Situated in Taman Desa, Books n Bobs is an independent, online-based bookshop selling mostly secondhand books and book accessories. What started as a simple Facebook shop is now an online store of approximately 3000 titles. We spoke with Rachel recently, its owner, to find out all about why she loves bookselling and her bookshop, and above all, how and what made her decide to become a bookseller.
Tell us a little bit about yourself; what you did before this?
I have had a few different careers before started Books n Bobs. After working hard to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, I decided to get into the more exciting sales and marketing profession and never looked back. I always felt trapped when working for others and struggled a lot while trying to find my footing in the world of employment, as a result, I fell into a serious depression which has changed my perspective about work, life, and money forever. I have longed to have my own business since I was young but had no idea about where, what, how and when.
What made you decide to become a bookseller; how were you inspired?
I have always loved reading since I was a school kid. When I was down, I used to read all the time. As a result, I’ve bought many books and soon had to let go of some of my older books to make way for the new ones.
When I was selling my old books, I noticed a few things:
a) Many readers like to buy secondhand books due to the high retail price in Malaysia. Secondhand books allow them to buy more and read more.
b) It is difficult to find a book that was published a few years ago as most book stores only carry newer and classic titles. If you found a new favourite author and would like to read his/her earlier works, chances are very slim that your neighbourhood bookstore will have a copy.
c) Because of the lower prices of secondhand book, readers are more willing to try out a new author or explore unfamiliar books.
An idea started to form in my head and when I found myself in need of a job in 2016, I knew this is what I have been wanting to do – to make a living doing what I am passionate about! The shopaholic and bookaholic in me was dancing in joy for the licence to be able to keep buying books, and in bulk too!! Once the idea dawned on me I acted quickly and never look back.
Tell us more about your online book shop; its history. How did you decide on the name, Books & Bobs? Also, what types of books does Books & Bobs typically stock and specialise in?
It was my husband who came up with the name Books n Bobs, it’s a play on words from the phrase ‘bits and bobs’, which is British slang that means ‘objects of different kinds’. I knew that I wanted to carry book accessories like bookmarks along with books so that name tells you exactly what we do.
With the name decided, I started a Facebook page, bought a couple dozens of books, photographed and posted them along with some of my own books on the page. That’s how we started. I didn’t have a big budget to invest into the business.
In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what kind of books to stock. I was basically picking up a book and asking myself ‘would anybody want to buy this book?’. That was my original MO. Up until that point, I had absolutely no experience about bookselling nor knew anything about the industry other than where the nearest bookshop was.
Nowadays, we carry a wide variety of genres of books with a special focus on contemporary fiction, biography, history, philosophy, business and self help books. We have a bit of everything really because I have a weakness with ‘good’ books. If I see a book that is interesting I have to stock it. I want to bring all the interesting books to our Books n Bobs fans!
As the business grew, I was getting bogged down by the administrative work and knew I had to find a more efficient way to serve our readers better. My husband set up www.booksnbobs.com and after working on it for a few months, we launched it in March 2019. Having the website was the game changer for us. Our books are more organised and each one is categorised and given tags for ease of searching. You can now find books easily on the website and make a purchase anytime without having to wait for confirmation of availability. Postage is calculated automatically and we have a payment gateway that accepts payment by cards, online transfer and e-wallets. We are now able to serve more readers quicker and bring in more interesting books for them.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
I don’t have one. Our family was not well to do and books (other than textbooks) were not high on the need-to-buy list. I would use the school library and borrow books from friends as well.
What has been the biggest surprise about bookselling business?
I have much less time to read than before. I spend much more time with books but not reading them. I have to make a conscious effort to take time out to actually read.
Do you have any favourite memories or stories about connecting books with customers?
Oh there are so many! My favourites are when my customers told me that Books n Bobs has helped them to start reading again after many years of hiatus.
Name at least 5 books that changed your life and why
a) Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Tsieh
I watched a short interview of Tony and decided to read his book. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I love the genius of Tony! He represents many of the things I want to be: an entrepreneur, a successful online business, a great boss, exceptional customer service, great company culture, etc.
b) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
The concept of Growth Mindset has helped me during a dark period of my life. The book has shown me that I am not limited by my talents and abilities but my own mindset. That our abilities can be developed to achieve greatness is a very powerful belief system.
c) The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
This book makes Historical Fiction sexy! Bernard Cornwell’s wit and humour is brilliant. I fell in love with the category and have been enjoying this previously-perceived-‘boring’ category ever since.
d) The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
This is the book that introduced me to English literature and reignited my love for reading.
e) Books by Sophie Kinsella
If The Five People You Meet in Heaven introduced me to English literature, Sophie Kindsella’s books made me stay. I went to Chinese schools and have only ever read Chinese and Malay novels in school. English books were a novelty but I tried them, loved them and now making a career out of selling them.
Books n Bobs profile at Listing at emakayah.com