Bohemian profits for a book and a tea

Newsroom 29/04/2008 | 15:26

There are several reasons that might account for this situation. One is that the Romanian public has yet to acquire this habit, say some business owners. The more people are willing to spend their time in this way, the more demand they will create and this demand will soon be met. In addition to this, it is also hard for such a business to be profitable especially if it is not backed up by a strong brand. Hence, so far tea-shops are a side business, an addition to the main business, that of book selling, and sometimes merely for image.
Basically, anyone can read in any decent coffee or tea shop, provided they have a book on them. But what if you wish to go “hunting” for the latest book releases or feel the urge to change the decor and not head back home to read on your couch before falling asleep with the book in your lap?
A bunch of places located mostly in the central part of the city might do the trick.
The library-tea shop that will be opened on May 7 in the Act Theater building may turn out to be all the rage for more reasons than one. First, it is new and since curiosity is a well-known characteristic of bookworms, they might be tempted to take up the invitation. Second, it is located inside a theater, therefore it will target a cohesive public that will get to find out about its existence just by coming to the theater.
“The idea came from the audience members who were always asking if they could drink something,” Monica Simion, the economic director of Act Theater, told Business Review. “Then we received some office space about three years ago, so we decided to make the most of this space which already had the library and the carvings,” she added.
The library is the result of two donations. One was made by the Romanian Cultural institute through its director, writer Horia Roman Patapievici, and the Printing House and consisted of 80 books of more recent literature. The other donation was made by Simion herself and another of the theater employees, who gave 76 older books.
In one corner those with painting skills or inclination can find an easel and watercolors and the place will also have a piano where those with musical skills can play a song. In the evenings, there will be live music played at the piano or violin and even events such as pantomime. “For example, actress Coca Bloos would like to hold a performance accompanied by a pianist,” says Simion. Every three weeks the works of a painter will be displayed in the library-tea shop. The offer includes, of course, tea, cookies and jam. Simion has provided the jam, which was made by her mother, but in the future the theater plans to collaborate with several monasteries which are in dire straits: the nuns will make the jam in exchange for some money that will help them with their expenses. The money cashed by the library-tea shop will go into the theater fund.
The refurbishment of the place cost a little over EUR 8,000. Still, Simion says opening it was a headache. “They are not profitable and on the other hand involve pretty high expenses,” says the director, offering her view on the reasons behind the shortage of such places. Among the costs she mentions the high price of quality tea, cleaning and and staff expenses, even though the space is quite small.
Moreover, printing houses are wary of forming partnerships. “I sent requests to 15 printing houses proposing them to bring books here and in exchange, customers would have the opportunity to order their books and we would send the clients' orders to them. Only one answered,” says Simion.
Perhaps the best-known in this line of business is Carturesti, a network of book stores with a specially reserved tea room which is also used for hosting cultural events such as book launches and exhibitions.
The concept, which was imported from abroad but adapted and customized so that it could acquire an identity – something that “the others should do as well, not just copying a model” – was very well received, Daniel Voinea, marketing director at Carturesti, tells Business Review. “We have a faithful public and requests to open in more cities and increase our space.” He attributes the shortage of such spaces in Romania to the fact that the local market has a handicap – there need to be more people who enjoy reading in their spare time or to improve in their profession.
Voinea says the tea room in the book store is an accessory, an additional service and first of all “an act of image.” He says it required a rather high investment “if we take into account that a large part is removed from the retail space where a higher profit could be made from standard product sales.”
While it is not “the most efficient business” the advantage is that since Carturesti brought this concept to Romania, it became a standard that every space which sells cultural products will have to consider. “There is a public for this, but the selection will be made depending on the quality of services,” says Voinea.
Every week there are several hundred clients who sip some tea in the tea room, and this taking into account that the room is not always available, as it also hosts cultural events. Sales in the tea shop are negligible compared to book sales, but “the image is the advantage; sales and immediate profit are not the objective of the tea room” says Voinea. “The tea room is full almost all the time, so the growth potential has reached a limit. The only thing we can still do is to improve the diversity either by opening a gallery or expanding the offer with other products. Carturesti is not a bookshop, it is a concept,” says Voinea.
According to the Economy and Finance Ministry, the company that operates the chain of the Carturesti book stores, called Direct Client Services SRL, posted a turnover of above EUR 2.4 million (8.54 million RON) in 2006. Currently, the brand is in expansion and eyeing new locations. “Yes, we will open in big cities and are in advanced discussions for commercial spaces. The tea room is part and parcel of the Carturesti brand so it will be included,” says Voinea.
Another way of doing such a business is to become a tenant in a bookshop. Vasiliada has come to be known as a bookshop and tea shop but in fact these are two different businesses in the same location. Thus, the owner of the tea shop, Tudor Smirna, says he is just a tenant paying rent for the space of the tea shop he opened on the first floor. Smirna has also recently opened another Vasiliada tea store on Victoriei Avenue. The customers are usually young people aged between 20 and 35 on average incomes, many of them students. “There is a rather limited category of customers who enjoy spending an hour in the tea shop reading a book. Generally, there are several hundred customers a week,” says Smirna. An investment in such a place is about EUR 30,000 and the return on investment comes in three to five years.
“It is an incipient market, but I am convinced that when more people are willing to go to such a place, more outlets will appear,” says the tea shop owner who adds that at this point the number of these places is optimum for the public they have. “It is a poor market in Romania compared to what is happening in the west where there are more people who like to spend their time reading a book and having a tea.”

By Otilia Haraga

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