Waterstone's managers await buying change

Store managers at Waterstone’s have been reacting with mixed feelings and some confusion to James Daunt’s plans to reintroduce centralised buying into the chain bookseller, as they await more details about the objective.

Daunt told staff last Thursday (21st July) that a centralised buying method for both new and replenishment books will soon be introduced at the company—expected to be in place for October’s orders—to ensure it is “selling the widest possible range of [publishers] books appropriate to each individual shop”.

The changes mean bookshop managers will not personally be in control of buying books. They currently have autonomy in purchasing around 40% of stock for their stores. It is thought the new system will be carried out by Daunt and a buying team. However, Daunt insisted individual stores will be able to order the books they want, when they want them.

The Waterstone’s m.d.—who has been away from head office this week—told publishers last Friday that he expected to thrash out how the centralised buying system would work over the following 10 days. Shop managers are still in the dark about what the changes will be, although Daunt has told publishers in an email it will have “multiple and complex implications”.

One Waterstone’s store manager said: “It is unclear how much control we will have. We have been told we will be able to order ‘the books we want when we want’, but at the moment it is unclear how this is going to work because we haven’t been given any details. Although we’ve been told the plans are intended to increase the depth of the book range, I worry about what will happen to the books with a local interest, and if I will be able to get those orders into shops as quickly as I would like.”

Another manager said: “I think everyone just wants the company to be a success and sell more books after a very troubling period, so if these plans for centralised buying will do this then that is fantastic. I still believe I am going to have an element of control, but I have no idea how much at the moment—although I think it centres more around how we can choose to display books and what the shops will look like.”

Some bookselling reps have also expressed concern over their future roles while they wait to hear what the central buying plans entail. One said: “It is too early to know yet, but of course I am concerned about what it will mean for my job if managers aren’t going to be doing the buying.”

In the email to staff, Daunt said the buying system needed to change because “the massive duplication of work that the current system entails needs to be cut”. He also said he would need an open dialogue with publishers in order to enact the buying changes, and said that the current way Waterstone’s sells books was “not sustainable”.

While publishers are also waiting to hear how the central buying changes will affect them, some indies are hopeful plans to extend the range will see more of their titles stocked. Profile Books m.d. Andrew Franklin said: “If James Daunt gets it right, it could be the single best chain in the world for range and quality bookselling. In order to do that there needs to be pretty extensive change, and I think this is a very good step. Range of stock and staff make a bookshop successful and I hear morale has lifted, so I am hopeful for Christmas sales.”