Bound for Kabuhayan
By Bernadette Reyes In 2005 five journalists – Bernadette Sembrano, Inday Espina-Varona, May Rodriguez, Rowena Carranza Paraan, and Carlos “Caloy” Conde – were scouting for an office space for National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) until they came upon a two-storey commercial townhouse unit in the inconspicuous yet welcoming street of Scout Castor in Quezon City. The space however was too big for an operation such as NUJP. “We asked ourselves what can we do with the space downstairs? We have always wanted to have our own bookstore so we made use of the available space for that purpose but we decided to sell second-hand books,” Caloy recalls. Bound, as the store is known today had books of its owners as initial inventory. They pooled in PHP300,000, ransacked their libraries and book shelves at home then stacked the bookstore shelves with their own books for sale. Its owners were ecstatic but no sooner did the euphoria start to fade away after business hurdles unfold. Books were selling like hotcakes but they didn’t have a steady supply to replenish the inventory until they started consigning books from interested parties – a cost-effective business model the bookstore keeps until now. More recently, Bound started sealing deals with publications such as Anvil Publishing, U.P. Press and Ateneo de Manila University Press to stack its racks with brand-new Filipiniana books but 70 percent of its inventories are still second-hand books. “Most of our consignment-related queries and transactions are done through the Web. We ask our existing clients or just about anybody, should they have books that they want to sell they may consign their books to us. That keeps our inventory full,” Caloy explains. Bound while it may be small in operation has a vast catalogue of over 4,000 titles to date but it still openly accepts consignments from people who might want to sell their old books which would have just otherwise pile on heaps of dust at home or in the office. Yet more than lending a hand in housekeeping, the bookstore owners also want to help individuals to make money out of what others consider as junk. “People want to make money and we want to help them. In fact we have a consignor who sold his books to us to help a family member pay for medication. Masarapyung pakiramdam na nakakatulong ka,” says Caloy. Price, Caloy adds, is their salient advantage over bigger bookstores in the country. Through the years Bound has gained a steady following owing to its rock-bottom prices yet good-quality books in mint condition. “Obviously our price is cheaper since we sell previously-owned books,” he says. One of the paperback books in Bound retails at PHP180 which would have otherwise cost PHP800 in other bookstores nationwide. While many of the books might be dog-eared, some books are still as good as new. Bound also keeps a bizarre mix of book titles which caters to the taste and preference of its diverse clientele. From marked-down chick literatures such as the Shopaholic series of Sophie Kinsella to the hard to find collection of short stories by Somerset Maugham, Bound might just have these titles neatly stacked on its shelves waiting for the lucky bargain hunter to find them. “I’ve heard people say time and again, ‘I didn’t expect to find these books here. Matagal ko nang hinahanap ito.’ One such book is the short story collection of Maugham found only in specialty stores yet we had it sold here at a very low price,” says Caloy who also warns that no two books are alike in the store. “Buy the book once you find a title you like or reserve it online before someone else places the order,” he adds. Bound, which maintains a Facebook and Twitter account aside from its website regularly post new items on sale. To keep a healthy mix of interesting titles, the owners sees to it they peruse each and every literature. Not all the books solicited from clients and donors make it to store shelves. Its owners study the books they intend to put up for sale and leave out those which may not be in sync with the store’s character. “We have to go through every title. Some consignors would deliver books that we feel are not right for the store. For those that we like, we familiarize ourselves so that when a customer asks us about a particular book at least we have something to say about it,” Caloy explains. Yet even the tried and tested business formula of Bound had to evolve at some point to keep up with the times. The looming economic crisis have forced people to scrimp on some basic necessities and many of life’s simple pleasures such as books have to take the backseat if not completely removed from the budget. To keep the business moving, Caloy thought of an auxiliary business to go with the bookstore. “We are at a point wherein we have to challenge our entrepreneurial assumptions. In the coming months we will be offering small meals such as sandwiches and pastas and some refreshments. Of course the books will still be there but we will have tables and chairs were customers can lounge,” he explains. The goal is to keep a healthy customer base and entice new clients to enter the store. Also included in the pipeline is the installation of free Wi-Fi access to keep the traffic of customers. Bound also had to undergo a significant change in ownership to keep the business moving. Some of its incorporators no longer had time for the business while other thought a sole proprietor should oversee its operation. “Letting go of my partners was difficult because we love having each other around. That also meant the business will have to do with less manpower. On the other hand, decision-making will be faster,” says Caloy. Since October last year, Caloy assumed ownership together with wife Ayi Muallam, also a journalist. Caloy says of the new ownership, “We are more nimble and more adventurous now when it comes to taking risks in the business.” The couple pulled out old magazines off the racks which didn’t contribute much to sales and replaced them with old and new records such as CDs. Other small items such as bookmarks and pens were also brought in the store to augment sales. Paintings and photographs of up-and-coming artists and photographers also graced the store’s walls as decorations and double as additional items for sale. Recently, they started joining book fairs to rake additional profit and move idle inventory. Caloy and Ayi while they try to devote as much time on the business as possible maintain regular jobs which give them a steady source of income. Caloy writes for New York Times, International Herald Tribune and web-based globalpost.com while Ayi is currently the multimedia producer of online information portal bulatlat.com and a doting mother to the couple’s two baby boys. “We are still journalist through and through. This business is just a hobby for us but at least we are earning something out of it and help NUJP pay for its lease. It’s been four years and the bookstore survived in spite of the hard times. I still think we have got a good business model going for us. We are not getting rich like millionaires out of this but who knows?” Caloy quips.