Women That Inspire: Nancy Traversy
With a background in business and finance – and coming came from a family that was “very artistic” — after graduating with a business degree and working for Price Waterhouse, Nancy discovered her love of design. She worked in the design industry in London for several years, learning to run a small creative business. Melding these interests put her on an entrepreneurial – and creative – path…and when she met her business partner, Tessa Strickland, magic happened.
“When I first started I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry,” shares Nancy. “So I met Tessa, and Tessa had been in Random House, and Penguin, very large publishing houses — so knew it from her perspective in the department that she worked, in editorial – but didn’t really know anything about running a small business.”
The two formed the venture that was to become Barefoot Books – and from the start Nancy knew they had to be innovative in their strategy. “I came at it from a perspective of, I’m not going to play the traditional publishing game; it was quite a slow moving industry, and very traditional…and we never really played by the rules,” she remembers. When they set up the business in 1992, Nancy recalls deciding they wanted to “connect directly with our customers. So we found everyone we knew, and we did our first mail-order catalogue – and nobody back then was even doing mail-order, it wasn’t done.”
Rather than selling to bookstore chains and suppliers, they developed their own way of marketing and selling their books. In 1996, they were the first British publisher with a website — thanks to the prodding of her husband.
“My husband said, ‘I know what you need – you need to get a website!’…and I’m going, ‘whatever dear,’” Nancy laughs. “So he meanwhile quietly sat in the basement and built me a website. I think we had it up for a year before anyone really looked at it, because we didn’t really know what he was talking about.” From there on, working from home, they took advantage of the growing e-commerce industry. They also decided to set up a “lifestyle website” – offering birthday party ideas, gift-wrap, and recordings of their books. Finally they opened their “Barefoot Studios” – bookstores with a “community center” feel — that offer storytelling, music, and crafts, where families can go together to experience their unique Barefoot books brand.
But, it hasn’t always been easy, Nancy admits: “I have had a lot of setbacks in twenty years; my mantra is really, perseverance. And really, I think the single most important thing that I’ve done is believed in the books we’re making. I knew that they were special.”
“I’ve often said when times when times have gotten incredibly tough, and they certainly have — I’ve had times with bankrupt warehouses with all my books and money, and I’ve had a near plane crash – everything that could possibly go wrong over the past twenty years probably has,” she adds. “I’ve often stopped and chatted with my husband and said, ‘well, if everything goes up in a puff of smoke, at least I’ve created something that’s meaningful and made a lot of kids happy – and we’ve created 500 beautiful books.’ In terms of challenges, it’s continuing to believe in the product you’re making, and continuing to be an innovator.”
When asked if she could have done it without the partnership she’s had with Tessa, she’s resolute. “No. Absolutely not. I think what’s lovely about my relationship with Tessa is that we’re both very, very, different people, and we don’t always see eye to eye; as Tessa once said, it’s the grit between the oyster and the pearl. It was just a really lovely partnership,” says Nancy – noting that it’s their individual talents brought together that’s made Barefoot work, and that “none of them could exist without each other.”
That partnership has also extended itself to a larger community of people who not only love the books — but are able to generate income by selling Barefoot books, as well.
Nancy notes, “Our Ambassador program has also really kept me going all these years, because we’ve met these wonderful women who are all very, very different. Some of them are literacy experts, and some of them home-school, some are passionate artists, some are musicians and some are chefs – all these different women. I’ve got to know them as my friends over the years. So that’s what keeps you going as well.”
When asked what “hope” means to her, Nancy is thoughtful. “That’s a good question. Hope in the world; I think it gives me hope that things are getting back to basics now. I feel like, with all the crazy stuff going on in the world, I think this idea of getting back to simple community, grass roots – people caring about those values again. The idea of farmers markets having a resurgence, people not just worrying about materialistic things. And what gives me hope, in our case, is to see a group of intelligent, creative women supporting each other to find their path.”
For more information on Nancy Traversy, the Barefoot community, and their Ambassador program, visit Barefoot Books.