Page by Page – The Journey of Oxford Bookstore

Fashion comes and goes, brands go through a lifecycle and sooner or later they do see competition taking over their charm, retail formats need constant change as per the changing market dynamics but one category that remains unperturbed and without much of stress adapts to the needs and wants of its loyal customers is that of ‘books’. The growing popularity of internet and then of ebooks too couldn’t deter those in the business of books to shut shop and look for alternatives. We trace the journey of Oxford Bookstore which is a living example of this and going strong since last 92 years and has not only grown within India but has also taken a leap outside the country and launched its store at Morocco recently.

Abookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking ~ Jerry Seinfeld. Had it not been for them, perhaps there wouldn’t have been much to differentiate us from robots then, Isnt it? When we look at books as a category in retail, the treatment it needs and commands is very different than the other categories. Here the fast moving items are not time bound. A classic written 30 years ago can still be in the best seller category unlike apparels where fashion is fast moving! For Oxford Bookstore, the journey undertaken in establishing themselves as a favorite destination store for books has been an exciting one. They kept their pace slow when we talk of expanding ‘footprint’ but they remained steady in their growth in terms of adapting themselves as per the growing market needs. They were the first ones to tie-down their loyal customers with loyalty marketing and to use the power of the internet to have a full fledged online store as well!
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Pulling a page from their history book and talking about the yesteryears, Renu Kakkar, spokesperson, Oxford Bookstores says, “The Brand’s fascinating story started 92 years ago in Kolkata’s Park Street as Oxford Bookstore and Stationery which has since become the city’s iconic landmark.  Priti Paul who is the creative force behind the Brand had promised booklovers of Calcutta, the city she loves and grew up in, a contemporary, multidimensional experience, in keeping with international trends. Thus in 1995, on the heritage store’s Platinum Anniversary, the iconic store was re-fashioned as Oxford Bookstore – Gallery. Since then, she, acting in the capacity of Oxford’s Director, has made Oxford into India’s favourite bookstore, taking the brand to unprecedented heights and across India.”

Citing the challenges the group faced while on their journey, Kakkar states, “Staying ahead of the curve and remaining best in class needs continuous and consistent work. Other than that there were not many challenges as Oxford is a well-established destination and loved by customers, who have been our inspiration. There are no shortcomings witnessed so far hence we hope the future will only bring in more opportunities for the 92 year old bookstore chain to extend its legacy further.”

Heritage---Oxford-boo54kstoreKakkar is quick to add, “Our customers love us and we need to everyday to earn their love, respect and loyalty. This we do with a series of progressive initiatives, upgrading our product and our offering to meet the highest standards of international book retailing. A strong selection of popular fiction and non-fiction, Indian and International, an unsurpassed source for illustrated books covering a vast range of topics including Design, Culture, Teens, Careers, Electronics, Gadgets, Computers, Cars, Music, Nature, Photography, Art, Architecture, Fashion, Gardening and a wide range of Translations from India and the best of World Literature enrich its Book sections.”

For those who are acquainted with the bookstore, it is evident that the achievement of the bookstore can be attributed to the combination of enterprise and vision, tradition and state-of-the-art technology and the very best in books services and amenities. Adds Kakkar, “In Mumbai we have stores in Churchgate and Bhandup, In Bangalore, we have stores in Whitefield, considered outside city limits by some; one in the heart of city on MG Road, a third in a Galleria of a five star luxury hotel towards old Airport Road. The first two are in modern retails i.e. malls, then we have a store in Hyderabad, in Bhubaneswar and other places so totaling to 26 stores currently. Store locations are chosen wisely using the expertise of the Apeejay Surrendra Group’s real estate division.”

Heritage---Oxford-bookstoreWhere expansion has been the name of the game for majority of retailers, Oxford since last 92 years has been seen going very much steady when it comes to spreading its footprint across the country. But the reason for this comes out well when Kakkar explains, “We believe that our journey also includes sharing decades of knowledge of everything literary that Oxford Bookstore has.  You will find that while Literary Festivals are growing pan India, Oxford is the ONLY bookstore in the country which has created one of the front running Literary Festivals in the country. Apeejay Kolkata Literary festival held in January every year since 2010 in the city of Kolkata, a city where the Oxford Story started in 1920s.  2013 was its fourth edition and to our delight it has grown to become one of the country’s and city’s most awaited festivals in the annual cultural calendar. The best minds are invited and attend from India and overseas creating delight for the citizens in a festival which is open for all. We have recently launched our new store, naming it KATAKALI in the magical city of Marrakech, Morocco. The bookstore is located in the luxurious Taj Palace Hotel at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in the exclusive palm filled oasis of the Palmeraie.”

With the advent of modern retail and also the exposure to a modern and more Westernized lifestyle that is seen today, it becomes imperative for any retailer across categories to keep on re-inventing the wheel to remain relevant to their target audience. Talking about the initiatives undertaken by Oxford in lieu with the changing market dynamics, Kakkar shares, “Having a Legacy, holding onto and growing a legacy is a positive impetus and a positive challenge and I think it is the greatest motivator too. Oxford Bookstore is very proud of our people and our brand and it is in our joint commitment to do what it takes to keep our legacy intact and growing that gives you as a customer the high standards you expect from “Oxford Bookstore”, with or without competition from other book retailers. So we give you the Best Book Sections, an informed knowledgeable service, we are always forward looking and create for you something that is new, fresh, not done before! So on one hand we create a Literary Festival and extended period of 5 days in 2013 and on the other hand, Children’s Libraries for underprivileged children creates book shelves and alleys they can dream in, get lost in and spend hours in, just like our customers do at Oxford Bookstores. Since 1992 in Apeejay Schools in Kolkata, both Libraries have started with initial book donations and inputs from Oxford Bookstore because we know what literacy and reading can do to young minds. In December 2012 in Chennai Oxford has sat with Publishers to procure an exact list of books required by the administrators of NariKuravar School in Saidapet where we have opened a third such Library for the 90 homeless boys who live and study in the establishment.”

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Innovations Added to Stay ‘Relevant’ in Times of Constant Competition
Cha Bar tucked away as an integral part of the Bookstore is the first of its kind urban contemporary space that has turned tea from a dry page in history to a lifestyle drink! The stylish and relaxing ambience of Cha Bar can make hours go by, browsing through our huge collection of books while one is spoilt for choice with an assortment of Teas. Please ask for a more detailed note on Cha Bar is you like.

The Alternative Art Gallery promotes different forms of expression; art forms such as photography, ceramics, business design, advertisement graphics, calligraphy, sketches, poster design, sculptures, paintings etc. are all encouraged. There are various collections capturing, the artist’s worlds. India’s first International Digital Art Exhibition was held at our gallery to celebrate the new millennium.

The online portal of Oxford Bookstore was launched in the year 2000 and won the Computerworld Smithsonian Honors Archives & Academic Council award in 2003. Today we have our customers based across the Indian subcontinent and overseas in international markets too. We provide attractive offers and discounts to our patrons throughout the year which changes according to seasons, events, launches and various festivals. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has partnered with us to provide an integrated suite of solutions, and an interactive platform with customers, partners, and employees.
A gamut of literary events and literary figures who have come for their book launches and signings. We have always been particular about providing a stimulating forum for these events.  The activities that take place in our premises are novel, interesting, and thought provoking. These events at once inform and help us in connecting with our multi-cultural audiences. Similarly we take as much care to organize activities for kids. We have organised activities like book reading, storytelling cookery workshops with award winning personalities, kids carnival and storytelling with art and craft session and many more. Our aim is to provide our customers not only the pleasure of reading books in one of the heritage bookstores of the time,  but also to come into contact with the world of ideas and books, having a positive development on the individual with our intimate and interactive activities .

Environmental graphics of our Store as well as our Cha Bar is also unique. For e.g all Cha Bars have a Tea-Pot wall which displays the different traditional tea-pots from across the world. This not only creates awareness about the tradition of tea-serving across different continents but also adds an interesting design element adding to the ambience of the space. It also showcases how different Teas in our menus are served and promotes the dying truck art of Pakistan and the Bollywood poster art of India, for which special artists are commissioned by art aficionado, Ms Priti Paul, Director, Apeejay Oxford Bookstores Private Limited.

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The mushrooming of exotic café around the world speaks volumes of the popularity of coffee. What then led Oxford to deviate itself to open a Cha Bar. Explains Kakkar, “As a Group we understand Tea and nurture tea plantations and tea brands in India and globally. Cha Bar Menu is refreshed regularly with additional varieties of exotic Teas and scrumptious snacks with in-house experts at Apeejay Tea Group with experience of nurturing tea in our plantations dating back more than a 100 years and renowned Chefs of the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels with nearly 5 decades of experience in fine hospitality and award winning Food & Beverage offerings. Specifically speaking Apeejay Tea Group is amongst the largest producers of tea in the country with 17 estates spread over 50000 acres in Upper Assam producing 25 million kilograms (approx.) of tea. It is a matter of great pride for us that Harrods, London has appointed Apeejay Tea as its sole India partner for sourcing Indian Teas. An exclusive collection of our single-estate teas, Sessa, Khobong and Pengaree, are on Harrods’ prestigious shelves. Typhoo, our FMCG brand is UK’s third largest tea brand and an over 100-year-old iconic British brand retailing in nearly 50 countries globally including India. London Fruit & Herb, Heath & Heather, Melroses and Ridgeways are some of our other International brands.”

India being a land of a billion people with different traditions and languages, it is natural to find diversity within the country with regard to the reading habits as well. Where you may find a an avid reader on one hand, a section of readers who never fail to pick a book off the shelf;  on the other you also have readers who only  read during their spare time or during a journey. Such readers are mostly influenced by bestselling books or books that make headlines. However, with the ever growing literary industry and a new buoyant class of better read and more curious people newly published books by new authors sure find its appropriate readers and eventually the market. With the increase in the reading habit amongst the urban and semi – urban populace, readers are looking forward to read on different subjects, hence giving the writers an appreciative market. Talking about popular genres, Kakkar says, “India being a land of a billion people with different traditions and languages, it is natural to find diversity within the country with regard to the reading habits as well. Where you may find an avid reader on one hand, a section of readers who never fails to pick a book off the shelf; on the other handyou also have readers who only read during their spare time or during a journey. Such readers are mostly influenced by best selling books or books that make headlines. However, with the ever growing literary industry and a new buoyant class of better read and more curious people newly published books by new authors find its appropriate readers and eventually the market. With the increase in the reading habit amongst the urban and semi –urban populace, readers are looking forward to read on different subjects, hence giving the writers an appreciative market.”

Adding further, she says, “Fiction as a genre will always be most popular category but we have seen an increased interest in non-fiction too, especially in management and self-development books. Additionally, we are putting more focus on Young & Emerging Writers as well as on Books on Translations. There has been a remarkable rise in English writing in India since last few decades, also because English has enjoyed phenomenal popularity amongst its readers. India is now in a phase of English language literary boom, where numerable writers are exploring myriad subjects that the present generation can relate to and the English language makes it more conversational. Though India is a land of multiple languages, English has now become a part of the cultural lingo so the demands for these books are more. Nevertheless books in other regional language are also on the rise.”

Heritage---Oxford-bo4okstoreThe online retail market is growing at leaps and bounds and has high potential for growth in the near future. The online retail segment in India is growing at an annual rate of 35 per cent, which would take its value from ` 2,000 crore in 2011 to    ` 7,000 crore by 2015. Although the e- retail boom has threatened the survival of physical book stores, majority of the bookstores have continued to grow. Oxford Bookstore has been able to continue its legacy as one of the most loved bookstore in India with its quintessential charm and y-o-y growth as well. Explains Kakkar, “Although the e- retail boom has threatened the survival of physical book stores, Oxford Bookstore has been able to continue its legacy as one of the most loved bookstore in India with its quintessential charm and year-on-year growth. The competence in price and convenience that the online book sellers provide is very well matched by the sheer charm of our physical stores and very competitively priced books at our online shop. Indian consumers perhaps feel more secure transacting with a retailer who is present in both formats; i.e. physical and virtual presence. Besides a reader experience in a bookstore is unparalleled and cannot be matched by mouse hunting. The comfort of the store is unmatched even as the comfort of buying online is but these are two different kinds of comforts and often customers want and should have both.”

Talking about manpower, Kakkar shares, “Continuous training and skill development to all our retail staff to upgrade their skill sets in line with our SOPs is a job well done by our HR. Our stress is on product training, on the job training as well as soft skill training for the bookstore, Chabar and back office staff. There are various rewards and recognition that are benchmarked to the best in the industry to ensure that our employees are happy. Being part of a Larger diversified group also helps them have a world view of customers from different professional backgrounds because internally too they have diversified customers with different backgrounds working in different business verticals. Understanding Youth is easier with Group’s own Schools and the children and teachers there often being Oxford’s sounding board for the Children and teen sections.”

Heritage---Oxford-bo52okstoreThe Oxford Bookstore has most deservedly built an excellent reputation and the list of its famous customers would be too long from noted writers/columnists, corporate / politicians/ bureaucrats and film / fashion and entertainment industry. The list includes Narayan Murthy, ShriGopal Krishna Gandhi, KiranKarnik, Mark Tully, Ramachandra Guha, Mahasweta Devi, Ruskin Bond, MJ Akbar, Liz Hurley  and ArunNayyar, Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan to name a few.

Today, with 26 stores pan India, India’s first dedicated Children’s bookstore, Oxford Junior, India’s first of its kind tea boutique, Cha Bar, India’s only literary festival created by a bookstore, Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, Oxford Bookstore offers booklovers access to the very best in publishing enhanced by a variety of events which salute books, visual & performing arts and celebrate the word.

Keeping the history of Oxford Bookstore in mind and their survival since last 92 years, it is no exaggeration to say that no matter the twists and turns retail takes in India or globally and no matter how strong the online market becomes, book stores are definitely here to stay!

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