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RAMANATHAN SRIRAM CROSSWORD

By Published on .

BOMBAY-"People take children to the movies, but do they take them to bookstores?" asks Ramanthan Sriram.

They do take them to Crossword, a 7000-square foot shop managed by Mr. Sriram and fast becoming a literary landmark here.

The third bookstore managed by Mr. Sriram, Crossword has changed the Indian stereotype of a dreary, browser-unfriendly store with its simple innovations, like air conditioning, and marketing tactics relatively unused in India including readings, slide shows, games, quizzes, an astrology session and celebrity appearances.

Moreover, the 30-year-old Mr. Sriram has succeeded in attracting families to the shop, owned by India Book House, a $16 million group engaged in publishing and distribution of books, exports and retailing.

More than 80% of the 25,000 titles stocked in the store are children's books, and the focus is on families. The soothing ambiance, including piped-in music and a lack of hovering salesmen, have attracted a parade of families.

Also conducive to families is the store's layout, dreamed up by Mr. Sriram, in which the women's section leads directly into the children's area.

Crossword also carries non-book items including cassettes and compact discs, greeting cards, stationery and toys. "If we only have books, then they [customers] will never come into the store," he says.

But they do come in-in droves. The store takes in $2,000 in daily csales, one of the highest for bookstores in the city and among the top 10 for bookstores in the country.

"Our marketing strategy was not to talk directly to existing book buyers but to all those who never thought of buying books," he says.

In addition to book signings, games and celebrity appearances, Crossword offers dial-a-book and fax-a-book services, where customers call in and request a book to be home delivered and fax in for home delivery. Book sales are further speeded along with computerized bar code scanners.

Crossword's marketing budget, at $50,000, is considered among the heaviest in the bookstore industry. Ads, created by freelancers, are limited to newspapers, but Mr. Sriram hopes to expand into radio soon.

Mr. Sriram himself never went by the book. He dropped out of college in Madras, a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, without a degree. Short stints followed as a market researcher with Indian Market Research Bureau in 1985, and a year later as a trainee copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, Madras.

It was his childhood passion for books that drew him to his career field. He joined Landmark, a bookstore in Madras, in 1988 and soon ended up managing the store. It was Landmark's success that led him to start a similar enterprise, called Walden, in Hyderabrad, a city in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, for a film producer's son. It was Walden that attracted India House's interest.

Crossword's success has led the company to consider similar stores in New Delhi; Poona, a western city near Bombay; Bangalore, in southern India; and Dubai, U.A.E. "If one can provide the right opportunity for people to discover books, the books take over-they sell themselves," says Mr. Sriram. "My role is to provide the right atmosphere for selling them."

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