OPENING the doors to her own bookshop in Edinburgh, Rachel Wood couldn’t believe how she had ended up at this point.
What started as a hobby quickly grew into a thriving business that has now found a permanent home in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Former editor Rachel started her company Rare Bird Books in 2017 when she found herself constantly recommending her favorite titles to friends and family, but never imagined it would take off.
An avid reader with a busy schedule, Rachel, 34, wanted to join a book club but didn’t have time to attend a physical one and set out to find an online equivalent.
Discovering that there were few virtual clubs, Rachel decided to start her own and Rare Bird Books was born.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Rachel said: “I’ve realized that people often find selecting books to be quite a daunting process because there are so many.
“That never happened to me because I read so much I always had a book to recommend and I quickly became known for it in my circle of friends.
“I really wanted to join a book club and have the satisfaction of discussing a book, but I just didn’t want to get up from my couch to do it.
“So I started Rare Bird Books to serve people like me, it was an online book club where every month we read the same book before discussing it online.”
Already working full time, Rachel started the business on a small scale, investing less than £10,000 initially with friends who helped her set up the website.
Rachel’s business advice…
Start small: You’ll read hundreds of business success stories that tell you to remortgage your home or invest all your savings, but you really can start a business with a few clients and grow from there without risking your finances.
Ask for help: You are not expected to know everything. If you encounter a stumbling block, there will be someone out there who will have the answer.
And make sure they are passionate! By starting as a small business, I was able to find staff that truly cared about the business and what we sell, which is imperative!
Get to know your customers : As I built my business little by little, I got to know my clients and what worked for them.
Customers can pay £150 for an annual subscription, or £14 for a rolling monthly subscription, receiving a beautifully packaged surprise book on their doorstep each month.
Subscribers receive two secret blurbs each month and choose which one they like, once read, they can then share their thoughts in the Rare Birds Online Book Club, which now has 2,000 members.
And in November 2021, Rachel introduced the 24 Days of Reading Advent Calendar which sold out within weeks.
“I took a punt just to see what would happen,” says Canadian-born Rachel.
“In the first month, we only had 12 followers and I was basically connected to all of them, but as the months passed and our Instagram presence grew, our customers grew.
“There was no marketing budget, so I relied almost totally on word of mouth recommendations.
“A few months later we were recommended by Stylist magazine and that’s when the business really started to take off.
“At the time, it was still just a small start-up company and I hadn’t even considered trying to make a career out of it.
“For the first two years of Rare Bird Books, I was still working as a freelance writer, putting all the money I made back into the business.
I didn’t expect the response we got, there was so much excitement and attention
“I had no business experience, I had a master’s degree in creative writing!”
Despite her humble ambitions, Rachel, who lives in Edinburgh with her husband Michael, 36, has found Rare Bird Books to be a very lucrative career at the most unlikely of times.
“The turning point for the business happened during the pandemic,” says Rachel
“Ahead of Mother’s Day in 2020, we were featured on This Morning, which was a huge boost for the business.
“That and the fact that everyone was stuck at home with all that free time that people who had previously neglected reading started picking up books again, which caused an explosion in demand that we weren’t just not prepared.
“At that time, there were only two of us working in the company and I found myself lugging 2,000 books up the stairs to my apartment.
“We had 2,000 subscribers and it took us a week to wrap the presents and send out all these books.
“We moved into a WeWork office space which luckily was pretty empty as everyone was still working from home so we could take over, but it wasn’t sustainable.”
In June 2020, Rachel moved her team to a warehouse in Glasgow and hired staff to support postage and packaging.
And the following year, the business expanded further when Rachel opened Rare Bird bookshop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh in August 2021.
The only bookshop in Scotland dedicated entirely to women writers, the shop has become a destination for book lovers across the country as well as a healthy asset to Rachel’s business.
“Having a physical store has always been a personal dream,” says Rachel.
“Being a fully online business until now meant we hadn’t had that personal relationship with customers yet and the store gave us the opportunity to get to know the community.
“We had a really strong Christmas 2020 which gave us the financial means to open the store.
“I didn’t expect the response we got when I opened the store, there was so much excitement and attention from the local community.”
Rachel’s Reading List
These are all subscriber and store customer favorites – the thing they all have in common is that they’re great to dive into if you’ve found yourself in a reading rut.
12 Days in May by Niamh Hargan – When idol director Ciaran Flynn’s film spirals into scandal, the only woman who can help is also the only woman he hasn’t spoken to in twelve years. This gorgeous romantic comedy set in Cannes is an absolute treat.
The Final Rebirth of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton – A music journalist attempts to piece together the story of a pioneering 1970s punk rocker who was on the verge of stardom before it all fell apart.
Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Sutanto – A woman goes on a blind date – the date ends up dying. The hilarious story of a woman trying to find her place in the world without the help of her family.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – Probably our most popular subscription choice of the last 5 years. It’s short, sharp, and a lot of fun, with deeper themes to ponder as well.
Rachel, who quit her job as an editor in December 2019, has seen her business grow year on year.
“Over the last 12 months we have made around £600.00,” she says.
“Essentially, with every year of business, we’ve doubled the revenue, the growth is getting faster and faster, which is absolutely amazing.”
Rachel is certainly not blind to the fact that as an independent bookstore it faces some pretty giant competitors.
“You’re competing with companies like Amazon that offer free shipping, which a company like ours just can’t,” says Rachel.
“Amazon often offers big discounts on books, which we don’t want to do because we strongly believe that authors should receive a fair price for their work.
“That said, I’ve definitely seen a change in attitude towards independent bookstores and even the way customers think about books.
“I think people are more aware of how high streets are suffering from convenience and there’s I think a lot more appetite for people to shop independently.
“Shopping at Rare Bird Books gives customers a personal experience they might not get at a chain.
“We can recommend books for everyone, no matter how individual they may be and it can be hard to find, which is exactly why I started the business.”