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Book subscription boxes are everywhere these days, and almost all of them have something about them that speaks to a certain kind of reader. Some focus on a genre; others lean into our romantic adoration of books. Secondhand Bookshelf does something entirely novel (pun intended) and unique. Aside from a treat for yourself, they also make the perfect literary gift for someone else!
Owned and managed by Giv, a German woman based in Exeter UK, Secondhand Bookshelf is a seasonal book box that prioritizes conservation, being green, champions small businesses, and being good to the environment.
In this book box, you’ll find a different book each month, along with a host of wonderful and creative items that help you live a greener life. For example, in our first box from Secondhand Bookshelf, we received wildflower seed bombs which can be planted in any kind of soil and encourage a healthy relationship with your local bee population, as well as a packet of reusable bamboo straws of different sizes, made by a small company in rural Vietnam.
Our box from Giv also came with a copy of The Happy News, an independent newspaper which provides the kinds of global stories that often get buried under the more doom-and-gloom sensationalism pedalled by the media. A very welcome gift in these trying times. And, to top it all off, we received a gorgeous ‘Bookish’ enamel pin.
Of course, a book box is nothing without a good book. And this is another way in which Giv, through Secondhand Bookshelf, does something quite unique! The book you receive each month is a secondhand book which Giv has procured herself, based on information you provide about your own personal tastes.
When we got in contact with Giv, we gave her a detailed list of our preferred genres and styles of literature, as well as examples of favourite authors. We mentioned our love for translated East Asian literature, that our favourite genres are gothic, sci-fi, and fantasy, and that we typically prefer books written by women. Giv then went out in search of the perfect book for us, based on our preferences. This means every buyer of this book box gets a unique secondhand book based on their own reading habits.
The kind of love and intimacy that goes into the Secondhand Bookshelf book box is very rare in this industry. These boxes are personally, individually curated and packaged, inviting a personal relationship between you, the thing you’re paying for, and the person putting your box together.
An interview with Giv
We got in touch with Giv, owner of Secondhand Bookshelf, to find out how she went about setting this up, what inspired her, and what her own personal background is.
Could you introduce yourself and why you started the Secondhand Bookshelf business?
Hi! My name is Giv, I’m 24 years old and I live in the beautiful city of Exeter. I’m actually from Germany and only moved to the UK about two years ago, but I’ve been loving it ever since! I blog about books, travelling and everything else important on my blog The Literary Traveller, and I am also the founder of the Secondhand Bookshelf!
Starting the Secondhand Bookshelf at the beginning of this year was a complete ‘spur-of-the-moment’ and ‘why-on-earth-have-I-not-done-this-before kind of decision?’. I work in the e-commerce department of a company that sells calendars, stationery and gifts and while that role is so much fun, I have wondered what it would be like to have something that is completely my own.
During the last year, I watched a colleague pack up her things and go self-employed, and I thought, there has to be something similar that I can do, too! I wasn’t quite as bold as her and still work full-time next to the Secondhand Bookshelf, but it made me think about the things I could possibly achieve if I simply had the courage to do so. In the end, it all came back down to my proven mantra: what is the worst thing that could happen?
As you can tell, I didn’t think a lot could go wrong, and now here I am with my own online shop. I have always been passionate about books and reading, and so, it seemed natural to strive for a product that would incorporate that! I loved the idea of book subscription boxes but often felt that a lot of the gift merchandise included in other boxes just didn’t tickle my fancy. I also loved the idea of book blind dates and the surprising and joyous effect they can have on others, and I am a passionate advocate for buying things secondhand, so it just seemed to make sense to combine these aspects!
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So, all in all, the Secondhand Bookshelf was born out of the idea to create something meaningful. Something that lets others remember how important it is to slow down and take a minute for themself in this hectic and fast world. And something that emphasises the small changes we can make and shows that living a greener life can be simpler than we think.
How do you choose the small businesses that you work with?
Truth be told, it involves a lot of browsing on Etsy and listening to my gut instinct!
At first, we try to think of products that match the season we’re planning for and that we would like to feature in the box. Then we start to cast out the net and search for local businesses and makers that produce the things we are looking for. We’re looking for the unusual, the creative and handmade products, and this can sometimes prove to be quite tricky! Often, we also stumble upon makers while browsing social media looking for inspiration. The internet is a great place full of wonderful makers if you know where and what to look for!
Once we have found a product we like, we tend to look at the following aspects: Does the price fit into the budget we have for the box? Is there a mutual connection and do we get on well with the maker? How eco-friendly is the packaging of the product? It’s not necessarily a straightforward and logical process, but rather something that we try to decide based on what our heart says, after taking all of the rational aspects into account.
What’s been the hardest thing about getting started with your new business?
Phew, this is such a good question! I think it must definitely be building a brand and converting sales. It sounds incredibly boring, but when you open up a shop, you somehow think that people will just magically turn up and buy everything you’ve got because you think your products are awesome, right? I won’t be giving much away when I say, it’s so much more than that and at times, it can be quite disheartening and frustrating. Even staying on track of finances and doing the accounting didn’t prove to be as difficult as that!
What’s been the biggest surprise/thing you’ve enjoyed the most with regards to this new business?
I am incredibly overwhelmed by the fact that something as little as a blind date with a secondhand book can make someone’s day! Hearing positive feedback from customers and speaking to customers, in general, is so fulfilling and truly the most positive thing about this little venture. Also, seeing how people take care of others by sending them little gifts and the messages they decide to include in their orders, makes me smile every single time.
What are your plans for the future?
First of all, we want to grow! We want to spread our passion for literature and the environment all around the globe, and hope you will join us on this adventure.
One thing we are also looking at is making an actual subscription service available. This may seem a little confusing, but at the moment, we sell the boxes on a one-off purchase basis as we weren’t sure how popular this idea would be. In the future (soon, fingers crossed!) we would love to offer an array of subscription options ranging from 3 to 12-months.