The Big Idea: Creating literary loyalty for the independent bookshop

The wall-to-wall shelves of Dan Ellis’s timeless bookshop in the heart of Whistler Village have been well stocked since 1982. As a family owned and operated business, it’s not just the location of Armchair Books that has stood the test of time — the philosophy at the heart of this business has always been to treat every customer like a dear friend.

Ellis has kept a loyal following of bookworms and ski bunnies by making them feel at home and comfortable with authentic and highly personalized service.

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“No pressure sales, just a genuine “hello” and let them make themselves comfortable. And when they need our assistance we attend to them with the same care you would if a friend asked you for a big favour.” said Ellis.

Fresh, current and a little quirky

The same care and attention is channelled into a sophisticated selection of novels, cookbooks, travel guides, magazines and a carefully curated collection of greeting cards.

“No one will come in (friends included), unless you have something good to offer. We strive to create an interesting and fun mix of books, cards and kids stuff,” said Ellis.

Shoppers can find shelves of unique reads and special attention given to local authors. The kids’ corner is stocked with puzzles, games, storybooks, fantasy adventures and epic series to entertain budding bookworms.

“We often hear from visitors that we have a great selection for such a small space, which is immensely gratifying,” said Ellis. “We try to keep our selection fresh and current, and sometimes a little quirky. Our kids’ section, in particular, with so many families living here and visiting here, receives a lot of attention.”

Routing readers in the right direction

As one would expect, this bookseller and his literature-loving team are often asked for assistance finding a special book or to offer a recommendation for a perfect read. Ellis has two simple, yet essential practices that are key to these regular requests. First, when a customer inquires about a book, Ellis and his team always fetch the selection for the customer or walk them to the book. Second, they ask thoughtful questions to find out precisely what the customer is interested in, so they can make meaningful reading recommendations.

“With a few initial questions to the customer, we can determine what they are specifically interested in, and we can then use our experience to suggest an appropriate book choice,” said Ellis.

Being respectful of his customers’ time and distinctive interests means that whether finding a certain book or helping with a recommendation, guests in the store are never left guessing.

Service that stands out

With independent bookshops becoming rare editions in an industry dominated by online retail and big box stores, it is increasingly important for Ellis to set Armchair Books apart. Ellis’s personalized service means he is flexible to cater to special requests like organizing a gift for someone in Whistler whose parents are ordering from the other side of the world. He will even hand deliver if someone can’t make it into the store. This includes free delivery to Squamish where

Ellis lives and is happy to deliver books on his way home.

“We try to separate ourselves from the ‘big box’ retailing world. Service the large retailers wouldn’t or couldn’t consider performing, we take on wholeheartedly,” he said.

Ellis on success through next level service

“Running a retail store has many challenges: inventory control, overhead costs, employees, competition, etc. I’m no business guru by any means, but assuming you have a measure of business acumen and a proven product, those challenges can be met. The next level of success, however, comes from firstly enjoying what you do and then providing a level of service unattainable by your competitors. Throw away the corporate rulebook of what you can or can’t do in a workplace and make your own rules. If you can deliver a book at 8 p.m. in Squamish, do it.”

Make business easy — tune in to The Big Idea, a bi-weekly column from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce showcasing a Whistler business innovating in their sector.

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