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How I went from being a data analyst with HP to owning the local bookshop

A cup of coffee changed my path, writes Cian Byrne during Irish Book Week.

IF YOU HAD told me two years ago that I would be working in my father’s bookshop today, my answer would have probably been telling you to take a hike.

Back then, I was paddling my own canoe so to speak, but here I am now, unpacking boxes of fresh books, stacking shelves and loving it.

Life is funny like that.

Two years ago, I was working for HP as a business forecaster, forecasting worldwide sales for printer cartridges, while studying towards a master’s in Data Analytics. As far as I was concerned, that was my fit. My future was in American multinationals with all the positives and negatives that brings.

I hadn’t counted on the negatives hitting me so suddenly.

In February 2017, HP announced that they were pulling out of Ireland with the loss of all 500 jobs. To say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement, having found out just a couple of weeks earlier that my wife was expecting our first child.

Things were changing.

When I started in HP in 2011 jobs were few and far between. The job market in 2017 was a completely different kettle of fish. I was now a Data Analyst; catnip for recruiters. My next step was decided.

I lined up another multinational, ready to start as soon as my redundancy date came. Then a cup of coffee changed my path.

My father has worked in the book trade for over 40 years. In 1985, he took over the bookshop in St. Patricks College, Maynooth. Three years later, he opened The Maynooth Bookshop, in the centre of what was then a village, to try to level out the extreme seasonality of the university book trade.

Over a cup of coffee and a chat with Dad on a Saturday morning, the realisation that with no succession plan at some point both of those shops would be gone hit me.

Those two shops had been a massive part of my life. I spent every morning before school in the university shop with my dad, sometimes helping, more often sitting in his chair with my feet on the desk pretending to be the boss (that’s what an eight-year-old thinks the boss does).

The idea that they would be gone was unfathomable.

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So here I am. As I write this, I have spent just over a year working between the two bookshops. To say it’s different is cutting it mild.

I have yet to hear someone talk about a teambuilding event, an end-of-year review, or even, heaven forbid, how going forward we will need to leverage scalable potential.

On the flip side, I’ve no pension, bonus or free cups of coffee but hey, swings and roundabouts.

Fifty+ hour weeks in the shops are the norm and the rest of the time I’m thinking about them, trying to grow our social media presence or updating our website.

Sleepless nights have become a regular event, but I’m getting over that by sending myself middle-of-the-night emails of the things that are swimming in my head.

We have nine full-time staff and a number of part timers who rely on the doors
staying open. I’m IT support, marketing, customer service, logistics and maintenance depending on the day of the week and the issue at hand. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

It might sound like I’m regretting this career change but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every day is different. I can make changes and see the results almost straight away; if it works we keep it, if it doesn’t move on and try something else.

I have rediscovered my love of books and bookshops.

I’ve been banned from bringing more books home so I have a “to be read” pile on my
desk. Anywhere I go now, I seek out the local bookshop. Independent bookshops are as unique as the people who own them, each one has something different.

The bookseller’s passions seep from the shelves. I guarantee we have the best selection of bee books in an indie shop thanks to my father’s other love, beekeeping.

As I’ve written this, I have tried to think of what the point of my story is.

I guess there are two things.

Firstly, when I was made redundant I never expected to end up where I am now. It was the kick up the behind I needed – to see what was right in front of me and it’s a decision I will never regret.

I hope it might inspire someone else to take a leap of faith onto a different path.

Secondly: support your local shops.

Bookshops, jewellers, motor factors, clothes shops or whatever they might be. Local businesses pay commercial rates, taxes, water charges, employ people in local
economies, and turn our main streets into bustling centres.

It might not be possible to buy local every time you need something, but if even 10% of the usual traffic going to offshore online retailers went to local shops, it would give a massive boost to the local economy.

For me, I’m planning some blue-sky thinking and going forward I’m looking to leverage scalable potential. I’ll kick the habit soon.

Cian Byrne is on the Committee of Bookselling Ireland, whose inaugural Irish Book Week is taking place this week (until 2 November. The Maynooth Bookshop will be hosting a reading with children’s author Alison Healy on 1 November and a book signing with author Donal Ryan on 3 November.

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