Nijesh Shah is determined to take one of India’s largest bookstores to even greater heights. Sapna Book House, founded by Suresh Shah in 1967, has today crossed more barriers than he could have imagined. Nijesh, 26, the founder’s grandson, is Group President of Sapna Book House and CEO of Sapna Infoway, which has boosted the Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) of the company to nearly 5 x over the course of two years.
Half a century on the shelf
Sapna Book House’s journey began 49 years ago to provide education to the neighbourhood, a dream Suresh Shah never realised. From selling books on a pavement, today Sapna Book House occupies 350,000 sq feet of retail space, and serves more than 60,000 customers every single day.
Branded as a Family Retail Multi Brand Book Store, Sapna Retail has more than 50+ verticals apart from books. Sapna has also published more than 5,000 books and supplies to more than 10,000 institutions through its enterprise banner.
The young entrepreneur’s journey
Nijesh quit his job at Goldman Sachs as he felt he was wasting his time reading ratios and numbers for someone else.
I thought I could do something better on my own and contribute back to society. I saw education as a very big sector, and thus in June 2012, I joined Sapna Infoway – the digital arm of the Group and tried to establish my vision of creating a one-stop, technology-enabled solution providing platform that gives access to books, digital content, academic content, e-learning, readership platforms and school & institutional supplies, all under one umbrella. It has been a hard journey but I’ve learnt how to believe, how to empower people and most importantly to never stop dreaming!
Riding India’s retail wave
Retail in India will never die. It’s more like a railway track where you need two parallel rails for the train to run on. You will always find one audience plugged into the digital medium, while the other will always be a part of the brick-and-mortar retail environment
says Nijesh. To tap both segments, Sapna has created an online presence at SapnaOnline.com.
In 2014, Sapna Infoway and its flagship brand SapnaOnline.com acquired Ishita Technologies Private Limited and its three brands – Bookadda.com, Acadzone.com and Koolskool.com in a 100% cash deal transaction valued at $13 million.
Bookadda.com, an online bookstore, has over a collection of over 1, 30, 00,000 books. Acadzone.com is a platform that provides online test banks and preparatory material for competitive exams to students on their smart phone, while KoolSkool.com offers a range of children's products. Being a B2B and B2B2C platform, it also provides uniforms, shoes, test papers, customised books, and more.
Being a player only in the southern market, the company wanted to expand its footprint to the northern part of the country. As growing organically would take time, they acquired a strong brand that already has a strong presence in the north. This will give Sapna Infoway access to newer verticals, and let them take over a new audience overnight.
Nijesh also ventured into exports a year and a half ago in May 2014, by setting up an office in Accra, Ghana. Sensing their potential and the need for such a product in the region, the Sapna team decided to curate content for them. They approached the local schools and started publishing learning material for them.
Sapna and its verticals
Sapna Book house, with around 13 stores in South India – eight located in Bangalore, looks after the retail, publishing and exports. Sapna Infoway, being it’s digital arm, has been growing at a rate of 22% month on month. It contributes to about 3% of Sapna Book House’s total revenue.
SapnaOnline.com: SapnaOnline.com has been noted as India’s fastest growing retailer on the web and currently has a catalogue spread of over 10 million books to browse from, over 10,000 Electronics and Gadgets to explore and over 1,000 Audio Books to listen to. Growing at a pace of about 12-14% month on month, SapnaOnline.com is now looking at securing some venture capital funding in order to capture a larger part of their offerings outside their horizon.
Store67: Store67 happens to be the new feather in Sapna’s cap. It offers various categories of stationery products for students and the corporate world. With around 300+ SKU’s so far, this store has its own finishing unit and aims at replacing the other premier stationary brands in the market. Having a gross margin of at least an additional 15-20%, it gives the team an opportunity to grow and expand their ebitda. A team of 11 members, constantly works on the designing of diaries, coasters, notebooks, coffee mugs - to name a few. Darshit Shah, appointed Vice President of Product Store67, aims at replacing almost two-thirds of the stationary sold at Sapna Book House with this in-house brand.
SapnaInk– It is a platform which enables writers to become authors by giving them a Launchpad. Around 100 authors have been launched over the last one and half years. From designing to marketing and even the sales platform, Sapna aims at giving them a wholesome experience. Nitin Shah, Managing Director at Sapna Group, heads SapnaInk and has deployed a 9 member team. They also publish many regional books, apart from the mainstream work.
SapnaRise – It is said to be an author- consumer connect platform where avid readers can regularly be in touch with their favourite authors. More details will flow out soon since it is still in its development stages.
What lies ahead?
Sapna Book House’s vision is to create an online and offline community across demographics to create a 360˚ community experience. Nijesh explains,
The FDI policy that was rolled out for e-commerce players, gives us an added advantage as we are self-funded. We are an inventory-based model rather than a market-based one, so our go-to market time will be short. When customers go to another comparative website seller, their credibility can be suspect. We are direct sellers, so we automatically offer them assurance.