Foyles bucks bad news for booksellers with latest branch at Olympics site

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The Independent Online

If close observers of the bookselling trade had been asked to pick the likely survivors from among the plethora of small chains that have steadily disappeared from Britain's high streets it is unlikely that Foyles would have been at the top of anyone's lists.

Yet while rivals have stumbled, crushed by discounting, debt, recession and the impact of Amazon and other online retailers, the idiosyncratic chain will today announce that it is expanding again.

The company is planning to open its seventh outlet at the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, close to the site of the 2012 London Olympics, with 25,000 titles in store.

The opening will be the latest branch added to Foyles' historic home on London's Charing Cross Road, including its first venture outside the capital with a Bristol store.

The family-owned retailer was once seen as a basket case – the late Christina Foyle ran the flagship store at Charing Cross as if time had stood still. Rivals even posted advertisements outside the shop, suggesting customers frustrated with its head-scratching chit payment system, which required customers to collect three separate tickets before being allowed to leave with their book, try more modern alternatives.

However, after control passed to her nephew Christopher in 1999, Foyles' fortunes have revived and his decision to hire Sam Husain as chief executive in 2008 appears to have been inspired. For the year ending June 2010 he produced a small profit – Foyles' first in years.

Mr Husain insisted that there is a future for chains like his: "What is different about us is we don't rely on deep discounting. What we are trying to do is build on the service element and to mould each shop to the community.

"We also want to work with landlords as partners, with people who see having a shop like ours as an important part of a retail development rather than just wanting to fill a tenant."

As such there are likely to be further openings to come. Despite this, Mr Husain said he was alive to the need to capitalise on the internet revolution which has done so much to shake up bookselling.

That could include bundling e-books with paper titles in a similar manner to the way DVDs frequently feature digital copies of a film as part of the package.

"One of the key things we offer is book signings and you can't sign an e-book but people still want to read them in that format," he said.