PETALING JAYA, Nov 1 – When Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng started the Big Bad Wolf sale back in 2009, they did not expect it to be one of the biggest book events in Southeast Asia. The million-dollar, round-the-clock sale with books going for as cheap as RM3 has become one of the most crowd-drawing events in Malaysia, beating the likes of MATTA Fair, PC Fair, Homedec, and any other type of warehouse sales, according to Yap.
Starting out BookXcess back in 2006, the husband and wife team has always kept to the company’s objective: “to give.” Seeing that only 2 per cent of the Malaysian population are book readers, they started sourcing for affordable but quality books to cultivate a reading habit among Malaysians.
Ng recalls having their first Big Bad Wolf sale in Dataran Hamodal. It was their first time organising a sale and they had no idea how the response would be.
“I hired 50 staff to handle the sale and only two of them were readers. We had two events that year, in May and in November. In May 2009, we had 120,000 books and back then we had no experience. I had to wait for each pallet (carrying books) to arrive and it took ages. We had customers waiting and following the trolleys for the books!”
It was a positive response, despite being their first time organising such an event. At the end of the sale, the part-timers who didn’t read became avid readers because they saw how crazy the crowd was over books. Ng received an email from a lady who brought her brother to the sale and it had ‘converted’ him! “The brother was just there to carry books and he wasn’t into reading. His sister told him to just pick any two books and she would pay for them. After that, he became an avid reader.”
Last year, there were 3 million books for sale during Big Bad Wolf and it was a non-stop shopping event for customers, some coming from as far as Thailand, Singapore and East Malaysia. The Big Bad Wolf sale is such a hit among bookworms that some people even take annual leave just to buy books! “Previously, I had an express lane to reduce the long queues but I found out that there were hardly anyone who bought less than five books. They usually carry boxes and trolleys of books whenever we have the Big Bad Wolf sale,” says Ng. Yap mentions that the best time to go is 5am when there is a lull. You’d be surprised to find out that the peak hours are from 2am to 4am!
Our mission is to increase readership in Malaysia and so far, we’re very happy with the response.” – Jacqueline Ng
Ever wondered how the name Big Bad Wolf came about? Ng says Yap proposed the idea one day when they were planning to have a book sale. Everyone objected to it, saying it had a negative impression because the Big Bad Wolf is the villain in the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. Somehow or rather, Yap made up his mind and despite objections, the name stuck. When the graphic designer came up with the logo, Ng and the rest of the staff liked it. “The Big Bad Wolf name is cheeky and catchy. We even have a storyline for our fans on Facebook.”
Every year, the Big Bad Wolf sale has a theme. Previous themes include a spaceship and superheroes. “There was one year where we changed our Facebook cover photo to look like a newspaper called ‘The Daily Howl’. It was part of the storyline we created to make it engaging and fun for our fans.” This year, it’s all about pirates. The storyline involves 3 million books being stolen by pirates and the Big Bad Wolf has to sail the Seven Seas to find them! “By creating this event, we encourage people to come even though they are not readers. Our mission is to increase readership in Malaysia and so far, we’re very happy with the response. The biggest challlenge we face is cost,” says Ng.
Yap and Ng have to travel throughout the year to source books at very low prices for Big Bad Wolf. Most of the books are overruns but all of them are brand new. They select quality books that people want to read as well. The entire event requires planning one year ahead. “It’s physically taxing and as the event approaches, we’ll be up all night to make sure that all the books are in the venue, ready for the sale,” said Ng.
Every year, Yap and Ng outdo themselves, adding more books to the already staggering amount of books they have. But handling 3 million books is no ordinary feat and Ng thinks it would be too “saturated” if there are more books this year.
Instead, they plan to have a special auction where all the proceeds will be channeled to Budimas. The charity organisation will build four libraries for a rural community and they require resources, books and teachers. For the past few years, Big Bad Wolf has its own charity initiative called Red Readership where customers buy books at the sale to be donated to charity foundations. “We do not donate used books because we believe that children should receive brand new books to read. Receiving a brand new book motivates young people to read.”
At the auction, there will be five collector’s edition books up for bidding. One of them is a limited edition autographed Vivienne Westwood book. “It’s as big as a dinner table!” says Yap. The book is a tribute to people who have modelled for the renowned British fashion designer. There are only 900 copies in print worldwide. Another highlight of the auction is a rare collector’s edition of Star Wars blueprints from the original George Lucas films.
Book lovers can expect 230 hours of non-stop shopping for the upcoming Big Bad Wolf sale happening December 6 to 15 at the Mines International Exhibition and Convention Centre starting from 7am. (https://www.facebook.com/bbwbooks)
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 31, 2013.