WOULD you trust the recommendation of an avid bibliophile and bookstore owner, and get him to pick out books for you based on a pre-determined budget?
That was exactly what a customer did, when he gave Bookalicious proprietor Leon Ngai a free hand to select RM200 worth of books for his reading pleasure.
Ngai, 40, later posted on the Bookalicious Facebook page: “As a bookseller, it was truly an honour to be entrusted with this task and we jokingly asked if we could swap places”.
Located in the Summit Subang USJ, Subang Jaya, Bookalicious is a family business run by husband-and-wife pair Ngai and Wendy Chow.
They invested RM500,000 as initial capital for stocks and fixed assets, and to renovate their 600sq ft store that commenced operations in April 2010.
“Bookalicious is a boutique bookshop, selling great books at competitive prices,” said Ngai.
“We get the stocks directly from the publishers and keep our operational costs low so that we are able to pass the savings on to our customers,” he said, adding that customers would be able to save between 10% and 30% on average, compared to buying books at the standard retail price.
“We get our supplies from the US, the UK, China, Australia, Italy, India, Singapore, Germany and of course, locally,” Ngai said.
Besides books from a wide variety of genres, including those from the bestsellers’ list, Bookalicious also offers boxed sets and collectibles like figurines, stuffed toys, headphones, posters and other book-themed memorabilia.
Bookalicious presently has some 20,000 books in stock, comprising some 15,000 titles.
“We sell 3,000 books of various categories per month,” said Ngai.
“The young adult category, which caters not only to teenagers but also adults, is the most popular among our customers. Other popular categories include fiction, Malay novels and childrens’ books,” he added.
On Bookalicious’ location, he said: “Subang Jaya is a good catchment area where many families and people from all walks of life come frequently to shop, catch a movie or enjoy promotional events.”
Bookalicious takes in an annual revenue of around RM750,000.
An avid reader himself, Ngai started the business to share his interest after having gained some experience while working with a book retailer.
It also serves as homage to Ngai’s three favourite books — To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, and their authors Harper Lee, JD Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald, respectively.
“I’m indebted to these authors for instilling and motivating my interest in reading,” said Ngai, who cites lawyer and father Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird as his role model.
“I love these three books so much that I would buy vintage and new versions of the books, and even give them away to customers who are fans of these books too.”
Whenever he goes overseas for business or on holiday, Ngai makes it a point to visit bookstores to browse for new stock and look out for current trends, as well as scour second-hand book markets to hunt for pre-loved books and titles that are not in production anymore.
“I have to keep myself up-to-date on the bestsellers’ list and what customers are looking for. Customers these days are very smart due to the abundant information that is available on the Internet,” said Ngai, whose previous job gave him an insight into the ins and outs of the book industry, including its structure and the reading habits of Malaysians.
“We observed that Malaysians, in general, are not reading enough. There are too many distractions nowadays, like the Internet, cable TV, online games and whatnot.
“However, we do see a lot of youngsters picking up the reading habit. This is good and we are pleased to be a partner in their pursuit for good books.
“It’s nice to see children using their ang pow (red packet) money to buy books.”
On current reading trends, Ngai said: “Teenagers are moving into young adult series with social messages like the dystopian society depicted in The Hunger Games.
“Children enjoy reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and books by Roald Dahl, while romance and general fiction themes are popular among adults.”
As the Bookalicious Facebook page is updated as often as five times a week, regulars would know how to view and decide ahead on what they want, while new customers would walk in and browse, or ask for recommendations.
“We also make online orders. Customers will enquire about the books they require via Facebook or email, and we will advise them on our stock availability, price, pos-tage fee and payment arrangements.
“It takes between one and two months for online orders to be delivered from overseas,” said Ngai.
These orders include new books, out-of-print books (sourced as second-hand copies) and collectibles.
Ngai does not foresee e-books to strongly affect the conventional book industry.
“The impact won’t be strong enough to shake the retailing of books. You may utilise an e-book to read a novel or a business book, but not a childrens’ book or a coffee table book,” he said.
“While we are not e-book supporters, we see the advantage of not packing six books in your luggage for a vacation. Therefore, we feel books will always be here to stay.”
On how Bookalicious would fare against competitors, Ngai said: “We are an independent bookstore catering to a niche market.
“Our emphasis is on range and variety, plus our prices are lower. We do not compete with other book retailers.
“We are able to provide book recommendations, and you will find titles you don’t usually find in other bookshops.”
The personalised service and interaction with customers, some of whom become friends, is what draws a loyal following to Bookalicious.
Its popularity is also spread through word-of-mouth recommendations, which includes referrals from the Subang Jaya Book Exchange Programme.
Another element that adds a cute factor to Bookalicious is its mascot — Theo(dore) the cow, who is accompanied by Mimi the dog.
“Mimi was a character inspired by my poodle,” said Chow.
“I didn’t intend to create a mascot. I was doodling on my computer one day and that resulted in a sketch of Theo, which we thought would make a cute mascot.”
Theo and Mimi are featured in the Bookalicious Facebook page, promotional materials and bookmarks that are given away to customers.
Though Ngai does not rule out operating from a bigger shop within the Subang Jaya vicinity, or opening a second shop, he intends to keep it a family business.
“Our focus now is to improve Bookalicious’ products and services for its target market. We may perhaps go into e-commerce too,” he said.