Tuesday, 28 September 2021
CHRISTIAAN JONKERS and his wife Sam are the proprietors of Jonkers Rare Books in Hart Street, Henley. The couple lived in Henley for 20 years before moving to Lower Assendon where they now live with their daughters, Charlotte and Annabel. Christiaan is a keen cricketer, loves a good Burgundy and has a passion for music and, of course, books.
Describe your business
We buy rare books and then sell them. We scour the world for rare books, helping private collectors and institutions build great collections.
How many people does it employ?
What did you do before you started this business?
I was still at school when I began collecting cricket books purely for my own interest. My father, who is an artist, had a book collection and my uncle had a large collection of rare books, so I was surrounded by books from an early age and learned what made them special. While at Oxford University (I read maths at Lady Margaret Hall), I began sourcing books for other people. I met Sam at a bookshop in Bolton run by her parents. I began to see the potential of making a living out of something I loved doing.
When did you start your business?
We opened our shop in Hart Street in 2001. We were on the opposite side of the road until we moved in 2016.
What was your objective?
I never really had a specific objective and the business has simply evolved. When we began I was particularly interested in early 20th century literature and I felt the market didn’t sufficiently value copies in excellent condition. I found that, for a comparatively small premium, I was able to buy the finest copies for which buyers were willing to pay a much greater premium. The market has since moved on significantly and most of the books are worth many times what I sold them for in the early days.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I’ve always done my own thing.
What would you do differently if you were starting again?
I really can’t think of anything. I had the good fortune to start just before the internet took off and had to learn in the old -fashioned way, which has stood me in good stead. These days it’s so easy to research online and I don’t think the information stays in one’s head in the same way as it did for me.
How is your business doing?
It has grown consistently and this year is in particularly rude health.
How do you market your business?
We are still relatively niche so word of mouth is the main source of new clients. We have many established clients, some of whom live locally.
What’s the best thing about running your business?
Someone once asked me “what time do you finish?” and I replied, “anytime I like”! That isn’t always true but it illustrates the freedom that comes with running your own business.
What’s the most challenging thing?
Being able to delegate. Sam and I built the business around our visions so it is quite difficult to let go at times. I’m getting better at it gradually.
Where is your business heading?
I’ve never been one for looking ahead. We are very happy as it is. Having said that, we are always trying to innovate.
How important are online sales?
They account for only about 10 per cent of our turnover but the internet is a good source of marketing. We have an innovative website and receive orders daily.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
It is important to stick to your vision in spite of any distractions.
What advice would you offer someone starting a business?
Be under no illusions — it will be very hard work so you must genuinely enjoy what you do.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
None that has made an obvious impact.
What’s the secret of your success?
Being disciplined about looking after the margins and doing what I enjoy.
What three qualities are most important to being successful?
Self-discipline, willingness to work hard and a fair dose of luck.
How organised are you?
I’m woefully disorganised. Fortunately, we have a fantastic team of staff who are much more organised.
How do you dress for work each day?
Generally I dress to feel comfortable. Sometimes it’s a suit, other times flannels and a blazer.
What can’t you be without at work each day?
A daily report, even when I’m on holiday.
Desktop or mobile/pad?
I use both and I never go anywhere without my mobile phone.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
A mixture of both.
Do you continue to study?
Yes. One of the great appeals of our business is that there’s always something to learn.
What do you read?
All sorts but when reading for recreation, early 20th century British literature.
How are you planning for retirement?
Booksellers never retire! I haven’t given it much thought other than the obvious pension contributions. This is a business which would be easy to scale down eventually.
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