Mandy Macky – Dymocks store owner and bookseller of 30 years inducted into the book industry Hall of Fame

4 May 2021

Mandy Macky, owner of Adelaide’s Rundle Mall Dymocks store, has been named the Lloyd O’Neil Award recipient for 2021 after 30 years as a bookstore owner and seller. The award, which celebrates extended and exemplary service by an individual in the book industry, comes ahead of her retirement. Mandy is said to be a generous colleague, often the first to send a bunch of flowers when a “situation” arises and she has mentored numerous employees, authors and other bookstore owners.  Once the National Head of Girl Guides, she transferred principles of team building and encouragement to those she worked with and was a key figure in the Adelaide retail network, and Dymocks business. Mandy was the chair of the Franchise Business Development Council for 6 years (as a Dymocks franchise owner representative) and is said to have a sixth sense for buying books, and remembering every title – including author and supplier – that comes through the store. 

Managing Director of Dymocks Retail Mark Newman says the company is, “honoured to have had a long and fruitful association with Mandy and congratulate her on this well deserved prestigious award.”

“Mandy has championed innumerable initiatives and improvements within the business.”  Mr Newman also says, “Mandy is a wonderful mentor to her loyal and dedicated team, finding their strengths and then encouraging them to follow through and improve and have some control of those areas. She sets the highest standards for customer service, and her willingness to go the extra distance for a customer is an example the team follow.”

When international bestselling author Fiona MacIntosh was first starting out it was Mandy and her husband Bruce who gave her sound advice: to say yes to every opportunity that came along to promote her storytelling. 

Despite a deep fear of public speaking at the time, Fiona could tell this was solid wisdom. “I was getting no invitations as no one knew me and I was writing fantasy, which was still much of a cult genre in 2001. Yet, my first invitation came.  Girl Guides.  I said yes.  It was a local South Australian branch so it couldn’t be further from the limelight. And while youngsters were doing cartwheels and generally not paying attention I rambled on, red faced and squirming.  The next was a school.  Again, I don’t know why these invitations were coming as I was writing for adults, not children but I remembered the advice and drove north to a school quite a long way from home and there, despite the fact that no one had heard of me and few were paying attention I did my piece.  What followed was a series of tiny library events where perhaps 20 chairs were set up and if I was lucky two were filled.  One person was coming in from the cold and the other because tea and coffee was on.  And so it went, forgettable event after nondescript event.  One book to spruik.  Until suddenly I had two, then three.  Events began to escalate and by then, I realised the true wisdom of the Macky advice because by then I’d conquered my fear of public speaking. And Mandy was always ready to have an event with me – get me in front of people.  She was always so generous.”

It wasn’t just her own staff and company Mandy was generous with. When Mostly Books owner Charmaine Power opened up her store eleven years ago, “following a naive dream,” she says, “Mandy sent me a message offering help if needed. I don’t think there has been one time since then that Mandy has not answered a call or met with me ( we have had some lovely dinners) to provide her guidance and share her experiences on any question or problem I have had. Mandy is generous, clear and practical and all decisions I have made with her guidance have been the right ones. I can sincerely say that my little bookshop thrived because of Mandy’s support. Mandy is a generous mentor and a friend for life.”

Generosity has been a word that has often been used when speaking with associates about Mandy’s career. Mandy Macky answered a few questions about her career and her induction into the Hall of Fame. 

Mandy Macky, how does it feel to be named the Lloyd O’Neil recipient for 2021 and now in the book industry Hall of Fame? 

It was the most wonderful surprise! I feel very humbled to be included in such an illustrious group of book people.

You’ve been a bookseller in the shopping district of Adelaide for 30 years. What’s the best and most challenging thing about selling books in the city of churches? 

The best thing about bookselling has been the people – the wonderful customers and my terrific staff, many of whom have been with me for many years, the publishers’ reps and the fantastic authors who are so passionate about their books.  The biggest challenges have come from competitors (Borders and BigW in particular) and online bookselling.

You’ve shared in another article that you thought you would become a librarian when you were young. Have you ever questioned whether bookselling was the right choice? What’s been the greatest joy in your career as a bookseller?

I became a bookseller by serendipitous chance when my husband decided on a new career after being a banker.  And I have loved it from day one. It has also been a joy to share it with my four children (who have gone on to completely different careers) and now my two eldest grand-daughters who have worked with me for several years.  One of the greatest joys is to put a book in the hand of a customer and have them come back and say ‘Thank you, I am so glad that I read that book’.

What’s the best advice you can give to someone about the ins and outs of book retail? 

‘Retail is detail’ is sound advice I was given many years ago. So true! And that nothing beats excellent customer service.  Now that there are so many shopping options, when a customer comes into a bricks and mortar store, they are expecting much more than an online store can offer.  They appreciate the staff recommendations and the special promotions.  They love to discover a bargain or two.  And they want to find a staff member

who can help them with an enquiry or who can offer an opinion on a book they would like to read. Or who just greets them with a smile.

You’ve been said to have mentored many people across your time. Was this a conscious thing to support other, younger booksellers? Can you tell us a little about your approach?

I was a Girl Guide and then a leader for over 40 years and that is where I learned the most about team building, leadership and encouraging girls to challenge themselves. I have run my store in much the same way. It is so important to give people encouragement and opportunities to do something new and different.  If they are not sure I ask them “What is the worst that can happen?”  It has been a delight to encourage and support other booksellers as well. We all benefit when the industry is doing well.

What’s been the benefit of being a Franchisee of a bookshop company? It seems that you are able to operate like a local independent bookshop but have the backing of a bigger brand. 

The benefits of being a franchisee include being part of a recognised Australia-wide brand but being able to have our own identity and range.  We are supported by a national marketing program and now, through Click and Collect, customers can order books directly from us while they are browsing online.  The ‘know before you go’ option on the online store has also helped bring customers into the store. Having a national database of books enables us to refer customers to other stores which might have a book which is out of stock with us.  And similarly we get calls from all over Australia for books which only we have in stock. We also benefit from state meetings and the annual conference where we can share ideas and issues with other franchisees.   I have been on the Dymocks Franchise Business Development Council for the past 5 years and have appreciated being able to have input into the strategic directions of the chain.  

Can you describe the bookselling trade throughout the decades – in a paragraph or two? What was common practice when you started and how have things changed? What do you miss from the “old ways” and what is a blessing to have now?

Fortunately for us when we bought Dymocks there was a computer system in place.  Previously everything had been on stock cards, which must have been such a challenge.  However it was very early days and we had to rely on microfiche from our US suppliers, which of course were out of date the minute they were posted to us.  To check on the availability of books in Australia we had to ring the suppliers’ customer service departments.  Thank goodness for Titlepage!

Then there were stocktakes!  Our first ones were done with wide printed pages which were difficult to manage, hard to read and took hours and hours.  Hand scanners have made that process so much easier and quicker.  

We also had to mark-up order sheets and then enter them into the computer, which was a weekly process. Orders used to be printed and faxed to the supplier which was very time-consuming and one could not always be sure that the order had reached its destination.  Daily ordering is now our standard practice and EDI has been such a boon to be able to send the order straight from the computer and have a response that it has been received.  Similarly electronic invoicing has saved hours for the warehouse staff.

There is not much to miss from the ‘old days’ – everything that gets a book into the hands of a customer so much faster is a bonus.  Computers have allowed us to search the world to find books for our customers and even if we can’t source them, we can tell them where the book can be purchased from.

From your perspective as a bookseller and shop owner, who are the unsung heroes in the book sector?

Apart from the well-known authors there are so many unsung heroes in the book sector –

  • the editors who discover the new bestsellers and promote them passionately;
  • the publishers who take a risk on an unknown author;
  • the bookstore staff members who hand sell good books and inspire customers to discover new authors; 
  • the reps who quietly encourage booksellers to stock their titles; 
  • the customer service people at our suppliers who work out the problems and cheerfully reassure us that ‘it’ is fixed; and 
  • the warehouse people who wrestle with new releases every month and help to get them on the shelves as soon as possible.

COVID created many difficulties for book retailers. What was your experience and what was the most valuable thing you learned in 2020?

We remained open for “call and collect” customers during the shutdown in Adelaide.  While the sales were dismal, it was so important to us to keep our loyal customers happy.  We also delivered books to some customers as we couldn’t rely on the speediness of Australia Post at that time. It was a difficult time but we all got fitter running up and down the stairs!   

Who do you credit for supporting you most in your career? What did they teach you?

I have had wonderful support from so many people that it is hard to limit it to one or two.  My reps have been a wonderful resource of ideas and encouragement.  My fellow franchisees have shared their ideas and successes and inspired me to try new things.  I have attended conferences in Australia and overseas and come home with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm.  And my staff have been wonderfully supportive – when I suggest something new and different they get onto it straight away.  After coming home from BEA several years ago one of my staff asked me the single most important thing I had learned from the workshops and I told her it was the importance of social media.  That afternoon we had a Twitter and a facebook account!  Our social media, which now includes an Instagram account as well, has been so successful in keeping our customers and others amused, engaged and informed about what we are doing. And we even get orders from these sites.  We often get lovely comments from authors whose books we have promoted.

And finally, what do you have planned for your retirement?

With regard to my future with books I am at last going to catch up on some reading.  I have enormous stack of books which I havebeen saving for just this time.  I am also going to continue with my wonderful book group which has had its home in the store forthe past couple of years. 

Congratulations, Mandy. We wish you all the very best and thank you for your service to the book industry.