“He could have become the current Amazon, if he had been ambitious! “Benjamin Duquenne, 45, says it with a smile but we understand there is some truth to it. We bet that if it had created the French equivalent of the American giant, its operation would have been very different from that of Jeff Bezos’ company. Because the director of Book Hémisphères, a collective interest cooperative society (SCIC), an integration company, approved ESUS (solidarity company of social utility), non-profit, embarked on the adventure almost despite himself, with always stuck the body the imperative of injecting a social vocation.
“It is ingrained in us, explains Benjamin Duquenne. Since the creation of the first Livrenpoche company, this has been the case. Although it is an LLC, it has always been virtuous. This is not a “normal” business. »
The adventure began in the late 1980s. Benjamin Duquenne lives in the Dordogne with his parents and reads a lot… “There wasn’t much to do, he says. My mother wanted to get rid of a small shelf of paperback books that had a number on them. I have a “collector squirrel” side: I recovered the missing numbers and read the books in the paperback collection in order, up to 150me…That’s the real trigger. Because the future director accumulates books and, in the late 90s, he asks two computer friends to put his collection online. He created the Bibliopoche site, which is still active and has become a database in pocket format.
“What if we sold books on the Internet…”
Internet readers quickly question the founder of the site because they are looking for titles. “We said to ourselves: ‘What if we sold books on the Internet…?’”, summarizes Benjamin Duquenne. He starts with duplicates of his collection and then expands the possibilities by buying lots in Emmaüs, at the Secours populaire. In 2001 he created the company Livrenpoche. “Second-hand books were then a niche market,” recalls the director. Even Amazon did nothing when there was real demand. If we had wanted to pull out all the stops, raise money, it could have been a rocket launch…”
Self-taught from A to Z, Duquenne is a pioneer, “by chance and without ambition” with the goal of living from his passion and his work independently. “When I started, I did 8 banks and 7 insurance companies. As soon as I uttered the word Internet, there were exclamations! And when I opened the account for online payment, I was the third in the bank… It seems that it was 50, but it is 20 years old! For a year he didn’t pay himself, raised £50,000 from two houses and worked from home before hiring a part-time employee. For ten years, Benjamin Duquenne worked nonstop.
In 2010, it was the creation of Book Hémisphères with a “triple objective: to participate in sharing the passion for books and reading for all, to be a provider for Livrenpoche and other professionals, and to have a local insertion resonance”. The new associative structure moved to premises in the small town of Kervignac, in Morbihan, and hired two project managers and two integration employees. The braderíos are launched, which are still in force today every last Sunday of the month, bringing together 500 to 600 people.
1.3 million euros of turnover
Livrenpoche and Book Hémisphères grew in parallel until their merger in 2018 under SCIC status. The team is very involved in the company: “We have started monthly meetings with all the employees. We offer them an assessment: what is good, what can be improved, what they would like, concrete actions to be implemented in the coming weeks… Everyone participates, they express themselves. It allows everyone to find ideas and be valued in their work. It is very collaborative. Salaries are also homogenized according to skills. That of the director is even voted by the board of directors, of which the employees are part.
The company now has 24, including 11 in integration, all meeting since 2020 at 1600mtwo new premises in artisan area. The activity is divided between Internet sales -55% of turnover through Livrenpoche and 15% through marketplaces-, and direct sales, which represent 30% of turnover, through liquidations, the recent boutique and sale to professionals. Every month, Book Hémisphères collects 80,000 donation books, compared to 40,000 3 years ago.
In 5 years, turnover has doubled with nearly 1.3 million euros in 2021 and €10,000 in profits. Facing strong competition, Book Hémisphères diversifies. First of all, it is not limited to barcoded books, which are easier to process, but it “takes everything” with a very high recycling rate. “99.5% of everything that happens ends up being recycled,” says the director. 45% of the books are put back into circulation, the rest is recycled. We have a social and environmental focus. The company also differentiates itself from its competitors by offering decorations, books by the meter, magazines in development, etc.
Above all, in January 2022, Book Hémisphères opened a new location in Carhaix that gives the company a regional resonance. By developing its book collection activity in Brittany, it increases the stock present at Livrenpoche and expands the integration company with two employees in addition to the branch manager, with another two hires scheduled for the summer. This antenna will also become a logistics platform for other companies, ideally linked to the social and solidarity economy.