Best Managed Companies 2021

Book Depot

Discount books are flying off the shelves during the pandemic

The mural inside the Book Depot warehouse in Thorold, Ont., depicts a scene of wall-to-wall shelves and stacks of books so high they look as though they’re ready to topple. Painted by artist Tim Nijenhuis, the display is a tribute to Book Depot’s core purpose: “enchanting the mind.”

A key resource for families, schools, libraries, non-profits and independent and major retailers, Book Depot sells bargain books from its inventory of publishers’ yet-to-be-loved overstock at 75 to 90 per cent off their list prices, making its biggest direct competitor none other than Amazon itself. In fact, with its direct-to-consumer brands — Book Outlet, Lillypost and Kidsbooks.com — and its business-to-business operation, Book Depot offers one of the largest selections of bargain books on the wholesale market.

In business for more than 30 years, Book Depot has held steady as publishing has evolved, and that has meant shifting focus from “what we do” to “why we do it.” The “why,” says CEO Wilf Wikkerink, is about fostering a passion for reading and providing value so people can afford that enrichment — for their kids and for themselves. “As a company that ships books to more than 80 countries, we believe we are positively impacting the lives of millions across the globe,” he says. “A book can fill the home with laughter and joy.”

That focus had never resonated more for the company than when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and millions of Canadians became homebound and desperate for entertainment. Book sales were suddenly booming and the number of daily customers was “unprecedented,” but Book Depot was prepared after years of investing in technology, making the advertising, selling and delivery processes efficient.

With a focus on smaller markets, Book Depot has seen long-term growth that Wikkerink says is the legacy of founder John Hultink, a Dutch immigrant who came to Canada with his family following the Second World War. “Like many people across Europe, [Hultink’s family was] looking for a fresh start,” says Wikkerink. “To leave your country behind and start over takes hard work, sacrifice and determination, which is the embodiment of our core values.”