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Bangkok Post

Mr. Gilliland and Mr. Kaweewut take a break at the Dasa Book Café, which is benefiting from its proximity to the Phrom Phong BTS station.



The coffee's on and the browsing's comfy at new second-hand store




Shopping for second-hand books doesn't have to be a chore. Imagine a two-storey, well-decorated and air-conditioned store with neatly shelved books and a cosy coffee corner, wide aisles and chairs for comfy browsing.


The owners of Dasa Book Cafe imagined just that when they opened their store in June. Noting that most second-hand bookshops in Bangkok were old and musty, with unorganised shelves and uncomfortably narrow spaces, Donald Gilliland and Kaweewut Wuttiwipoo foresaw a new niche.


And it is a niche market, they admit, in a city where so many consumers seem to spend their leisure on computer games, shopping and watching football. But they believe there is still promising market for book lovers who do not want to pay full price for foreign-language books.


With 1.5 million baht from their savings and a bank loan, Dasa Book Cafe emerged in a prime location on Sukhumvit Road, between Soi 26 and 28. The shop sells and trades second-hand books, predominantly in English but also in French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian and other languages.


The 8,500 books are well organised in alphabetical order. Chairs and tables for browsers are complemented by a coffee and tea corner with homemade desserts.


''Typically, as a book lover, I know that customers love to have some nice place to sit down and quietly enjoy the books. That's why we have tables and chairs ready with coffee to serve,'' said Mr Gilliland, 45.


He said there were plenty of second-hand bookshops in Bangkok, especially along Khao San and Sukhumvit roads, but none offered the Dasa experience.


Lack of parking might be seen as a drawback by some, though the owners note that most of their foreign customers, who make up 60% of the clientele, lack cars. Besides, the Phrom Phong skytrain station is just a few steps away.


The two owners earlier gained retail management experience with Tower Records in Bangkok, and Mr Gilliland also owns The Lazy Mango, a second-hand bookshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia.


One important thing they have learned is to focus on customer satisfaction through offering good service with good selection of books at fair prices.


''Actually, people can get old books everywhere but we want to make this place like a home where they will keep coming back. They might not buy our books today but can just sit in and enjoy the coffee. And we're sure this will benefit us in the long run,'' said Mr Kaweewut, 30, adding that with a small business the owner can easily create close personal relations with customers.


Another strength is that the store prices the books a little lower than the average at other stores. ''This will definitely narrow our margins but this strategy will help us attract more customers to the store who will in the end become our regulars,'' said Mr Gilliland.


Typically, for pricing, they will look at the popularity and condition of the books. Generally they will charge at half of the original cover prices. Hardcover and difficult-to-find books _ notably art, history and biography _ fetch higher prices than mass-market paperbacks.


''The reason that makes them hard to find is that the owners don't want to sell but keep them,'' said Mr Gilliland, adding that recently The Lord of The Rings has been one of the hardest items to get.


The store initially got stocks from friends and various sources including the popular Chatuchak weekend market, and the owner's store in Cambodia. Now it also buys books from customers and also gives store credit for trade-ins.


Prices are normally determined by the popularity and condition. ''We normally buy the old books at 20% to 30% of the cover prices from the sellers,'' said Mr Kaweewut.


After one month, sales are steady and word-of-mouth is adding regular customers to the base. Some come in just for coffee and tea while some look for hard-to-find books and come back with offerings of their own.


Though the margin on books is modest, the margin on coffee is up to 80% per cup. The owners expect revenue of at least 5,000 baht a day in the first six months and hope to break even in the second year.


Today, the store is also equipped with a quick-search computer database for customers looking for specific books. In near future, it plans to develop online order and delivery services for customers living outside Bangkok, with payment by credit card or money transfer.

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