Many bookstores claim to be so much more, but in the case of Angela Franklin’s business, Chez Alpha Books, this is certainly the case. She has taken the concept of a bookselling business and elevated it into a truly multi-faceted learning and resource centre for those with a love of the English language and a need to access learning materials and language training resources in English.
At LoA, we love entrepreneurs with a real vision and mission, and Angela Franklin is taking her love of books and learning and turning it into a business that has great aspirations for the future of reading and study of English in Senegal.
What does your company do?
Chez Alpha Books is a dynamic resource centre featuring a bookstore with new multi-cultural fiction and non-fiction books with an emphasis on writers from The Diaspora or stories that highlight The Diaspora. In addition, our bookstore focuses on world literature and an array of academic resources. Unlike most bookstores, Chez Alpha Books also offers a go-to-resource centre for students and professionals of all levels, and is the only English language bookstore in Senegal. In addition to offering multi-cultural books in English, we provide English language training, and a lending library that allows students and families access to more than 2000 books in English for readers of all ages. Other services include English language training, including SAT and TOEFL prep, along with The College Club that provides university admissions assistance.
"I think that for black women the beauty of entrepreneurship is that it provides the opportunity to excel without always having to take into consideration that some people may be uncomfortable, or troubled by your ethnicity, commitment, sense of innovation, etc. As an entrepreneur, you can "be you" to the best of your ability."
What inspired you to start your company?
Whilst Senegal is a French speaking country, many years ago I did see a small but growing interest in English and at that time books in the language were very difficult to find. If we did find books they were often second-hand. However, we were creative as we organized book swaps, visited flea markets, etc. Because I am an avid reader and wanted to provide access to books in English, I decided to start a small book store space. It was not about denouncing the French language, but more about highlighting the importance of having access to a variety of reading materials in English. Most important, I really did want to highlight works related to The Diaspora. The second-hand books we could find were often romance or mystery novels, but I wanted to read a wider range of stories with an emphasis on works that related to Africa and her people.
Why should anyone use your services?
Someone recently told me that they have no reason to visit my bookstore as they have kindle. There was not time enough to explain that we often carry books that are not on kindle and that we are sourcing directly from those writers or smaller and less well-known publishers. A visit to Dakar should warrant a trip to Chez Alpha if you love books, alongside warm and hospitable customer service. Even if you are in Dakar on business for just a week, you can still visit the lending library and take a moment to read with us. Also, our College Club program is dynamic. We have supported many students in their university search and this can be in any region of the world. I have almost 20 years of experience in admissions and recruitment, and I use this experience to support our learners. We have even worked with students in neighbouring countries like Mauritania, Congo, Mali, etc.
"I have always loved small business development and believe that starting a small business is simply based on filling a niche or void, but most importantly having a passion for what you do."
Tell us a little about your team
Along with me, the team is composed of a well-trained local staff. We have two permanent staff and are in the process of identifying a third person. They are all female (additional lionesses!), however this was not deliberate but more a case of who could and would function effectively and respectfully with female leadership. I hire for basic skills such as computer literacy, language skills, etc., however I train on areas including customer service, professional dress, communication skills, and team building.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I came from a community focused on self-sufficiency. I was born in an all black community in Cincinnati, Ohio. Due to past ideologies of segregation, when I was born we were a community that focused on taking care of ourselves. There was a focus on having a small business or extra job to bring in additional income. I have always loved small business development and believe that starting a small business is simply based on filling a niche or void but most important having a passion for what you do. I am passionate about reading, literacy, community education, international education,etc. so this was a logical solution.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Having spent several years in the development and implementation of international start-up branch campuses, I sometimes ponder transitioning Chez Alpha into an educational institution. If not this, then I would certainly like to see us grow in a sustainable manner with increased community activities for readers and learners of all ages.
"Choose your team carefully. The people working for you may never have the same 24/7 commitment you have, but certainly they should share the vision and be committed."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I think that for black women the beauty of entrepreneurship is that it provides the opportunity to excel without always having to take into consideration that some people may be uncomfortable, or troubled by your ethnicity, commitment, sense of innovation, etc. As an entrepreneur, you can "be you" to the best of your ability.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Choose your team carefully. The people working for you may never have the same 24/7 commitment you have, but certainly they should share the vision and be committed. Also, remain forever humble in what you have accomplished through sweat and determination as it could be gone tomorrow. It is not the physical space of the business that defines your success, but the ability to transition this idea and the next one into reality. Vision is imperative!
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Why LoA loves it….
There is something truly inspirational about women who want to make their communities and their countries better places, providing more opportunities for people to learn and fulfil their potential. Angela Franklin, and her wonderful business which is so much more than simply a bookstore, is a great example of someone with a real passion who is turning that into a chance to make a difference to so many others. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa