Mr. Mayi Gowda, an affable man with an infectious spirit, doesn’t look like a guy who would give troubles to the big brands like Landmark or Crossword. Neither his quaint store, Blossoms Book House, seem to be a competitor for big book houses. But in truth they are. Mayi Gowda, an engineer by profession, decided to start Blossoms book house in 2001, for his sheer love of books. Nobody would have thought that this small book house then in Brigade gardens, Bangalore, would become in future the most comprehensive collection of titles in Bangalore. Blossoms book house tagged as “the treasure trove of used books” not only swept the second hand book market, but also pulled a fair share of “first-edition” customers from the big chain book houses like Landmark or Crossword. Through a combination of attractive prices and innovative management, Mayi Gowda gave Bangalore the perfect alternative to both the roadside cheap-but-illicit book vendors and the costly big book houses. The store is now very popular with bibliophiles in Bangalore, its fame spreading only by word-of-mouth. As a patron of Blossoms book house, I was curious to know more about the man behind this success story. Mayi readily accepted for the interview and on the fixed date and time, we sat down in a corner of the psychology section of his book house, surrounded by the sea of books. Before going to excerpts of the interview, about Blossoms and its proprietor.
VP: You are an electrical engineer by education and you have worked in GE for a while. What prompted you to change your profession and start a book shop?
MG: I love books and I read a lot. I used roam around Bangalore a lot (when I was in college) in search of second hand books. But I found that the stores had a very small collection of say, a hundred or one hundred and fifty books. That’s it. So I thought: why not start a book store? And the economy was also looking down a bit and I wasn’t getting a great salary in GE as well. So I thought this could be a nice business option for me. And I had a huge personal collection of books; over 1500 books. So I rented a small space and started Blossoms.
VP: That’s quite a huge collection! You must love books a lot
MG: Yes, yes (smiles). I used to read lots and lots of books when I was in college. Book reading is fun and so is Book selling. I don’t get the happiness I get out of this work in any other profession. I don’t have time to read books these days but I am happy making other people read (laughs).
VP: What was the initial reaction of your family when you talked about your plans to them?
MG: They were initially upset. They asked me why an engineer should take such a risk and start a bookshop when other options are there. But now they are very happy given the growth Blossoms has had in the past few years.
VP: When you started Blossoms in 2001, what is the brand you envisioned for your book house? Do you think Blossoms has achieved it today?
MG: All books under one roof. That was my target. The customer should get any book in Blossoms; And that too for a competitive price. No customer should go back without what he wanted or he shouldn’t go to another book house after coming to Blossoms. That’s why we started selling first edition books also even though we identified ourselves as the “treasure trove of used books”. And I think we have maintained this brand value very well. I can see this from the customer’s responses. It has been very good.
VP: You didn’t have any prior experience in book business. This was a completely new domain of business for you. How did you approach the various aspects of business like book classification, inventory management? Did you emulate the business models of any other book house like Landmark or Crossword?
MG: No, I haven’t seen any other big book house brands before that. I guess it is just experience. Over the long span of time, we have acquired a lot of know-how about it only by hands on experience.
VP: When Blossoms was started, Landmark and Crossword were also setting up their outlets in Bangalore. Did you think such big chain book stores will hurt your business?
MG: No. I didn’t bother about them at all. I knew that the clientele we will be serving will be very different. Their customers and our customers are different.
VP: But on the hindsight, you have been hurting their business. Blossoms has cut down their share of market considerably; you have pulled a few of their customers out. What advantages do you think Blossoms has over the big brands?
MG: Attractive prices mainly. And then there are other advantages like our “buyback” system. Customers can return the books and we will buy them back at 50% of the original price. Big brands will not have the collection of some old classics. For example, The Sudden series of books by Oliver Strange or Frank Richard’s Billy Bunter will not be available with Landmark or Crossword. They can’t procure it even if they dole out Rs 5000 for a single book. But in Blossoms, you can get any rare classic. It is the place for rare classics. Then another advantage is that we have the same title at different prices. A customer can take a first edition or if he wants something cheap, he can get a used book of the same title. That’s all I can think of. But I guess as a frequenter of this shop you will know better than me (laughs).
VP: Now that you have mentioned used books, how do you manage the inventory of used books? Considering that used books procurement can be tricky, not all books might be available all the time.
MG: Yes, it is. But used book sales people are all over the world. And they form a sophisticated informal network within them. With the help of this network, we will be able procure any title with ease. Then there is the buyback offer I mentioned earlier.
VP: Coming back to the bigger brands. Blossoms has proved that aesthetics in book houses is not as important as the bigger brands believe. What do you think is essential for a book store to flourish?
MG: Availability of books! As I said before if all books are available that too in an affordable price, no customer will go to another shop. Availability builds customer trust and is the key to customer retention.
VP: You have had a lot of success over the past few years. But did you have turbulent times in the past with Blossoms? Can you share your experience about that?
Well, initially when we were in our old place, we had a few problems. We had to pay the publishers for the procurement, but books would not have left our shelves at all. So there was a bit of crunch time for us. But things got sorted out and we didn’t have much of trouble after the initial two years.
Q: Now to your business secret! How are you able to give attractive discounts while bigger brands find it unprofitable to do so?
Basically our margins are low because we give discounts. But we offset that with the quantity. We sell more books and we maintain the profit somehow. Landmark or Crossword cannot do so because their business model is different; in fact costly. The rent of their showrooms, the salaries to employees, maintenance; all these make it difficult for them to maintain low margins even if they pay lower procurement prices (than us) due to the huge quantity they purchase.
Q: Blossoms has always been keeping up with the trend. Recently you have started your online booking store. How is it going? How is the future for online trading of books?
Well, it is slowly picking up. But I don’t think there is a good prospect for this in the near future. People always like to come directly to book shops, relax their mind, browse through the shelves and feel the books in their hands, before buying it. Book buying is just more than just payment and delivery. May be in future it might pick up. But it may be never be as popular as coming directly to a book store and buying a book.
Q: What is the future of e-books? Do you think e-books will affect book business?
I don’t think e-books will replace print books. Holding the book in hand and reading is a more enjoyable experience than reading e-books. Even in future if PDAs or cell phones come up with good e-book reader software, I don’t think people will be comfortable with it. Technology has improved a lot in the past few years and e-books have already become rampant but still print industry is unaffected. And I think it will not be affected in near future.
VP: The last question. What are your future plans for blossoms? Say, expanding to other cities or a publishing house?
MG: Well, I haven’t thought in a very long term. But in 5 or 6 years we want to move to our own place, a bigger and better place. I haven’t thought about 15-20 years down the lane. We will take things as they come by.