MPH is poised for expansion at its new flagship store in The Exchange TRX

With a prime location and a team strong on industry experience, the bookstore aims to bring the brand and customer experience back up.

MPH's new flagship store at The Exchange TRX spans 2,000 sq ft, with natural wood tones and bronze detailing giving the interior an inviting feel (All photos: MPH)

While the story of MPH awaits to be told, the bookstore has added another chapter to its 106-year-old history with the opening of a new flagship outlet in The Exchange TRX, Kuala Lumpur. At the May 16 event, CEO Martin Cross says putting books front and centre in the 21,000 sq ft space underlines its aim of “bringing the brand and customer experience back up”.

Cross, who spent 15 years in publishing and seven in book retail in the country, joined MPH two days after it closed its Mid Valley megastore on Jan 31 this year.

“Basically, it seemed as if the owners had finally realised they needed people with strong industry experience to come in,” he says.

Cross describes himself as “quite Malaysian” — he is married to one and has been in the country for more than three decades, by choice. He says that, with the plans he has for this latest store and the investment in it, he and senior general manager Bobbie Low thought seriously about the “interesting challenge” and took it on.

His early input included layout and shelf design, to give visitors room to move around, and light installations that make the space look brighter and the books more attractive.

“As a buyer, I’m more inclined to pick up a book, weigh it up and decide whether to invest in it here than somewhere that’s slightly more gloomy and cramped.”

Huge gold-and-glass doors that open to a 3D pharaonic-style mural above the cashiers make one feel, subconsciously, like one is entering the Great Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Feature ceilings incorporating coded patterns, dynamic murals, monumental columns, natural wood tones and bronze detailing combine to give the interior a grand look, with modern and functional elements necessary for online retail and a bricks-and-mortar set-up.

But location is the talking point when one mentions TRX, which has seen high-end brands rushing to stake a spot in the retail and lifestyle hub since it opened last November. Would shoppers who go for luxury items make a stop at the bookshop?


The kids' section at MPH's TRX bookstore

“I think they will, but it will take a bit of time because the mall has been open for only six months. Regular visitors will also take a while to know we’re actually here and in operation after months of hoardings,” Cross says.

MPH’s prime spot makes it a destination and he is confident foot traffic will increase over the next few months. For those who do not wish to drive into the city, the Mass Rapid Transit below the mall offers easy access.

“I do think consumers who have the means to shop for high-end brands will appreciate coming here. In terms of trajectory, there’s a lot of potential for growth. It’s just how quickly we can build our reputation and get word out there about who we are,” says Cross.

He is hopeful about the business because “book sales in terms of volume and revenue globally have grown or, even in poor years, pretty much remained stable. And that’s still the case”.

Physical retail suffered tremendously during the pandemic but online sales went through the roof, he says. “Publishers in the West had the best years ever during Covid because people were reading more, they were home and they had fewer distractions.”

Now, those same readers are able to go to the shops again and enjoy flipping through the pages. “The overall book retail industry is as steady as ever, even in Malaysia,” Cross says.

Publishers and sellers have bemoaned the state of the industry because there is always something competing with books — from radio to film to TV and, now, the internet — and that is going to cause readership and sales to decline, he continues.

Various bookstores have ceased operations in Malaysia, no doubt, but new ones such as Eslite and Tsutaya have come in. “They obviously see something as well.

“You just have to invest wisely. If you are a bookstore owner, you get the right location, the right concept and the right management team.”


Thank You for Joining Us! We are thrilled to announce that MPH at TRX is now officially open! . A huge thank you...

Posted by MPH CLICK on Thursday, May 16, 2024


Events and activities to attract people are important, and MPH has three areas for that at TRX (located at L2, 28-29.A, Level 2). Highlighting bestsellers and what is new or in the news is important, too, because returning customers are avid readers and the main customers. They know what is coming out and will want the latest titles.

As for what people are reading now, Cross notes that “Malay books are very strong and growing. I would say probably the most interesting and strongest growth sector we’ve noticed is Malay language translations of international bestselling self-help titles. Atomic Habits by James Clear is a huge seller. The Malay edition is out now, priced slightly cheaper than the English version”.

Malay novels are also doing well and, overall, internationally as well, children’s books have been the strongest part of the market for several years.

MPH has a core customer base for English fiction, a reason that hot titles, including young adult books, are always placed at the front of the store. “The brand has been in the business for a long time and has a lot of data. It also has great merchandisers who know what the market wants because they themselves are readers and part of the book appreciation community.

“It’s quite incredible, really, how, for 500 years, books have been similar physically: pages bound together along a single spine, with a cover slightly more glamorous than the contents, usually. There probably are very few inventions that have changed so little.”

Today, MPH has eight outlets in the Klang Valley, and one each in Alor Setar and Kuching, compared with 30-plus pre-Covid.

“We have another one confirmed to open in September, not so far from KL, and are looking at a few others. So, definitely, the trajectory is towards expansion,” Cross says.


This article first appeared on June 3, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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