Journal of authenticity

The blue-eyed barbarian travels the world to meet some of the most authentic small businesses and brands. His aim is to collect and share their experiece with the ones who are only on the beginning of the road.

Story #2. Ten years of Cinnober bookshop in Copenhagen

Words by the blue-eyed barbarian. Photos by Alla Hetman.

 
 
 

It was 10 years ago when Ulla Welinder, a graphic designer then, started Cinnober, a stationery and books shop in Copenhagen. Books are meticulously selected amongst international visually inspiring editions on design, architecture, and art. Calm vibes are obvious immediately as you take your stairs down to the shop – you are met by raw white walls, as if you were on a Greek island, Leonard Cohen's calming voice in the background and the owner herself on the counter greeting you. We explored how Ulla Welinder built this sanctuary, how she finds time for excellent mailings and where the business is moving next.

 
 

Pick a central place

The shop sprang in the old city center near Trinitatis Church with its grand circular tower. "We have for several years been considering opening a specialized paper shop but have felt that Copenhagen might be too small for such a shop. Many considerations and even more turnabouts have led us to reconsider, and then we have opened our own version, a paper-and-book-shop." – says Welinder.

The first clients came right from the street windows. Welinder noticed that sometimes people like to come there for the need for calmness in the noisy city centre. Here's what she said about the creation of such a place:

 
 
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Build connections with press

Right after Cinnober opened its doors Welinder sent out a letter for the press. The letter headed to local Danish magazines and newspapers. Happily, one of them, a very good one, responded and did make an article about a shop.

Now some magazines come and ask some books for photo-shootings, for Christmas issues, for example. Welinder says they are welcome. In return, magazines always mention Cinnober in editorials.

 
 

Curate with deep feelings and an expertise

Cinnober has a special place among Copenhagen bookshops as the collection is meticulously curated. Every book passes through Welinder's hands: she says that the book has to bring the right feelings to her personally – that way it goes to the collection. After a career in graphic design that intuition is just what needed.

 
The center of our attention will, however, be the books. In our universe, a book about visual arts has to be fascinating and vibrant and should send shivers up your spine. For this reason, we find it essential to visit the book fairs and to experience the books alive. It is only through this hands-on approach that we can discover if a new book really gives inspiration as well as pleasure.
— Ulla Welider in an interview to geshtalten.com

Welinder travels to book fairs a lot. To Frankfurt and London for bi-annual traditional fairs. She also visits Stockholm, Paris and tries to see local publications, absent in established book-houses.

Regular updates

Back at home Cinnober hosts exhibitions of artists and publishers if they are produced in Denmark. Last year there were six events, now there'll be the third this year. The events happen just when artists come to the shop and tell their idea. Next week, for example, there will be an exhibition of a photographer. A publisher has made a book with his pictures and it will be released at the same time. Thus there'll be a reception.

How to make events not commercial, so that people will want to pay a visit? Welinder's advice:

 
Try to make them personal. Each time there is a person, for example, a photographer. The people who come are from his circle: family, friends. That way it is not very commercial. He comes, says hello to the people and starts the exhibition. People have some drinks and celebrate.
— Ulla Welinder
 
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A consistent and relevant newsletter

Cinnober has a monthly newsletter. Welinder writes in a very personal way about the books, makes personal reviews. There's always a theme. The October, for example, was about the impermanence of life and autumn changes. November was about returning home, having a dinner and a cozy place. Welinder uses her overtime for a few days to write this. Also, people get invitations to the events by the newsletter. Welinder has been doing this almost from the beginning – for the 9 years now. There are now 2500 people in the list.

 
 
Experience the letter fully  here >

Experience the letter fully here >

 

How do people get in your newsletter? They write their credentials in a notepad on the cashier desk.

 
 

Go meet the world

Cinnober went to participate in design fairs in the beginning. "For five years, it was a huge work and really expensive. It could have been five, ten thousand Euros, but it was remarkable to experience the people outside the shop. You also have to make sure you can pass so many books through your desk." – shares Ulla Welinder.

Online business

Cinnober used to have a webshop that sold books and paper to Danish customers. However, so many tourists have been asking if they could get have books delivered home. Hence Welinder has invested in a new webshop that can expand Europe-wide. She plans to grow the business without leaving the shop: "I like the pace and that I have time with customers."

 
At the end you don’t know what exactly is effective for the business. You just have to work really hard. And without passion you wouldn’t enjoy that path very much. When I travel and find books I am very very happy. And also when I am here in shop although I’ve been here for so many hours.
— Ulla Welinder
 
 

The blue-eyed barbarian explores authentic businesses worldwide, documents their success stories in this Journal of Authenticity and spreads the most fruitful practices in regard to business development, communications, and creative solutions. Here's more stories you might like: