Eslite bookstore's 24-hour model fails in Hong Kong's tough market

Taiwanese book chain's first store in HK changes hours to meet business reality - lack of sales

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 1:31am

The new Taiwanese mega bookstore in Causeway Bay has revised its round-the-clock operations after a month-long trial.

The rationale behind that decision could be summed up in a talk by Eslite founder and chairman Robert Wu Ching-yu at the University of Hong Kong: "Running a bookstore in Hong Kong, I believe, requires a little more shrewdness and a little less romance."

The three-storey store at Hysan Place now closes at 11pm daily. As of next month, it will stay open until 2am from Thursdays to Saturdays and on the eves of public holidays.

The revised hours mark a departure from the 24-hour model on which Eslite's domestic outlets are based three days a week.

"We need to strike a balance between readers' expectations and business reality," Catherine Wang Po-chi, chief operating director of the Causeway Bay store, said yesterday.

The store is Eslite's first outside Taiwan since Wu founded the chain in 1989. Launched on August 11, it has already received some 1.2 million visitors.

During the first month, it was open 24 hours from Thursdays to midnight on Sundays. "The moving scene of Hong Kong readers enjoying a moment of quiet reading after the closing of mass transport is what we saw at our Dunnan branch in Taipei in the past," said Wang, Wu's chief lieutenant in Hong Kong.

However, a major consideration for the firm is "the sales volume during those early hours".

"We have to be practical," she said. "It took us a long time to establish the 24-hour practice in our Taiwanese stores, and that provides us with experience in mapping out our strategic plans."

The chairman's target, she said, was to generate a surplus in the first year, despite the Eslite group being in the red for its first 15 years in Taiwan.

"My staff are working extra hard, living up to Eslite's motto of four likes: art, reading, work, and overtime. The only dislike is money," Wu told a crowd of HKU students on Wednesday.

He struck an upbeat tone about the concept which he has brought to Hong Kong, dismissing doubts over Eslite's competitiveness in the face of different lifestyles and reading habits in the city.

"I believe we have the best collections in town. We might not offer the same discounts, but we have the space for readers to enjoy the books," the entrepreneur said with a smile.

The 61-year-old told the audience that he owed the city a deep gratitude for a high-risk heart operation he underwent in 2006 and thanked the two HKU doctors at Queen Mary Hospital.