The little theater attached to the library in the town of Georgetown, Ontario, about a 45-minute drive west of downtown Toronto, is named for John Elliott, the father of Brenda Sisnett, president, CEO, and owner of the Georgetown Group. “My father was involved in politics, but he needed something else to do,” Sisnett says. “So in 1966, he took over a building and started picking, packing, and shipping books. I started in 1971 and it was supposed to be a three-month gig before I went off to Toronto to work in a bank, but I have been here ever since.”
The Georgetown Group has three divisions: Georgetown Terminal Warehouse does the distribution, including logistics, stock management, and back-office administration; Georgetown Publications offers sales and marketing services; and Elliott Custom Brokers facilitates import and export. Business is conducted out of an 80,000 sq.-ft. facility that has been added onto several times over the last half-century.
In all, the company counts 21 U.S., 17 Canadian, and three U.K. publishers as clients. Among its American clients is Hachette, for which Georgetown provides some specific distribution services. While it does not provide sales and marketing for Hachette, it does perform those services for seven U.S. houses under the Georgetown Publications banner. The company also provides freight forwarding for Simon & Schuster and ships books for Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada.
Larry Sisnett, who serves as president of Georgetown Publications and is Brenda’s husband, notes that the cost of distribution in Canada is greater than in the U.S. “The costs are higher because of the size of the country and the spread of the population,” he says. He feels that Georgetown’s competitive advantage over other, larger distributors is its personalized service and flexibility. “There are different models for what we do and we find that no publisher is the same, so we adjust to exactly what the customer wants.”
For example, at Georgetown, all invoicing is done under the publishers’ names. “We are one of the few distributors that do that, so sometimes we don’t get the credit for the distribution—we don’t win awards for it,” Larry says. “But it is our work and we are very proud of it.”
Over the years, Brenda has seen distributors come and go. And while she admits that the company has dabbled in work outside the publishing industry, she says: “We always come back to books. That is what our strength is—it is what we know best and what we do best. To us, the stabilization of the e-book business and the increase in the print business is good news. We are in the physical book distribution business and we love it.”