«I was not acquainted with other professions. My fondness was for books, and a means for survival churned the birth of The Booksmith». Sirote Jiraprayoon on his journey to climb the corporate ladder
24 February, 2021. Located in Chiang Mai, One Nimman is a hub where the Thai community meets to rendezvous over food, pop-up markets, art and books. Established in 2017, this brick and stone building with cobblestone walkways and an open-air setting emulates a design juxtaposition to the layout of Chiang Mai and the Greater-Thailand region. Blending in modern-designs with incorporation of denizen brands and practices, One Nimman is a gathering of the up-and-coming in Northern Thailand. Existing in the allotted shop spaces is one chain of the independent-bookstore, The Booksmith. Subsisting alongside other bookstores, The Booksmith positions itself to stand out by the process of curation. Under the ‘Smith Project Co’ umbrella, fifty-one-year-old owner and founder Sirote Jiraprayoon has five bookstores, each specializing in reading materials and titles. Prior to the birth of The Booksmith, Jiraprayoon’s first venture into the book selling business was with Asia Books, a company based out in Thailand that centers around selling English language books.In the beginning, Asia Books was run by a single owner. Jiraprayoon utilized Asia Books to learn the ropes in book selling. «Heading to the opening of The Booksmith, I had been in the book industry for twelve years with Asia Books; I was not acquainted with other professions. My fondness was for books, and a means for survival churned the birth of The Booksmith». On his journey to climb the corporate ladder, Asia Books was sold to a private equity company; flipped and was sold again. This was when Jiraprayoon moved away from the commercial-side of the business to focus on an independent-market model. «Before I left, I was the managing director. After the third sale of the company, I made the decision to start my company». Flitting between Bangkok and Chiang Mai after leaving his position, Jiraprayoon was piqued by a space in the shopping district of Chiang Mai that was for rent. «The space was seventy-five square meters and the rent met my requirements. Fifteen minutes after discussing with the landlord, I got the space».
The first store of The Booksmith, founded in the year 2012, it has since relocated after having spent six years there. It now resides in One Nimman. Jiraprayoon has been on committees of the association of awards for Thai Language books. «I was a part of the committee to award books with creative cover designs awarding the best book to read of the year». Being an advisor for libraries, universities and bookstores across Thailand, The Booksmith is a part of the Thai reading culture. Since its opening, The Booksmith has diversified its locations, opening two of its stores at the Chiang Mai International Airport. In its third year, Jiraprayoon went into a venture with the landlord and owner of Gaysorn Village, a mall in Bangkok, creating The Papersmith – a bookstore pivoting on independent-magazines. «We did not intend on opening The Papersmith. The owner of Gaysorn Village, a customer, had approached us to open a store in the mall. We didn’t have to pay rent – the intention was to sell reading material, specializing in magazines». On the agreement of sharing revenue with the owner, Jiraprayoon created The Papersmith; seventy percent of which are independent-magazines on the arts, culture, fashion, architecture and design. In 2020, the fifth store to open under the Smith Co. was at Don Mueang International Airport. «We went with the decision to focus on genres for each of these five stores. The store in One Nimman carries art and design books alongside non-fiction, the stores at the airport sell fiction, non-fiction and travel guides». By implementing this strategy, they are able to diversify their market reach, catering to the locals and travelers in Thailand while exchanging their stock list between the stores to ensure survival. The name and personality of The Booksmith was a laudation to something he had read on the business of book publishing during his tenure at Asia Books. «We registered the company as ‘The Smith Project’, creating a chain of independent-bookstores under the umbrella while working on projects for the future».
The move to One Nimman was not a choice Jiraprayoon wanted to make. The landlord of their original-space had been in talks to let go of the building. One Nimman had offered a space to The Booksmith, a year before the building had been sold off. «It was a two hundred meter walk away from our first store. I did not intend on leaving the space». Upon the sale of the space, The Booksmith acquired the opportunity to move to One Nimman. «We were up and running in one week. We moved the books and shelves and the furniture and design were set up by One Nimman». The Booksmith acts as a distributor for individuals searching for titles that are hard-to-seek. Jiraprayoon utilized social media to set awareness and solidify The Booksmith’s existence. «The Booksmith was the one bookstore to carry known titles. That is how we grew». Acting as a bridge between home-based and customers worldwide by supplying books, The Booksmith is not stifled by the fear of competition from its counterparts. Able to set themselves apart while catering for the masses, readers and distributors allows The Booksmith to cultivate and grow. «Customers and bookstores reach out to us for titles and magazines that they need help to acquire. A bookstore chain reached out to me, asking to help curate titles for their stores». Being the first pioneer to carry magazines like Kinfolk and Frankie, The Booksmith became a sought-after name for readers of design and art-based magazines. The intent to open a chain of bookstores at the airports was a means to sustain the other stores. Jiraprayoon shares that the bookstores located in the airports are a cash-cow, attracting passengers. «Having one bookstore was a challenge to sustain The Booksmith. The vision I had in mind was to expand the business aspect of the stores to sustain the flagship location». The focus is maintained on investing in the books and reading materials while getting the landlords to aid in the design of the spaces. Upon attending book fares in London and Frankfurt every year, prior to the pandemic, Waterstone and Daunt are two bookstores that he visits each year as he regards their formatting. The designs of The Booksmith stores vary but carry an identity in its vein.
The Booksmith in One Nimman sells books in design, architecture and non-fiction. The choice to carry these selections of books was due to the rise in demand of its customers who are involved in design. In the 2020, they began carrying books on typography and graphic design, following market trends and demand. Customers frequenting the stores are Thai while a portion are expatriates and travelers. «Ninety percent of the customers of The Booksmith in One Nimman are of Thai origin. Out of the twenty-seven thousand customers that have signed up with our membership program in the One Nimman Store, fifty percent are Chiang Mai dwellers. The rest come from other states in Thailand». Low-cost flights have allowed for Thai natives to visit Chiang Mai during the winter. The Booksmith in One Nimman has a café named the ‘Chillax Corner’, it is owned by Jiraprayoon’s brother. Jiraprayoon sources the coffee beans and food for the café from locale sources – Chiang Mai based roasteries and employing his sister-in-law as an in-house baker for the café. Initializing their website in 2020, The Booksmith was meant to go online in 2019, but was set back to ensure they could fine-tune kinks. It was the lockdown that urged the site to go live, giving their customers an opportunity to purchase titles. «We could not keep our stores open. We went live with our website in two days. We didn’t expect customers to swarm our online store, but that was the case». «Customers from Singapore and Taiwan had reached out, wanting to purchase books from us. We were acting as an intermediary between our customers and the publishers». Getting publishers to ship books to customers, The Booksmith, as an independent-entity in the bookselling business has become a household name in Thailand and abroad. The Booksmith’s inventory is overseen by Jiraprayoon. «We do not carry a myriad of books in our stores. I gather commentary from customers, the internet and my knowledge on books over the years and procure titles for each store». The Booksmith’s approach to maintain social and environmental efforts is through donating shelves and books every year to the underprivileged, utilizing the area to source items for its in-house café, offering its space in One Nimman for events and reducing its waste in plastic packaging and wrapping every year. The Booksmith is in efforts with the Ministry of Culture, using a ‘Book Passport’ to encourage reading in its citizens.IMAGE GALLERY
One Nimman Soi 1
Mueang Chiang Mai District
Chiang Mai, Thailand