Anthropologie: The secret to selling beautiful books

Anthropologie coffee table books

What could be nicer than thumbing through beautiful coffee table books with the experts from Anthropologie? More than the painted plates, gypset rugs and delightful trinket trays (OK, on a par with the trinket trays), it’s the irresistible book selection that gets me every time. I sat down with Zoe Hodson and Nicole Sierra from Anthropologie’s home buying team to get the lowdown on the art of book buying, the cult of colouring books and what makes the perfect coffee table tome.

Zoe: I studied fashion communications and promotion and in my final year I became much more interested in the lifestyle aspect of publications than fashion. Then a bit of fate came into play. I had lived in London for four years since I was 17 and then moved back home and ended up working for a tiny gift company where there were only four employees, so it meant I went from answering the phone and doing wholesale to designing. It was good fun and a real eye opener. I got involved in everything, went to some trade shows and found myself thinking it would be really nice to be a buyer.

I moved back to London and saw an advert in the paper for a job at The Conran Shop for a buying admin assistant. I got that and did it for 18 months. I loved it, loved the product, loved everyone I worked with but it was 2008 at the start of the recession and things were changing. And then I found out that Anthropologie was opening in the UK.

Zoe: I’d never been to an Anthropologie store before because I hadn’t been to America since I was seven. But it was obviously very different to what I was used to at The Conran Shop. I thought it would be great experience to work for this big company opening up, so I joined as an assistant buyer. My job with Anthropologie is amazing. As busy as we might be, as late as we might work, it’s such an eclectic product that you can never be bored. We get to touch everything. We might be looking at perfume, or sofas, or rugs, it’s all really varied. There is the business side too, which is great. At Conran I wasn’t involved in that side at all but having worked at Anthropologie from the start of its development from another country, I’ve learnt so much.
Anthropologie trinket tray ring dish

Zoe: We try to inspire our customers with our book assortment and make it a curation of whatever we might be loving at that point in time. We have lots of books that tend to speak to quite an adventurous person. Our customer tells us what she likes – mainly books full of images which is why you don’t see many novels, for example. We seem to be able to seduce her in the moment in the store with books that she wouldn’t find anywhere else without really sniffing them out.

With us, books have quite short lead times. That’s because we’re reactive, if we see that our customer’s loving something, we can act quickly on that trend. One of our favourite brands that we’ve bought into is Gestalten books. They’re just an amazing edit of all different things, be it interesting parties, incredible journeys, fantastic cartography. Travel has grown this year, especially aspirational travel books like Once in a Lifetime. And this one, The Journey is about epic train journeys around the world that you can go on, it’s so beautifully presented.
Then there are the healthy mindfulness books and vegetarian cookbooks; Deliciously Ella and all those books. That’s interesting because it’s definitely moved to a self-purchase sort of customer who buys it for her rather than being given it as a gift. People have diversified a bit. While you might have given a baking book six years ago as a gift, you might now give a colouring book or a travel book or a guide. Then you have cocktails and drinks. Vintage Cocktails (published by Assouline) is a classic one, it’s my favourite. The best thing is that when you’ve had a few, the text is so big that you’ll have no trouble making a few more! It’s really fun, you can just keep making cocktails all night! It’s interesting with the micro breweries and businesses that have made their own spirits. That definitely feels like something that’s been around under the surface but now it’s elevating in publishing. We’re discovering these boutique brands and individuals distilling spirits in their basement and making all these cocktail ingredients.

Zoe: Bloggers doing books started with interiors and food mostly, then fashion. We had great success with How To Be Parisian which was the same kind of thing; lifestyle led. Garance Doré’s Love x Style x Life (below) is a great gift book. It spans lots of ages. The aspirational teenager will love it, but equally you might give it to a girlfriend or someone looking for a bit of confidence or who just follows her blog, or aspires to the lifestyle that she has. There’s also a little bit of voyeurism with these sorts of books – what do they think, what do they wear, what do they like?
Garance Dore book at Anthropologie

Zoe : There are obviously some mainstream publishers that we always have a couple of books from but we scour the internet and blogs and do book shows and shop in certain shops to find things that you wouldn’t expect to find from us. There are hundreds of publishers out there so it’s a minefield, but we find all sorts of things. I went to the Tate Modern art book show and we found a quirky French publisher who does kids books that we might look at for next year. This year It’s moved more into travel and experience than maybe what people traditionally think of as coffee table books. Our customer is definitely engaged with something that goes beyond just ‘why don’t you travel to this place, this is what you should go and see’. I think it’s now much more about experience. On a wide level we’re seeing the way that people shop and the way that people are interested in healthy food versus just a nice cookery book for their shelf. It’s more about the deeper experience of cooking it and how it can change their diet and make them feel, or change their environment because they’re eating less meat, for example.

Zoe: Books are personal. For some people they’re objects for themselves, for others they’re a way to portray their style and interests, while somebody else might do that with clothes. I just read The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying and she says, “if you’ve read your book, get rid of it.” But I’m like, “noooo!” I appreciate what she’s saying, but I think that we do get attached to things. With books I guess it’s that moment of happiness when you look through them, that’s why we keep them. Lots of people get rid of paperbacks once they’ve read the story but people buy books from us that they want to keep on their bookshelf or on the hall table or leave open at their favourite page.

Zoe: Before the colouring book craze kicked in, I tried to make my whole team do colouring in. Of course everyone said, ‘we’re too busy for that!’ That was well over a year ago. And then I tried to pitch it to my manager, like, “there are health benefits, the whole office should do it, it’s re-engaging your inner child!” And now we have had three or four colouring books in our top ten bestselling books over the last year. It started off as just colouring and then it was mindful colouring. We really love the kids ones. This one, The Menagerie, came in for Christmas, which Nicole chose. It’s so gorgeous. But I think it’s that thing of doing an activity that takes your mind off everything else. It’s amazing the way it’s taken off, people definitely calm down after some colouring!
Anthropologie colouring books

Nicole: I’d suggest Once in a Lifetime as a great gift because you could give it to anybody, it’s just beautiful. And Vintage Cocktails because it’s such a classic.

Zoe: And we have some beautiful glassware that can go with it. Like incredible champagne flutes – art deco, hand blown in gorgeous colours – made in Europe. We’ve also got the most amazing bar accessories we’re selling for Christmas, like cocktail shakers with rabbit heads! We’ve got monogrammed whiskey glasses etched in gold, copper cocktail shakers, really fun and very Anthropologie.

Zoe: I’m giving The Journey to my fiancé as honeymoon inspiration; we’re getting married next summer! There are so many cool journeys in here; you could travel the length of Japan. There’s definitely plenty of inspiration in here for me. There’s another Gestalten book called Around The World. Again, it’s beautifully presented and has all these amazing facts in it. It’s the perfect book to open on Christmas day. I would choose that as a book to gift to someone, you could give it to anyone and they would enjoy it. It’s cartography, with all sorts of illustrations and satellite pictures, talking about the history of maps. Good Things to Drink would be my self-purchase-slash-gift; those would be my top three.

Zoe: The book that people never seem to get bored of is 36 Hours. It’s a travel book, and it’s all from the New York Times articles that have been published about a trip that you can take. You can just go somewhere for 36 hours and they list where to go, what to see, where to eat. There’s a Europe one, so if you’re going away for the weekend it gives you snapshots of each destination. You wouldn’t take it with you though – it’s huge!
Nicole: Bohemian Modern is another bestseller. It’s an interiors title and it’s got quite a bit of colour in it. That’s what our customers love – colour, pattern, texture.
36 Hours book


WORDS AND IMAGES: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
NOTE: Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my cookies policy here

CLICK HERE to get Disneyrollergirl blog posts straight to your inbox once a week
CLICK HERE to buy my book The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman