Monday, January 22, 2007

Bookshop Business

The Business section of yesterday's Star profiles Janice Yong, General manager of Berjaya Books, which holds the franchise for the Borders bookshops chain in Malaysia. Her first job was, of course, to oversee the opening of the flagship store in Berjaya Times Square.

She describes competition with the other bookshops is "fierce", so the bookshop had to make its mark from the beginning, and getting the concept right was vital. Thus:
We offer free browsing, a pleasant ambience and plenty of seats for people to settle down to read. We also don't wrap our books so people are encouraged to flip through our titles ...
She also cites competitive prices, the ability to source books from 1,200 stores around the world, and staff training as cornerstones of the company's success.

Borders now has three branches, with the second being at The Curve, and the third at Penang's Queensbay Mall - although business here is a little slower. More branches are planned ... and so is a customer loyalty card. (Collect the full set, why not?)

I blogged some time ago about the dreadful things bookshop customers do to books and raised the ire of blog-readers who (as I recall) offered I think to go and punch up those who dare to defile the hallowed tomes. An article in the New Sunday Times about the ugly side of Malaysian shoppers is a real shocker! According to Rodney Toh, manager of MPH's 1 Utama branch:
Even bookstores, the supposed meeting point of educated people, are not spared.

You can find torn books to crumpled origami figurines and carpets stained with urine and faeces. Rodney Toh, MPH Bookstores Sdn Bhd area manager in 1 Utama, has seen them all.

While children are the ones who usually damage the items, the biggest problem is parents who do not care, said Toh.

"I’ve seen a teenage boy cutting out a picture from a book and his parents just looking on without saying anything," he said.

Some parents also have no qualms about joining their children to do certain exercises in a workbook and then leave the store without paying for it.

"There are those who get very defensive when we point out that their children have mistreated our books."

Toh cited one incident where, instead of apologising for her four-year-old daughter who had ripped out the pages of a book, the mother faulted the staff "for not teaching children how to properly handle books".

Besides being a "library" to customers who read its books for free, MPH had also become "a nursery for some parents to dump their kids", said the company’s marketing manager, Renee Koh.

Children as young as four years old have been left behind for hours in MPH’s Kidszone by parents who go off shopping.

"In one of our stores some time back, a small girl cried for her parents for hours until she vomited. When I saw her, she was all alone in a pool of vomit. We had to clean her up and locate her parents — who were shopping without a care in the world," said Toh.

A child also once defecated at the Kidszone and a member of the staff had to clean up the place and replace the carpeting, he added.

Children could be forgiven for lack of supervision but when adults mistreated books, it became unacceptable behaviour, said Koh.

"Malaysians think they can always go to the competitor if we do not give them the service they demand.

"So they think nothing of it when they damage our goods, disregard our warning or exhibit rude behaviour."

He said a customer once tore a discount voucher and threw it at the cashier when he was told that he needed to make a purchase before he could get the discount.
Quite a few of you have said that your dream-job is to open a bookshop ... any second thoughts?

But as a little coda, I must add that the bookshop that caters for kids should really have a toilet in-store so "accidents" don't need to happen. (I used to work in a big toy-shop in Birmingham, and got quite handy with a mop and bucket.) And I really don't see why bookshops shouldn't have a supervised play area at weekends so parents can leave their offspring while they go elsewhere or just browse in peace.

And y'know, kids are customers too, and will grow into big customers one day with plenty of spending power. Get 'em hooked young ... even if they do pee on the floor.

25 comments:

sympozium said...

And Janice said she "has no time to read" or words to that effect...shame shame! A person running a bookshop who doesn't read? Please don't recommend ME any books! I'm sure she has no time to: watch TV, DVDs, shop, socialise, party...

Sufian said...

MPH.sells.book?

Dude!

Chet said...

>> “I just don’t have the time to do that, but I try to read books off our Top 10 list, whatever they may be,” she admitted.

Wot the eff!!

What really got to me was the whatever they may be.

bibliobibuli said...

"rice, sugar and ikan bilis" as raman said the other day. don't be naive. books are a commodity like any other and the folks who make decisions about them usually aren't readers. overseas the situation may be different ... but not necessarily.

if you want to buy from a booklover, head to silverfish or skoob. booklovers may also be grouchy though, be warned

sympozium said...

There was one young female worker in Borders KL who was very passionate about books and we got to chatting while she was arranging some books on the shelves, so the company isn't entirely staffed by commodity-traders, I hope! What irks me sometimes is the shop calling itself the largest Borders in the world and then filling up its space with a section selling fengshui kitcshy items and a Starbucks...
As for kids in bookstores and their parents: seeing them makes me once again an ardent supporter of abortion (for the kids AND their designer-clothes bedecked but still so jinjang parents!)

bibliobibuli said...

aiyoh sympozium - you crabby old thing! you were a kid once (i think!)

borders has very good staff - friendly, helpful and with an interest in books even if they don't have wide knowledge

and a bookshop needs a good coffee shop

Sufian said...

I have to agree with Sympozium. Kids & bookshop: Go back in time and sterilize the parents. Twice.

bibliobibuli said...

uggghhhhh ... if all the parents are steralised who is going to read your magnum opuses (or is opi?) in future???

Sufian said...

I guess i just have to clone myself, then.

I'm sure I'll get rave reviews :)

Anonymous said...

People who run bookshops are role models to people who read. Even if you don't read, you don't have to announce it to the world. Just say you love reading, only that you read selectively and only good books. Duh!

sympozium said...

Yes, I do sound crabby hahaha! But noisy kids with parents who think they are sooo cute pisses me off.

irene said...

Yeah I think the PR dept must be tearing their hair out right about now...

Regarding customers & rude behaviour: it's very common for people to take out their frustrations on the front desk or customer service staff. What's galling is that we are only following orders, hello! We don't make the decisions!

sympozium said...

So the bookseller says she has no time to read. Wonder when she was selling clothes she also said, "I have no time to put on clothes." ??? :-)

animah said...

Gosh. I better avoid all of you with my little one.
I thought when she said "bye bye" to all the audience really loudly during Leon's reading as we left Sek San's a couple of months back soooo cute!
She enjoyed Jit's reading as he had the word "bottom" a lot.
As a parent with no other choice, I guess I shall have to give all these gatherings a miss.

sympozium said...

Does Ms. J. Yong even know what title she's holding in her hand?? (By the way, dear, that's called a 'book' in case you had 'no time' to find out).

Anonymous said...

Only in Malaysia are people this honest. Anywhere else in the world, a bookseller would never admit to not having read a book :)

YTSL said...

Glad to find that I was not the only one who had kittens when reading that the "woman in charge of the Borders mega bookstores in Malaysia...attests to not being a bibliophile."

Somehow I can't imagine this being the case with regards to the person in charge of the Borders mega bookstores in, say, the U.S.A.

And people wonder why the reading levels of Malaysians are so low... :<

sympozium said...

That's why it Borders on disbelief. Like a restaurant manager saying he/she doesn't like food.

YTSL said...

The problem though is that, food services aside, I think this is an across-the-board problem in Malaysia. E.g, there appear to be plenty of cinema operators, film distributors and film programmers who don't love/watch films here. And magazine publishers and managing editors who don't read magazines (beside their own, if that). And museum curators who don't enjoy being in museums. And tourism czars, etc. who don't seem to have ever truly had the experience of being tourists. And road planners who don't seem to drive themselves. And...well, I had better stop here before I get so worked up that I spontaneously combust!

But getting back to the matter of bookstores: I must admit to already having an ethical, etc. problem with shopping in a bookstore (Popular, if you need to know) whose signs openly attest to its powers tha be not being able to tell the difference between biographies and autobiographies. And now this... :(

Anonymous said...

"Somehow I can't imagine this being the case with regards to the person in charge of the Borders mega bookstores in, say, the U.S.A."

That's because if they did they would not admit to it.I don't suppose there are not booksellers that are in it for the money. Same with restaurant owners or whatever, don't tell me people don't do things for money any more LOL :) it's just here that people will admit to doing it :)

PS. Yes, honesty is a very inconvenient problem isn't it ? :)

YTSL said...

"it's just here that people will admit to doing it :)"

Yeah, but not only/necessarily because they are honest but also because one gets the feeling that they really don't see anything wrong with being uninterested in the very product that their company trades in!

Anonymous said...

This item is topical. I went to the Times bookshop in Bangsar shopping centre on Saturday, and, as usual, the noise level was quite high. It occurred to me that parents were using it as a childcare centre. It also occurred to me that although it was a bookshop the noise level was much higher, than say, a sporting goods shop, British India etc etc. in the same shopping centre. I really don't like noisy children and people using hand-phones in bookshops. And MPH in Mid-Valley... Aaagh!!!

Anonymous said...

Borders sucks! The customer service was beyond the seventh gate of hell. The manager (who never READ any book) was truly a snob, as I had the experience of having to deal some matters with her! Down with Borders Malaysia.

P/S I've forwarded this article to his big bosses in US.

Chris said...

I'm disappointed that readers of a literary blogsite can make such aggressive comments about a new bookshop, and its manager. Another disappointing aspect of Malaysian behaviour...

Anonymous said...

People are weird sometimes. I mean, so she doesn't read, I mean, she sells books. You'd not except a grocer to like, for instance, onions just because she sells them, why should you expect a bookstore manager to like to read ?

Would people have preferred that she just pretended she wasn't in it for the money ? some bookstore owners in other countries appear to like books because they're faily good actors. Anyone can pretend to like books, especially if they're livelihoods are at stake. I'm amazed that people see honesty as a "problem".

It's true though that the reading public (and public in general actually) don't seem to think of places like exclusive restaurants etc. as places where kids shouldn't run around in. She pretty much said as much as well.