up around 95% of sales, co-founder Robert Topping and his son, Hugh, adapted how they worked by selling books over the phone from their homes and improving the company’s website to increase online revenue.

The business continued to work with authors from across the UK to curate reading lists and collections for visitors to its website, and delivered signed copies of the latest fiction and non-fiction books to its loyal base of subscribers every month. However, these measures still left Topping & Company Booksellers surviving on 20% of sales compared with before lockdown.

The £250,000 loan from long-term banking partner Lloyds Bank, via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), meant the company could continue to pay for stock while its stores were closed.

The recent easing of lockdown in England saw the company reopen its Ely and Bath stores on 15th June, and it plans to reopen its Scotland stores on the 29th. Encouragingly, sales in Ely and Bath have already returned to normal, and Robert Topping cites current political and societal movements as a key factor in the rise in sales.

He said: “The relationship between a community and its independent bookshop is something unique, especially in times of uncertainty. We’ve seen so many political and societal changes in the first half of 2020, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen an uplift in sales of non-fiction and current affairs books, especially on the topic of race due to the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve also heard from customers that they’re particularly keen to support independent bookstores during these times – knowing the competition we face from major online retailers.

“Lloyds Bank’s support has been vital in getting us through a difficult period to where we are now, on the brink of having all four stores back up and running and with sales getting there too. That’s the advantage of having a relationship manager who knows our business inside out from a bank that’s supported us all these years.”

Topping & Company Booksellers has been a customer of Lloyds Bank since it opened in 2002.

Scott Murphy, relationship manager at Lloyds Bank, added: “It’s wonderful to see Topping & Company Booksellers making great strides in its recovery after an uncertain few months. We will continue to be by the side of the business to ensure it emerges from lockdown in as strong a position as possible, and we’ll be supporting other firms across all sectors to do the same.”

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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