Books are big business in Hong Kong. The proof can be gleaned from the ever-growing number of visitors to the annual Hong Kong Book Fair. This year's fair saw new attendance records of more than 760,000. The demise of books is highly overrated, but that does not mean that local booksellers do not face stiff competition. A quick search through the yellow pages will give you names of hundreds of book retailers in Hong Kong. Regardless of their size, they sell books to meet different tastes of customers and offer unique services to differentiate from the competition. 'The market is growing, with more bookshop operators wanting to come to Hong Kong to get into the China market,' said Charles Kwan, assistant general manager for the Commercial Press (HK) which now operates 19 stores, with their flagship stores in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui alone selling 200,000 English and Chinese titles each year. Many Hong Kong bookshop operators have embraced the idea of a more spacious, comfortable and modern-looking retail environment with a wider range of products, and take their customers' needs seriously in their business strategies. General manager of Dymocks Franchise System, Wang Hsiao-hui said: 'In our survey, we found that customers not only want a wide range of products, but also want bookstores to be convenient, with enough space. We try to keep our shops to around 2,000 sqft, which seems to be enough space. If a store is too big, customers can feel intimidated.' High rent is a big concern for most bookshop operators in Hong Kong. 'Our profit margin is not the same as the fashion or food and beverage industries, so we need to be mindful of the size of the space,' Ms Wang said. For booksellers, understanding customer needs is vital. It helps operators to react to market demand and stay competitive. 'The fastest growing business area is children's books, especially English books,' Ms Wang said. 'Hong Kong parents want to help their children [to do well] in schools, so they are willing to buy many English language books for their children.' With local and international booksellers expanding their number of stores, rivalry has become intense between retailers themselves. How to attract and retain customers has become a common thread among the operators. Bespoke customer service and meeting customer demands are the areas these booksellers target. 'In our Sha Tin store, we offer story telling to children. In other stores, we arrange for authors to come in and give talks. This provides the public with a chance to mingle with some of their favourite writers,' Ms Wang said. 'We also have chefs come in and give cooking demonstrations. It's a total life experience we want to provide.' Hong Kong Book Centre focuses on fulfilling special book requests. Julia Yim Sau-fun, manager of the company, said: 'When people place a special book order with us, we try our best to fill it. We also provide a comfortable reading space at our Taikoo Shing store for children to read in.' Other than books, magazines and stationery, the Commercial Press has started offering people the choice of purchasing e-books, which come packaged as a CD-Rom. Customers are also given a password so they access their books online. Mr Kwan said: 'We are not just a specialised book retailer. Some bookshops even have a philatelic corner where rare stamps and philatelic items from around the world are sold to promote stamp collecting. We also organise exhibitions and host cultural gatherings in our stores to promote reading in Hong Kong and enhance readers' interest in cultural and academic pursuits.' Training is important to help their staff keep up with the growing demands of book retailing, particularly for new employees. The Commercial Press offers a one-year internship for university graduates interested in managing abookshop. Mr Kwan said: 'We accept four to six people a year into our programme, with the first six months seeing interns work in a variety of jobs around the city. In the second six months each intern is assigned one shop where they learn more in-depth about managing a bookstore.' Ms Yim said it was important to hire staff who had a love for books and reading. When booksellers are looking at people to hire, either for retail staff or office support, they are looking for people who are knowledgeable, with good language skills. Mr Kwan said these qualities were key to keep customers coming through the door and staff needed to have good common sense and be adept at selling.