Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Perfect LANDMARK for Books – Success story of Ms. Hemu Ramiah – Founder of Landmark Book Stores

The Perfect LANDMARK for Books :
 Success story of Ms. Hemu Ramiah – Founder of Landmark Book Stores

Source: The Hindu

I just compiled this document on Ms.Hemu Ramiah - Founder & Ex CEO of Landmark Book stores for my sister's assignment and I feel it would be better if I can share the same in my blog. Hope this post will be useful and motivate the budding entrepreneurs.

About Landmark:

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah, the women entrepreneur of the Year 2003, the founder/ex CEO of the Landmark chain of book/leisure stores, known for well designed stores, wide range of international products and legendary customer services that which changed the way people shopping in India. Landmark has a track record of continuous growth in sales and profits over the year’s right from the beginning. 

Landmark was the first Retail organization in India to be awarded the prestigious ISO 9001:2000 certification. Ms.Hemu Ramaiah also enforced the online presence for landmark book stores called one of the biggest e-commerce sites for online shopping of music, movies, games, toys, gift cards and buying books in India.

Ms. Hemu Ramiah’s Earlier Days : 

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah, at her younger days, as a daughter of an army man, get used to frequent change of residence, staying in towns and cities of India. Coming from a family not even remotely connected to business and not much crazy about books either, generally was growing up in a world where reading books was her pleasurable pastime and sometimes the only source of entertainment. 

Her Basic Instinct:

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah did follow her instinct by deciding early, that her life was going to revolve around the book industry. Ms.Hemu Ramaiah began studying literature. 

She did a Bachelor of Arts at Stella Maris College in Chennai.  Ms.Hemu Ramaiah got an assignment at the Danai Chain of Hotel bookshops in the Taj Coromandel hotel and went on to begin her career with books by joining the Taj Bookshop. 

Displaying great determination and foresight, pretty soon she had established nine hotel book retail shops and was ready to take the big leap. She planned to set up her own bookstore by the time she turned thirty and to preferably exit by the time she turned fifty. 

 “At 20, I will start working… Studying is a waste of time. Before 30, I will start my own business. After that, I won’t take risks. Before 50, I will retire.” thought of Ms.Hemu Ramaiah.

History of Landmark:
Source: Landmark Website

Landmark founded by Ms.Hemu Ramaiah started operations in over 5,200 square feet of basement, rented out at four bucks per sq ft, has spawned stores all over the country and recently completed 25 years with a kind of success that lives up to its  name Landmark. 

With a modest capital of Rs. 12 lakhs included a 6 lakhs from his brother, Ms.Hemu Ramaiah, set up the first book shop in Nungambakkam, Chennai in 1987. The location was the basement of an office building. No one would’ve thought this focus would end up in a Rs. 225 crore-turnover company when she turned 50 years old.

The Vision – Envision: Large Scale Expansion of Landmark:

When Ms.Hemu Ramiah first opened shop in Chennai and told her staff that the books on display could be thumbed by potential customers for as long as they liked, the staff was aghast. They told her that the goods would be damaged and remain unsold. 

Ramaiah stuck to her belief that if someone loved a book enough to come in everyday to read it, he or she would buy it – or something else – at some point. Just having the customer choose to visit the store was half the battle won, she believed. 

In terms of variety of titles too, there was really not much for readers to look forward to until then. There were some legendary individual stores in the country where the proprietor viewed books as his or her mission but these stores were small and had no branches anywhere in any other city. Large format bookstores were an idea waiting to happen. Ms. Hemu Ramaiah says like an entrepreneurial seer, “A successful business always finds a gap to fill.” And that is how she came in and changed the monosyllabic tenor of book retailing into a multi layered, endlessly exciting symphonic, shopping experience.

Transforming the Act of Purchasing to the Act of Experiencing: 
Source: Business Line

From the onset, her aim was to create a bookstore which would change the way people perceived book shops in India. 

A bookshop without textbooks, 
A bookshop with open display, 
A bookshop where people could walk around, pick up a book, flip through it instead of coldly purchasing it from across a counter. 

In other words, Ms.Hemu Ramaiah converted the act of purchasing a book into an experience. And she went on to enhance this experience by adding on to the initial offering of only books, chocolates, stationery, toys and music.

The Brand “Landmark”:

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah by late 1990s having tried the franchise model, as well as the joint venture in Calcutta, Landmark grown as a brand to reckon with and it was getting a lot of attention from the right quarters. 

In 2001, Landmark was invited to operate a branch at Spencer Plaza in Chennai, the first mall in India. Soon word spread and in 2002 Landmark was operating from Forum Mall in Bangalore and what began as a book shop in a basement turned into an all-India phenomenon. The retail chain’s range has expanded beyond books and music to toys, gaming, technology products and even home stores.

Landmark as a Shopping Destination:

When she started out, there was no concept of book stores keeping publishing backlists. Nor was a book store a shopping destination for an entire family. “No one  knew anything about the book trade. Books were just commodities. No one invested passion in them,” recalls Hemaiah. She changed all that. 
Books for entire family

“Landmark allowed families to come, spend time in various sections, browse and find whatever it was that they were looking for. The idea was not to give them what we had but to give what they wanted. Be it a movie, a stapler, a glue stick or something for the house. Whatever was new, we had it. It was a place they could spend time in without having to spend an arm or a leg,” she said. 

One hugely rewarding thing for her personally, was to mentor women entrepreneurs whose unique products Landmark store stocked. “These women were running small units, sometimes from home and Landmark showcased their products on a big scale,” recalls Ramaiah.

She also says “If you approach any problem with a chip on your shoulder, you will find it tough to cope. Or you can see every issue as a plus-plus possibility. Running Landmark was not an easy thing in terms of logistics. The stock keeping was painstaking because the merchandising was so diverse. People with specific skill sets were needed to run the operations smoothly but we pulled it off.”

Sale of Landmark to Tata Group Company – Trent Limited:

In August of 2005, Ms.Hemu Ramaiah’s brother, Mr. Natraj Ramaiah, and one of the main promoters of the chain, sold his 76% stake in an all-cash deal for Rs 104 crore  to the Tata group company -Trent Ltd. 

At the time Landmark was taken over in 2005, it had sales of Rs 95 crore and four large stores across Chennai and Bangalore, along with a joint venture with the Emami Group in Kolkata for a similar store. 

From two cities then, the chain has expanded to nine cities and covers 2,00,000 sq feet of retail space with revenues of Rs 196 crore. With the distinction of having made a profit in every year of its existence, Landmark was in an enviable position. 

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah held the balance 24% in Landmark and continued to be CEO till May 2008, however true to herself; Ms.Hemu Ramaiah stuck to her plan and decided move on, when she invited Tata group company, Trent Ltd. to takeover Landmark in 2008.  When Trent bought out her entire stake for an undisclosed sum, she exited the company as well to establish a retail and design consultancy - “Shop 4 Solutions”.

Hemu Ramiah’s Other Ventures :

Ms.Hemu Ramaiah also founded a distribution/import/publishing company called “Westland Books” to establish the supply chain.

She also founded an innovative design & interior firm called “Ifrieze Design  Solutions”

With her 33 years of experience in retailing,  She now managing her new consulting business “Shop 4 Solutions” as a MD and

She is also a venture partner with TVS Capital funds, a private equity fund specializing in the retail consumer space.


1987 December: Launched with a fully computerized customized billing and query system developed by IIT ians

1991:  Introduced bar code, invested heavily on stock and warehousing and became the first store to work on Sundays

1994:  Broke monopoly in alliance with Westland Books

1996: Doubled carpet area, introduced open displays, music section and became the first store to have listening stations

1999:  Opened store in Kolkata, a joint venture

2001:  Set-up shop in Spencer Plaza, got ISO 9001 certification and started

2004: Started the 45,000 sq.ft. flagship store in Forum, Bangalore

2005:  Trent, retail wing of Tatas, acquired a 76% stake in Landmark to set up stores in Mumbai, Pune, Gurgaon and Baroda

2006:  Stores launched in Mumbai, Baroda, Gurgaon and Pune

2007:  Completes 20 years

Ms. Hemu Ramiah’s Words of Advice for the Budding Entrepreneurs:

“The idea should be to outdo an idea. The next big idea has to be better than another ‘me too.’ Don’t copy. Innovate.”

“I went from a small format book retailing to a large one and I had no one to emulate. The dynamics were different. Today when I consult other entrepreneurs and mentor their business ideas, I realize that businesses fail because people don’t do their homework. My advice to anyone starting out with a new business is that they must know everything they need to know. Always know the answer to the question, ‘What if I fail? What is the worst case scenario?’ Be prepared or be humble enough to ask for answers, if you don’t know.”


Money is not the only criteria to become a successful Entrepreneur. It require much more attributes than money like Determination, Foreseeing, Dedication etc and we could see all these attributes in Ms. Hemu Ramiah. This is not just a story of a successful woman entrepreneur, it should also serve as a seed which can produce more entrepreneurs in the days to come.

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