“BOOKAFÉ? NEVER HEARD OF THEM,” I hear you say. Nor had I until an intriguing email landed in my inbox: Hello. We’d like to register with UKCBD…
Weird name, I thought, but I believe in living dangerously: I hit the link and found myself looking at a Portuguese website featuring a Christian bookshop and café in London. Google were on the case and offered to translate, but needn’t have bothered: there was an English language version available anyway, and the London venue turned out to have its own facebook page, twitter feed and youtube channel:
I use the term venue intentionally: it was immediately obvious that this was something more than just another Christian bookshop/café. With a few notable exceptions (Keith Jones Bournemouth, for example) Christian bookshops and cafés don’t tend to get many likes on facebook: this place, when I checked just before hitting ‘Publish’, had 697; most count themselves blessed if they get more than 100, whilst a handful make it to the heady realms of 400+.
So here’s my question for all of the Christian retailers out there struggling to draw in the crowds: what have BooKafé got that you haven’t? Why do BooKafé seem to be succeeding where Living Oasis — to cite the most obvious similar venture here in the UK — failed so spectacularly? How has this project managed to grow from its Latin American roots in just 5 years into the global phenomenon that it has now become, with some 300 venues in 19 countries?
One obvious difference, continuing the Living Oasis comparison, is that they’re not shy about their faith: Living Oasis set out to “de-Christianise” their shop windows; BooKafé are totally upfront with their Christianity — no one is going to wonder into a BooKafé venue and express surprise at discovering the faith basis. But that said, the same is true of most Christian bookshops and cafés: Living Oasis were an exception to that rule.
Is it something to do with up-to-date, customer-focused design and shopfitting? Volunteer staff, reducing overheads? Location? A vibrant atmosphere? Prayer? Or something else entirely?
I don’t know the answer; but I do know that next time I’m in London I plan to take a look, to visit and explore. If you’re in London, why not do likewise — and let us know what you discover?
One question remains: where next for BooKafé? There’s certainly plenty of space in other towns and cities here in the UK.