In an effort to bring the book publishing business back to its glorious days, before the streaming platforms enticed customers, the bookstore chain Crossword set itself an ambitious goal. These include a new focus on children’s books, cementing an omni-channel play, increasing the number of stores and launching private labels across different categories.
According to industry estimates, bookstore business grew at an annual rate of 9-10% before the epidemic, but in 2020, the growth was about 5%. Akash Gupta, CEO and MD of Crossword Bookstores, said, “A large part of the business has also gone online. But in 2021, business is back to normal. Worldwide, the number of independent booksellers and bookstore chains is growing For example, Waterstones, Burns & Noble, and Dimax have returned to profitability over the past year, as original books have “returned to fashion”, and e-book and Kindle sales have reached a plateau. In India, e-books do not find many buyers except upmarket readers / passengers.
The biggest threat has always been online book shopping, especially on Amazon. “Traditionally, as a physical retailer, we lag far behind everyone else in terms of omni-channels and e-commerce,” Gupta said. Crossword is now expanding its omni-channel game, with plans to launch a new app and redesign its website in the next six to nine months. The company hopes to differentiate itself by further curating its website as a community for book lovers. “We want to be some Goodreads, some Amazon and some our physical store,” Gupta said.
Late last year, Shoppers Stop sold the crossword bookstore to its largest franchisee, Pune-based Agarwal Business House (ABH) for `41.6 million. Under the shoppers’ stop, crosswords prioritized high-margin, non-book categories such as toys, electronics and accessories, while book contributions to overall revenue shrunk by about 55% over the years. Under ABH, this number is already at 65%, with the rest evenly divided between toys and stationery.
According to Gupta, the contribution of books to the overall income could touch 70%. The purpose is, obviously, again to have Hero Books as the primary product.
In the book universe, children’s books will be the lion’s share of attention. “Most of these are discovered in stores,” Gupta said. “While not necessarily a high-margin business, children’s books are our largest category, accounting for about 38% of all books.”
Going beyond the book, Crossword plans to launch its own personal label in sections such as toys and stationery within the next nine months. “Families still want puzzles, board games, education toys or premiums, exclusive stationery and gift items,” Gupta said. The company plans to expand its publishing line, The Right Place, to help first-time authors publish.
For FY23, Chain, which has 80 stores, plans to launch 19 new stores It has recently opened two stores in Lucknow, the third with Nehat. Apart from the main metro, it is present in cities like Nagpur, Nasik, Udaipur, Bhopal and Siliguri. “Our vision is to have 300 stores in different formats. Our network will also help with Last Mile online delivery, ”said Gupta.
In addition to entering second tier cities like Patna, more stores are being planned within the metros. “There are many cities that we have not yet fully entered,” Gupta admits. In Delhi, for example, the company currently has only one store. Crossword currently claims to have a run rate
150 crore, with estimates of taking it up to160 crore by the end of the current financial year. “Brand crossword turnover is estimated at Tk 400 crore in the next two years,” Gupta said.
In terms of layout, the company currently has seven flagship stores, all on high streets, with plans to launch five or six more in the next two years. It has several stores in the hybrid office complex, for example in Gurugram and Noida. “We’re planning to grow this space because we’re a great gift destination for these offices, and it’s a highly engaged customer base.”
Travel is another way to grow retail. There are three crossword stores at Mumbai Airport, two more are closed Bids are being floated for Bangalore Airport. It may soon open stores at metro stations as well. “Other airport bookstores offer many assorted items, we have the right bookseller 50-60% space especially for books,” Gupta said.
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