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Dickens not chickens

10th October 2011 - Gary Perry


Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of manning the Foyles stall at several of the capital's Freshers' Fayres. Eager young faces have surrounded our table, partaking of boiled sweets and bookmarks. Along the way, many have joined our student scheme.


Such events are exhausting but always fun. Going out into the field and meeting customers is an important part of what we do at Foyles. These are opportunities to renew and cement our relationships with London's various communities. They also present us with surprising marketing challenges.


At Queen Mary in Mile End, we found ourselves placed next to a remarkably popular Nando's stall. A rather enjoyable 'Higher or Lower' game, coupled with the offer of free chicken, was enough to create a long queue that snaked across the front of our stall, hiding us from view.


The Nando's representatives and the student staff at Queen Mary were deeply apologetic and did everything in their power to make our stall more visible. In addition, we resorted to a spot of good-natured creative marketing, emblazoning our stall with chicken-author slogans: DICKENS NOT CHICKENS and ANGELA CARTER THINKS CHICKEN'S A NON-STARTER. I am ashamed to say, that this was the extent of our creativity. A career in advertising does not await me. However, the students saw the funny side and it went someway to counteracting the chicken effect.


As ridiculous as it was, our mini-campaign illustrated the importance of humour and responsiveness in bookselling. I should also say that I enjoy Nando's very much and would like to thank their staff for their good-natured tolerance of our signage.


At UCL, the immense heat failed to keep the crowds at bay. The students and our fellow stall-holders were a pleasure to meet. It is reassuring to discover such a wellspring of affection for independent bookshops amongst London's students.


As a UCL graduate, this fayre had particular resonance for me. It was as an undergraduate there that I forged my relationship with Foyles. I remember with how much anticipation I arrived in the city, excited by its lively independent scene and the many opportunities it offered to those with a love of books. Foyles was my first port of call and its cafe the scene for many an intense study session during finals. When I found myself employed here post-graduation, it felt preordained.

Our link with the city's universities is an important one and it is exciting to be part of every student's educational journey. It is truly a special relationship. Now, over to you. Which bookshops have meant the most to you during your studies? And, more importantly, can you better our literary-chicken slogans? Go on, I dare you...

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