Open Eye: Opening Up - Is your book sitting comfortably?

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The Independent Online
Gary Lancet is a charity fundraiser who turned entrepreneur when his OU studies proved literally a pain in the neck! The discomfort of poring over coursework convinced the 37-year-old Londoner that there was a gap in the market for the kind of bookstand which could cope with everything from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary to an I-Spy book, without sacrificing style to sturdiness.

The result was Bookchair which is already on sale in a number of top London homeware stores, and whose design, production and marketing have filled all Gary's spare moments between OU management studies and work for several well-known charities operating in the developing world.

What was your family background?

My great-grandparents came over to this country from Russia and Poland at the turn of the century. The story goes that when they arrived the customs official misunderstood them and gave as their name the name of the town in Poland they came from - Lancut. My grandparents were all tailors in London and my mother is a clairvoyant.

What was your earliest ambition?

I had always planned to be a lawyer. However, I studied for a year and a half at a Jewish theology college in Jerusalem and found a number of the religious issues surrounding Judaism too riveting to give up - the result was that I decided instead of law to study philosophy.

How were your school years?

I had a fairly uneventful time at Bancroft's which was a direct grant school turned public. Until the sixth form when we had the option of spending one afternoon a week volunteering with Barnado's. It was one of those decisive experiences, learning for the first time about the underprivileged, and it seemed to me the most important thing I had ever come across, even if I didn't at that stage have the wherewithal to do anything about it.

What was your first job?

The very first job with a pay cheque was as a house-parent for children in care in the London Borough of Newham.

What made you start studying with the OU?

When I got back from Tanzania, where I had worked as a teacher trainer with VSO, I was greatly affected by what seemed to me to be the need for sustainable development. I really wanted to learn more about environmental issues, and since questions like whether or not there is global warming are a scientific proposition, and since I had never been good at science, I opted for the Science Foundation Course, and continued on to the Certificate in Management.

What difference has the OU made?

The certificate has taught me about financial accounting and budgeting which I have definitely used to good effect in my business.

But it was, of course, the long hours of study with the Science Foundation Course - and the resultant back and neck ache - that led me to a physiotherapist who recommended I use a bookstand.

I tried to buy one and found only a very expensive mock Victorian one - which made me think there was a definite gap in the market!

What does your current job involve?

My career and work, up to the Bookchair, had never involved the many different elements needed to bring a completely new product onto the market. It has been very much a case of learning as I've gone along.

I enjoyed the research - in medical books to confirm that bookrests are helpful and that it is correct to read a book at an angle; and into whether the public wanted such a product, which I did by standing outside bookshops and modern furniture shops and asking hundreds of people their opinion. I had to find a designer to translate my design onto paper, test endless mock-ups with a furniture maker to find the right size to accommodate all books and most documents, design the packaging, find a manufacturer, and deal with issues like safety, a patent, trademark, and a website.

I have always believed a three-minute egg does not take three minutes - by the time you've worked to buy the egg, brought it home, found the timer, and so on. It's the same with new ideas like Bookchair. It all takes many, many hours and quite a few pounds.

What do you enjoy most?

When people exclaim how wonderful my invention is, I feel like a proud father.

What do you enjoy least?

My frustration that more people cannot immediately know about it!

To what do you attribute your success?

I think persistence has been the key. I have had innumerable setbacks but I have a great deal of belief in the product. In terms of personal success the same is true: I believe in the product - which is me!

What do you most regret?

My greatest regret is not having learned to play a musical instrument. Just to be able to generate the sound of classical guitar with your fingers must be wonderful.

What are your goals for the future?

There are a number of other accessories which will complement Bookchair beautifully, and I hope to launch them over the next few years.

Jane Matthews writes: If you're addicted to reading while eating, have never learned to juggle a magazine and a coffee mug in bed, or get backache while reading, you'll wonder how you ever managed without Bookchair.

Made of lacquered beech, it features two wooden stays which adjust to the width and depth of whatever you're reading, including very solid cookery books.

Bookchair is available by mail order at pounds 16.50 plus pounds 2.50 p&p. Send a cheque (payable to Bookchair) to Bookchair, PO Box 24533, London E17 7SH, specifying colour choice from: cherry red, Lincoln green, OU blue, orange tropics, natural bamboo and whisper grey.

For credit card purchases ring 0181 520 5678. You can also visit the Bookchair website on