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Books, her first love

Hemu Ramiah, the woman behind the Landmark chain of bookstores was recently honoured with the `Woman Entrepreneur of the Year-2003' award by the C.P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. A profile...


"YOU DON'T have to buy books, but read, just read it, there are ample ways by which you can do it," that's Hemu Ramiah's message. The woman behind the Landmark chain of bookstores was recently honoured with the `Woman Entrepreneur of The Year-2003' award by the C.P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. "The zeal within me to accomplish my dream and my love for reading has made this possible," she smiles. Her dream turned into reality in 1987, when she opened her first store in Nungambakkam, and as the years went by, the outlet has grown to become a landmark in itself.

Landmark is the first retail store to get the ISO 9001 certification in India and Hemu says that it has provided a great recognition. "It has transformed the business and has put it on the global map."

Today, having established Landmark, a brand to reckon with, she says that her initial days of establishing her career were indeed quite adventurous. "After I completed my graduation in Literature from the Stella Maris College, working with books was the first thing on my mind and opening a book store was the best bet." Hemu wanted her shop to be a leisure time shopping experience for all age groups. Hence, the cards, gifts, toys, music, CD Roms and much more. "But I did not want the essence of a book store to be lost too. So, the moment you enter any of the Landmark store, you can't help but to see the books first." This has been a deliberate attempt by the organisation. "It is like you might hate books but you cannot ignore them," she says.

But is it true that one has to take such conscious efforts to get people to read? And does it mean that the reading habit among children in particular is on the decline? She responds, "Well, I have always been a book person. During my childhood, there was no other medium of entertainment. Reading books was among the best possible hobbies. Maybe that increased my love for reading. But it does not mean that the reading habit among children has waned because of other distractions such as television or computers. Some children are natural readers and they are fond of books, no matter what. I guess the atmosphere in which they are brought up and awareness created goes a long way in cultivating good reading habits."

With an average of 5,000 people walking in, the shop also has an active policy since 1987, where customers are not disturbed when they are reading a book on the shop floor. "Some people don't want to get noticed in the shop. But some would like to. That's why I always tell my people, when customers ask for assistance give them 120 per cent service, but otherwise do not supervise on them."

The store opened its branch in Spencer Plaza in October 2001. "This was a great step forward." But the idea behind the two shops is very different. Nungambakkam has always been a reader's delight. And there is very little customer overlap between the two branchesand it has entirely different customer base," she claims.

With stores in Coimbatore and Kolkata, Hemu feels that there is tremendous increase in the retail industry and today, customers are very conversant with the latest advancements. "People collect information from various sources and ask for the latest books. They are very knowledgeable and are clear about what they want when they enter the shop."

Talking about the kind of people taking up jobs in the shop floor and customer service, she feels that a career in retail is considered less lucrative and worse still, a career in a bookstore. "The opportunities are aplenty, but not many are willing to take the risk. It requires real passion to work in this industry."

So, was gender bias an issue when she started her business? "It was never an issue and would never be too. To be frank, sometimes being a woman is an added advantage. I guess it all depends on the attitude. But you will be surprised to know that in the 16 years of the shop's existence, there has not been a single woman who has ever expressed a desire to work in a bookstore. People still think that it is a backward step to take up literature as a career. And there are very few who pursue it because they like it. I was lucky that my family has been very supportive. As a matter of fact, I was not even married when I started. All it takes is the will to pursue one's passion." And what does this award mean to her? "I have always been a Chennai person and to have been recognised in my own city is a great achievement."

PRASSANA SRINIVASAN

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