“Expographic” seems to establish a confluence of ideas, and certainly “graphic design” was not far from the original purpose and concept behind the setting up of this company. It was formed within the modest confines of the Pettah in the central commercial hub of the capital Colombo, and was intended to be a printing establishment which would, in time, acquire a large printing press. This was at the initiative of Mr.Leelananda Fonseka who started Expographic in the year 1985/86. The following year, Mr.Fonseka and Mr. Ranjith Samaranayake, who had been good friends for more than a decade, decided to form a partnership which was to extend the scope and range of Expographic from being printer to also encompass aspects of Bookselling and Book Publishing.
This impetus was on account of Mr. Ranjith Samaranayake continuing to be the Publisher of his late father’s famous volumes English with a Smile and Practical English, which for nearly half a century were being widely used as English language text books in Sri Lanka.
In 1987 with their partnership in place, Mr.Samaranayake suggested to Mr.Fonseka that they start a bookshop as he was already a book distributor and a publisher. At the time, Mr Samaranayake had his base for operations at his paternal home in Polgahawela and was on the look-out for a distribution point in Colombo to stock his father’s books. Pettah and “Expographic” looked to be the most promising as it was located in the commercial hub of Colombo where all the regional traders would come to, in purchasing their requirements.
Fonseka readily agreed and invited Mr Samaranayake to move in some of his stocks to this office. This was the first phase in this new venture. Mr Samaranayake would travel two or three times a week to this office, which boasted of no more than a single table, two chairs and a small cupboard. His trade clients (i.e. other Bookshops) were informed of this new address, at which small orders were processed and distributed . This became a sales point for English with a Smile and Practical English at the beginning.
Samaranayake was also began distributing imported school books, which he purchased from established importers such as All Ceylon Distributors, MacCallum’s Bookshop and Lake House Book Shop, while retaining a small profit margin. These were mainly textbooks and volumes such as Oxford Dictionaries, Radiant Way, Ronald Ridout ‘Work Books’, Active English and Lady Bird ‘Work Books’.
Since Mr.Samaranayake’s was already a ‘recognized name’ in the trade as a result of being the publisher and distributor of his father’s text books, he was accepted amongst the fraternity of booksellers and had little trouble in continuing to supply an ever expanding stock of text books which he imported and distributed all over the country from north to south and in between. These were the foundations of a later rapid expansion.
So it was that printing and graphic designing receded into the background and the identity of Expographic saw a sea change and was became better established in the book business, which in time became its major focus.
Selling imported books was not an easy venture, since the profit margins were necessarily low, unless direct imports from overseas publishers was affected. Financing purchases was difficult at the time, and it was not easy to obtain support from the banking establishment. However, with their pooled resources albeit modest in the extreme, Messrs. Fonseka and Samaranayake ordered their first consignment direct from Allied Publishers, Delhi in mid-1987. Credit was not accepted by publishers abroad, and some were unwilling even to deal on cash terms with ‘unknown’ Sri Lankan buyers!
Developing an identity as a retailer book shop housed in the second floor of a multi-level building complex was a challenge, although wholesale distribution was being handled apace. There was just the one paid employee. But Expographics strove to move out to the different cities holding exhibitions and sales to popularize its portfolio and successfully attempted to establish a name for itself. These were in major towns such as Kegalle, Kurunegala, Gampaha, Galle and Negombo and in the Universities. Exhibitions were started in 1990’s which continued over a period of 5 to 6 years.
Gradually more people came to know of and visit the Expographic Book shop in the Pettah. More imports of books other than those which were school books were secured. In time, though, the trend was more in the direction of general books, academic, professional and reference books. Limited attempts were also made to visit other retail book shops around the island to popularize selected titles and make retailers aware of the increased range of books which were being stocked and sold by Expographic. This process was somewhat difficult to sustain on account of its own particular logistics.
In the early ‘90s, the company’s policy was altered, and it was decided that they would henceforth concentrate on academic books, focusing mainly on engineering computer science and management and other similar subject matter, and thereby capture a sizeable portion of this specialist retail market, which appeared to be very promising.
Book Exhibitions were held in Universities such as Moratuwa, Kelaniya, Ruhuna, Peradeniya, Sri Jayawardanepura, at the Open University of Sri Lanka and at the Colombo campus.
In 1994 we were invited to open a shop within the precincts of the University of Moratuwa by its Vice Chancellor.
Currently we enjoy the highest market share in Engineering Computer Science, Social Sciences and Management books.
With the opening of the new flagship store in Pelawatta Battaramulla, with over 5000 square feet retailing space, the company has diversified into retailing book related products such as stationery, educational toys, laboratory equipment and greeting cards.
The company has also extended its operations in Kandy with outlets in Dalada Veediya and University of Peradeniya.
Mr.Ranjith Samaranayake who is the Managing director of Expographic Books Pvt Ltd is a Past President of both the Sri Lanka Book Publishers' Association, and the Ceylon Booksellers Importers and Exporters Association.