Owlets Reading Room -The ‘wise’ move
What do you expect to happen when a graduate in Psychology with an MBA in Human Resources, a 62-year-old retired chemical engineer and a 57-year-old homemaker join hands? Something extraordinary, Right! Well, that’s what actually happened.
The trio is running India’s first and one-of-a-kind WhatsApp-based book and toy store for kids aged 0 to 10, Owlets Reading Room.
As a team of three, they handle everything: from sourcing the books, posting them to customers, billing and dispatching along with resolving any kind of grievances that might arise out of the transactions. We get you their story, straight from Deepthi Rohith, the daughter who started this unique venture with her parents, Murli S and Jayashree Murli.
Founders (from left) Deepthi Rohith, Murli S and Jayashree Murli
How did Owlets come into being?
It started as a venture in 2018 when I realised that there existed a demand and supply gap for good reading material for kids.
At that time, I was facing two key issues in my life – my parents and my kids! I was awaiting the birth of my second child, and at the same time my brother got a job opportunity in Europe, which he decided to take up. I realised it would mean that my parents would be left alone. I thus started to look for something that would keep them engaged from the comfort of the house.
Parallelly, I was also desperately searching for good books for kids at that time (with no disrespect to Indian authors, it is a fact that quality fiction and nonfiction for young readers is still a developing field in our country while books from abroad are difficult to source and extremely expensive); I stumbled upon a lead for imported children’s books from the US and the UK and randomly gave the number a call to enquire. When the person told me that he could get me books in bulk at good rates, something about it felt right!
A couple of weeks of focussed research and lots of negotiations later, Owlets was born. By keeping economised margins, we were able to get these excellent quality new and pre-loved (used) books for Indian families.
Now, my parents aren’t exactly computer savvy and I didn’t want them struggling with running a physical library or bookstore from home. I was almost about to drop the plan when it struck me that this could be done through Whatsapp, and started a Whatsapp group. I was confident that the word of mouth marketing and our sincere service would help Owlets sail through.
The company was formally launched on January 15, 2019. Later, we also included toys, mainly from Indian manufacturers.
Why this unusual name, Owlet?
I wanted the name to be cool, yet meaningful! One night, while reading a book with my son, I came across a story where animals in a jungle go to an owl for answers since he is considered ‘wise’. That was my ‘aha’ moment. The name owlets literally popped into my head and we coined the tagline – Raising ‘wise’ kids to go with it. Today, we have a big family of parent owls and their little owlets who are the crux of our growth story.
Share with us your business model.
We import books from the UK and the US, and pick out every single book from bulk consignments keeping content and quality in mind. Since these are mostly pre-loved books, the physical condition is also of critical importance. Every week, from Monday to Friday, Team Owlets hoots at 4pm, with a curated collection of 15 books that we call The loot of the day. Relevant details of all the books, including pictures, are posted one after the other and a gap of five to 10 minutes is given for customers to shortlist their choices. Books are allotted to the customers on the basis of a process called the Fastest Finger First – the person with the first ping after a book is called out is allocated the book. This mad rush is exciting and rewarding for customers since they get as thrilled at getting a book as if they’ve won the lottery, and is one of the main USPs of Owlets. Every Friday is a special sale where a theme is chosen and all 15 books are based on the same topic.
What all genres do you have?
We have books across all genres for readers under the age of 10. For infants as young as two months and above, we offer a wide range of sensory (audio, visual and tactile) and board books with a variety of textures and movable entities in bright colours and thick paper so that they can hold and play with their chunky chubby hands, without ripping or chewing the page away!
For toddlers, we offer a selection of books with single or multiple short stories. Most of these have messages that help them with life skills. We also offer interactive books for this age group with flaps and other such elements for them to stay hooked.
For slightly older kids, fictional books become a little more complex, with more pages and characters.
What kind of books are more in demand?
Sensory and interactive books, ones with textures and sound etc are demanded the most. But Classics are also bestsellers as are short stories based on values parents want to instil in their children. Activity books to reinforce mainstream learning in terms of the alphabet and numbers are also always in demand. A wide range of educational books on Maths and Science are also sought after.
When did you begin with toys?
Around May 2019. One of our customers gave us a lead to a wooden toy manufacturer and we loved some of their products. We struck a deal with them for reselling and offered it to Owlets customers at a much lower rate than the market. We constantly tie up with new manufacturers and resellers who deal with educational toys.
Are there any expansion plans?
We intend to move to Telegram by the beginning of next year, but are hesitant since we love the fact that we are India’s first WhatsApp based book and toy store!