Bahrisons: Reading between the lines


When Lt. Balraj Bahri Malhotra established Bahrisons bookstores in 1953 by New Delhi’s Khan Market, it was a refugee area. Today, this has transformed into an upscale market, but the bookstore still operates on its founding principle – ‘Find the book that customers want through any c

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When Lt. Balraj Bahri Malhotra established Bahrisons bookstores in 1953 by New Delhi’s Khan Market, it was a refugee area. Today, this has transformed into an upscale market, but the bookstore still operates on its founding principle – ‘Find the book that customers want through any channel possible’. 

Anuj and Rajni Malhotra, second-generation descendants, run the business with the same passion as the founder. At a time when Kindle and ecommerce are gaining ground, Bahrisons has established five outlets in Delhi NCR, the couple believe there is room for everyone, as the love for reading will never diminish amongst readers.

THE LEGACY OF SUCCESS

Lt. Malhotra was just 19 when his well-settled family in Pakistan was uprooted during Partition and shifted to Delhi. After doing various odd jobs, he managed to get the allotment for a shop in 1953 (the present day shop combines three shops acquired at different times), after mortgaging a family gold heirloom for the initial investment of INR 300. 

Rajni and Anuj Malhotra of Bahrisons bookstore.

After opening the shop at 9AM, Lt. Malhotra would listen to his customers’ demands and when the shop was closed for lunch in the afternoon, he would scour the old city to get the books they wanted. This practice could be considered the early-age CRM format, and is still practiced by his son Anuj and Anuj’s wife Rajni. Of course, they now maintain an order pad wherein the sales associate mention the names of books that customers seek, in case it is not in stock, along with their contact details. They then check with their suppliers for it and order copies and inform the customer. Anuj said, “This method invented by my father is the simplest way to understand client needs better and is one of the reasons for making Bahrisons what it is today – our customer centricity.”

THWARTING CHALLENGES

Retail bookstores have been facing increasing competition from business online ecommerce players as well as the growing popularity of technologies like Kindle. However, Anuj is not worried about it.

“People who don’t read at all will say that they read on Kindle, even if they don’t have it, just to show how tech savvy they are. According to Amazon’s data, Kindle sales are worst of the lot. So, this notion that technology can replace the book market is unjustified,” he pointed out.

In any event, Rajni pointed out that the Kindle readers do not comprise Bahrison’s clientele, so they are not concerned about losing that business. However, they do deploy technology at their stores to make it easier for their regular customer to browse and buy books.

“All our stores are connected centrally, so inventory and sales data are on the central cloud. Technology is to aid us, not dominate us, which is why I don’t allow my staff to move to computer. When a customer walks in, I tell them to find the book direct and only when they are unable to do it should they refer to the computer,” Anuj explained.

The company also launched its own ecommerce portal, wwwBooksatBahri.com, in 1998 following demand from regular clientele. “Our online traffic is largely from customers who have visited our stores, especially professionals like professors and researchers who want reference material across different cities,” Rajni added.

Currently, Bahrisons has five outlets in Delhi and Gurgaon. Its latest outlet in Gurgaon’s Galleria Market is a read-and-eat concept in association with Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters. “When someone is browsing through books, they can take 30 to 45 minutes and it is scientifically proven that the aroma of coffee helps improve the concentration and also make you stay also longer. This formula has worked for us as the store is doing pretty well,” Anuj mentioned.

He wants to tap other markets and had his sights set on Bengaluru a couple of years ago. However, he had to put the plans on hold due to his father’s death. To expand into other markets, Anuj is willing to consider franchising as an option.

At the same time, he has a pragmatic business approach and does not like to have unrealistic targets. “We can’t say that we will have 10% to 20% growth. This is possible if you sell merchandise in addition to books. However, we are concentrating on the books business, catering to intelligentsia,” he pointed out.

Hence, rather than worry about juggling numbers for sales forecasting, he would rather explore opportunities to introduce books genres that will excite his customers. That, the couple believe, is the best way to insulate Bahrisons from the vagaries of business changes.

  • Shubhra Saini