All in the name of growing the number of readers in MalaysiaPublished on 14 February 2022
BookXcess has been hitting one impactful milestone after another since it established its first outlet in Amcorp Mall back in 2006. From opening its Gurney Paragon outlet in Penang, home to the tallest and longest bookshelf in Southeast Asia, to making history by launching Malaysia’s first 24-hour bookshop at Tamarind Square, this bookstore chain just keeps on breaking its own records.
Despite setbacks caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, BookXcess continues to launch jaw-dropping outlets like the Powder Room located in The Gardens Mall in 2021. This remarkable 2,000 square feet haven is designed as a sanctuary for women to unwind amidst the large variety of books available.
These outlets are just a fraction of its growing list of eclectic bookshops. Every BookXcess is architecturally distinctive and its interior designs are intentionally different from one another.
One of the most celebrated newest editions is no exception. Located in MyTOWN Shopping Centre, the store is laid out like a maze. We made our way through the strategically located large bookshelves that are set on pebbled and concrete floors to find the Piazza.
It is a spacious area situated at the rear end of the outlet, serving as an ideal place for customers to sit and chill while enjoying the amazing view of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. This section also doubles up as a co-working space with free Wi-Fi for people to enjoy. Here, we sat down with Jacqueline Ng, co-founder of this expanding book empire. Sipping hot coffee from the in-house café operated by Whisk Coffee Bar & Cakes, Ng beamed with pride when we gushed over the uniqueness of the outlet. “Architecturally I would say this outlet is quite interesting,” said Ng.
“It’s like a never-ending maze. There is this co-working space as well as a hidden art gallery in one big space,” she continued. As mentioned earlier, every BookXcess store is uniquely designed, and it’s not just for customers to snap Instagram-worthy photos. Ng and her husband, Andrew Yap started the business with a noble mission to create a new generation of readers. That vision continues to motivate their evolving business operations.
“From day one there wasn’t a real assurance on whether this business would succeed because it’s the first of its kind in Malaysia. We have always had that end goal of changing the world through books. If we touch someone’s life along the way and if we convert a non-reader to become one, it means we are on the right track.”
Many might not find a bookshop an exciting or interesting place to go, unless one is a reader. Their solution to this problem is to keep on creating eclectic yet functional spaces. Walking into a BookXcess outlet today is more like checking out a local attraction than going to a bookstore.
The impressive designs are often captured by Malaysians on various social media platforms and have garnered a huge following. The designs have also caught the attention of international media including Hong Kong-based online media platform 9GAG and British lifestyle portal Unilad.
The MyTOWN outlet emphasises their mission to innovate their business by creating a functional lifestyle space. Aside from the café, co-working space and hidden art gallery, this store is also home to Japanese restaurant Umi Tei. “This is the first time that we have incorporated a restaurant in the store itself, as well as the café. So that is how we want to turn the whole bookstore concept into more like a lifestyle concept,” Ng explained.
Most BookXcess outlets are in shopping malls, but due to the pandemic, many locals have resorted to online shopping. Despite relaxed restrictions, some might still refrain from going outdoors. Creating a lifestyle space makes more sense than just offering customers a regular retail space. “You need to be different, you need to make them curious, and you need to make them feel that it’s worth the trip.”
Latching on to the new working lifestyle trend, the co-working space in MyTOWN gives people another reason to visit BookXcess. Although their intention might not be to buy books, they now have a welcoming space where they can work, study and have small meetings. “Currently, we are not even charging customers like other co-working spaces that are opened as a business,” Ng said. By creating a lifestyle venue such as this, they hope to grow a community that will utilise all aspects of the outlet.
Ng admits that trying to outdo and surpass the creations of previous outlets poses different kinds of challenges. The MyTOWN store is by far one of the most challenging projects that have been done to date, especially when renovations were disrupted by the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) imposed in the first half of 2021.
While these challenges led to many setbacks, the show must go on. Ng and Yap are constantly driven to take their business to the next level by staying true to their mission of growing new generations of book readers. They constantly evolve according to the response they receive from customers. When they started the business, the main attraction was the affordable product prices. If you have shopped at a BookXcess outlet before, you would realise that it isn’t your average bookstore.
The prices of books in its outlets are at least half of what they are in regular retail bookstores. The reason for this is that BookXcess purchases remainder books at much lower prices, which means the cost-saving can be passed on to consumers. These books, however, are still in pristine condition, and they are not second-hand, damaged nor old. While the physical outlets do bring in profit, the biggest revenue comes from its annual Big Bad Wolf book sale.
The massive book sale successfully garnered enormous crowds. The large collections of books are sold at a lower price than their physical outlets. This explains why the huge volume of people that attend the sales event tend to purchase more than they usually would on a normal basis. An estimated number of two million books are sourced to pique the interest of their customers.
Sourcing for two million books isn’t a walk in the park. It takes them one year and several trips to overseas book festivals and warehouses to source for the large amount of books needed for Big Bad Wolf. “Before the pandemic, I used to travel to the UK (United Kingdom) four times a year and visit the US (United States) three times a year,” Ng said. “We also go to events like the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair,” she added.
Their efforts since launching Big Bad Wolf in 2009 have paid off, and not just financially. Big Bad Wolf has also helped them realise their mission to grow a new generation of readers and make books affordable for the masses. Their customers are vocal when it comes to expressing their appreciation for BookXcess, sharing positive testimonials online and in real life.
Ng recalled a loyal customer who attends Big Bad Wolf yearly. She would leave a note for Yap and Ng every time she comes by. “I still remember we arranged to meet her at the 10th anniversary of Big Bad Wolf in 2019 to show our appreciation. We listened to her story, and she told us she was a retired teacher and avid reader. As a pensioner, she couldn’t afford full-priced books. Her only source was Big Bad Wolf and she told us she prays that we will always have this business, as it makes reading affordable for people like her.”
Big Bad Wolf has indeed garnered a loyal following, even during the pandemic when the book sale takes place online. While it continues to generate good revenue, their focus lies on making their physical outlets a public attraction. Giving the outlets more purpose as a lifestyle and community space is slowly drawing in the crowd.
Constantly creating new spaces with exceptional designs is paying off as many have started recognising BookXcess outlets for their unique aesthetics. “When we started to switch the design around, people began realising that we are more than just a store with low book prices,” Ng said.
“Before the pandemic, there were even tour buses arriving at Gurney Paragon Mall bringing tourists to check out our store.” With support from organisations like Malaysia Airlines listing BookXcess as one of the reasons to visit Malaysia, there is just no stopping its continuous growth in the book industry.
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