How National Bookstore's 'Nanay Coring' grows a nation of readers
MANILA, Philippines – National Bookstore has been growing since the 1930s.
“I’m confident we have contributed to society. It’s because we sell books that are good for our people, a lot of kids grew up with National Book Store – Laking National," said Socorro Ramos, the founder and chairman of National Book Store Incorporated.
Nanay Coring, as she is fondly called, shared her very humble beginnings in a Go Negosyo event honoring her lifetime achievements.
She grew National Bookstore out of a small store that sold books through a single window.
Socorro credits her brother-in-law, who first gave her a job at his own bookstore. She spent 3 years there learning the business. She also met there her husband, the late Jose Ramos. They wed, and opened a business of their own.
The “National” moniker was chosen on a whim by Nanay Coring, who recalled seeing the word printed on cash registers that time.
It proved to be an apt name for National Book Store’s journey to its present stature as the country’s biggest bookseller.
“From the first little store, I was lucky to open one in Avenida, then Recto, Cubao, Ayala Center – until I finally reached Mindanao!” she recalled.
Her wealth of decades as an entrepreneur earned her accolades left and right – the most prominent of them being the 2004 Entrepreneur of the Year honor from Ernst & Young and SGV & Company, for which she represented the country in the Entrepreneur of the Year global competition.
Her life story was best penned and illustrated in a children’s book, Nanay Coring: The Life Story of National Book Store’s Socorro Ramos, written by Yvette Fernandez and illustrated by Liza Flores.
Way back, the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin also wrote about Nanay Coring.
Their “small store” grew into subsidiaries like Metrobooks in Hong Kong; National Bookstore mini outlets; and specialty store Powerbooks. Anvil Publishing is National Bookstore’s publishing arm.
Meanwhile, the Ramos family’s Anglo Philippines Holdings Corporation has stakes in United Paragon Mining Corporation; Philodrill Corporation; Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation; MRT Development Corporation; and MRT Holdings, Incorporated. The family also has interests in Vulcan Industrial Mining Corporation. The backdoor listing of National Bookstore though is shelved at the moment.
In December 2014, the Ramoses sold 15.79% of its stake in North Triangle Depot Commercial Corporation (NTDCC) in Quezon City to the Ayalas, the developer of TriNoma mall.
Price was right
Nanay Coring said it was really the community that pushed the bookstore’s success. It was their persistence to have a bookstore in their community that convinced her to expand.
The popularity was because the price was right, she said.
A pragmatist, she only charged the converted dollar price on imported books because the slight discount she got buying such was enough for her, Nanay Coring reasoned.
“Besides, the buyers would see the dollar price printed on the back cover!” Nanay Coring exclaimed.
She added that her decision to post only a very small mark-up on books was partly motivated by her own experiences.
“I wanted to help people learn, since I myself was poor but eager to learn,” Nanay Coring said.
‘A bowl of cherries’
Nanay Coring initially relied on catalogs such as the top 20 best-selling titles to guide her in determining which books to bring in the Philippines.
For instance, the book, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? sold 3 million copies in the US so Nanay Coring decided to bring the title here. But it flopped.
She reasoned that maybe the book’s setting was not applicable to the situation in the country and it taught her the importance of developing an instinctive feel for her audience.
"Some work, others did not. Eventually I came to rely on feel. It was like gambling at first,” she said.
The Filipino is passionate and hardworking, she said.
She reasoned that such contribute to the popularity of romance and self-help books throughout her decades running the business.
Nanay Coring highlighted How to Win Friends and Influence People as one that particularly resonated with her and the public, because it spoke both to a Filipino’s social and self-determined attributes.
Her biggest takeaway from the book: “Be humble!”
Not only 'Twilight'
At 92, Nanay Coring is eager to hand over the reins.
She mentioned that her granddaughter, Xandra Ramos-Padilla, who serves as managing director of National Bookstore, is one of them taking over the bookstore chain, which to date, has about 2,500 employees in over 160 branches.
And National Bookstore, co-run now by the younger generation of Ramoses, will continue to grow the country by looking after the future of young, Filipino readers.
“Children’s books and fiction have lately dominated the market with nothing in between. But the emergence of teen fiction has catered to a whole new segment of readers that even adults are reading,” Xandra said.
She admits that Twilight is probably the best example of this but highlighted that there are “so many quality pieces out there.”
The advent of electronic books (e-books) has threatened traditional books and sellers, but the firm sees them as opportunity as well, Xandra said.
“Our physical book sales are still growing but we also offer e-books through our tie-up with Kobo,” she explained.
Xandra added that the company is also digitalizing its own books published through in-house arm, Anvil Publishing.
Reach a wider audience
Xandra pointed out that some of the new generation of Filipino authors are choosing to be published abroad.
Despite this, the firm is working to ensure that their material reaches the Filipino audience, she emphasized.
“We try to partner with their international publisher to launch them here,” Xandra said.
The firm is also focusing on publishing Filipino translations of prominent foreign authors for their works to reach the wider market.
The firm also plans to continue partnering with figures like Boy Abunda and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whose pop lit works have been well-received.
“As long as their works are relevant to people or culture [then] they will be published,” she said.
Overall, Nanay Coring said there are now more successful entrepreneurs than ever. And education plays a key role for such.
“Education is such that wherever you are, you have skills and knowledge. You know a little bit about every subject that has to be talked about," Nanay Coring said.
It is the kind of knowledge that a good book can provide. – Rappler.com