News

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.”

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This is probably the critical circle that JD has to square. How do you retain the financial benefits of centralised buying (ie terms) and yet allow the local bookshops to really have the autonomy that they can use to align their stock to the local market. Tough 'un!

Daunt hasn't contacted ME with an email! When you say he's written to publishers, you surely mean he's written to the handful of large publishing houses who dominate this trade and with which Waterstones do business.
As for sales reps, they are a thing of the past and have been for a good long time. In fact, with PoD, distributors are going that way too - and so will Waterstones who have to absorb the fact that PoD titles are sold on a firm sale basis.

James Daunt made his announcement in response to and to clarify the situation before a speculative article by the Bookseller. It is clear that there were no concrete plans at that point and there wouldn't have been the subsequent vague announcement otherwise. So now you write this article, as if it's some sort of surprise?

Perhaps if you had more journalistic integrity, you wouldn't create so much fear and worry within the industry. Though the bigger issue is that you created this issue entirely. If you stop writing so much gossip, and we wouldn't have these problems - there is enough uncertainty as it is.

Non-Story.

Nothing to see here, move along.

How is it gossip if it is true? The original article wasn't speculative: it was based on an understanding we had that Daunt would introduce centralised buying and in addition remove the ability of stores to buy those books they were currently buying locally. Waterstone's would not comment to us, or confirm/deny our story. Daunt's letter subsequently confirmed it, though as ever the devil is in the detail, and we await that detail with interest. We could have run our story at any point from Wednesday onwards (when we went to press with the printed version), but we actually held off until James sent his email. We then ran a version based on that email. I don't know if we precipitated James' announcement, but the talk was out there and we have a duty and right to report things as they emerge and are of interest to the larger book community.

Philip has done what Bookseller journalists should do , sometimes it may upset or unsettle people but The Bookseller needs to report outside of trade press releases.

An "explanation" of central buying has appeared on compass not long after this article appeared on this website ;-)

Daunt has told publishers in an email it will have “multiple and complex implications”.

For goodness sake bookshops are not complicated so stop making them so! There is more to bookselling than Xmas and the sooner Daunt realises this the better...how about employing managers/buyers at branch level and then trusting them to buy for their local market.

I fear the end is nigh for Waterstones.

I don't think you get to bleat about "integrity" from behind the cover of anonymity.

The "Explanation" of central buying does not explain much as head office have no idea how the system is going to work. James is bringing in an idea that works for his "Niche" shops but will not work for a large chain such as Waterstones.
I Am Fearful that Alan Bradley is correct and that the end is Nigh!
The morale was high but has now sunk once again!!!

Alan

maybe he is laying the ground to the negotiations that he is going to have with publishers re margin re supply re campaign re positioning re returns .......

maybe like a lot of comments it is a bit premature to get all nostradamus on a hastily put together press release / one quote taken form a communication

Publishers have been waiting to get rid of reps for years, they just want to make it look like it is someone else's fault when they wield the axe. POD is indeed mostly firm sale. It is also mostly pretty horrible, and while it may work for low print run stuff and academic titles, it is not good enough to sit on bookshop shelves in any real numbers.

Indeed. We all look forward to their in depth investigations of WH Smith and Amazon.

Indeed. We all look forward to their in depth investigations of WH Smith and Amazon.

Never mind all that. What about the t-shirts?

Morale was high and is now low! Forgive me but he hasn't done anything yet! Secondly there is more to book selling than Xmas, except the majority of stores will deliver the vast percent I profit over this 5 to six week period, bad Xmas can turn stores into loss making ones and companies into defunct ones. You can't have buyer employed at local levels , there would be no margin leverage to gain from publishers from this and the cost implication would be massive . Once upon a time stores did order and choose the vary majority of there range, a time when margins were not so slim, buy this lead to massive amounts of unreturnable dead stock. Negotiate with publishers buy and scale what you can at good margins to stores. Allow local
Influence to order backlist and titles appropriate to them , but within achieve able stock levels to keep stores profitable.

Most of the unreturnable dead stock we have in store was scaled out to us from central, not ordered by us.

In any case, come on guys, it's not going to be that different as we have hardly been ordering stock ourselves this year anyway (apart from replen' which was mainly what they suggested anyway). And at least we can dress the store as we like (as long as our RM says we can and we follow the 'suggested' VM and exact floor planning space ...and follow the campaign plans that we were supposed to be getting rid of).

And we can still order the books we want for our innovative feature spaces, we just need to get on to the dedicated phone line with our list of 100 books (to fill all those feature spaces they are still pressing on with). With concrete sales data of course !

Cheer up, we could be on the dole (not this year at least).

Maybe people shouldn't be making "hastily put together press releases.."

I wish Daunt well in his negotiations...just hope he remembers Waterstones is a small player now and publishers have found other avenues for their titles.

Looks like after a promising beginning Daunt is turning out to be like the rest - a bit crap & no confidence in booksellers buying decisions

Most sensible thing anyone has written on these blogs for a very long time

This is probably the critical circle that JD has to square. How do you retain the financial benefits of centralised buying (ie terms) and yet allow the local bookshops to really have the autonomy that they can use to align their stock to the local market. Tough 'un!

In June it was reported that W'stones sales were down 8% - surprise, surprise - this was after our store's stock at least had been stripped down by 50% - sorry, returns done to improve figures on paper before the sale of W.! So all in all, 50% stock less in the store, 8% less sales, is that surptising, or even bad?

It is now August and on the shopfloor we are still having to apologise for not having the most obvious stock, like not more than 1 Hongkong city guide on the shelf, not one De Bono and less than 100 business books. Customers are beginning to commiserate. There is lots of stock coming in, but too much of what we don't need at all, because the old machine grinds on until Daunt's changes can break through.

Daunt hasn't contacted ME with an email! When you say he's written to publishers, you surely mean he's written to the handful of large publishing houses who dominate this trade and with which Waterstones do business.
As for sales reps, they are a thing of the past and have been for a good long time. In fact, with PoD, distributors are going that way too - and so will Waterstones who have to absorb the fact that PoD titles are sold on a firm sale basis.

Publishers have been waiting to get rid of reps for years, they just want to make it look like it is someone else's fault when they wield the axe. POD is indeed mostly firm sale. It is also mostly pretty horrible, and while it may work for low print run stuff and academic titles, it is not good enough to sit on bookshop shelves in any real numbers.

James Daunt made his announcement in response to and to clarify the situation before a speculative article by the Bookseller. It is clear that there were no concrete plans at that point and there wouldn't have been the subsequent vague announcement otherwise. So now you write this article, as if it's some sort of surprise?

Perhaps if you had more journalistic integrity, you wouldn't create so much fear and worry within the industry. Though the bigger issue is that you created this issue entirely. If you stop writing so much gossip, and we wouldn't have these problems - there is enough uncertainty as it is.

I don't think you get to bleat about "integrity" from behind the cover of anonymity.

Non-Story.

Nothing to see here, move along.

How is it gossip if it is true? The original article wasn't speculative: it was based on an understanding we had that Daunt would introduce centralised buying and in addition remove the ability of stores to buy those books they were currently buying locally. Waterstone's would not comment to us, or confirm/deny our story. Daunt's letter subsequently confirmed it, though as ever the devil is in the detail, and we await that detail with interest. We could have run our story at any point from Wednesday onwards (when we went to press with the printed version), but we actually held off until James sent his email. We then ran a version based on that email. I don't know if we precipitated James' announcement, but the talk was out there and we have a duty and right to report things as they emerge and are of interest to the larger book community.

Philip has done what Bookseller journalists should do , sometimes it may upset or unsettle people but The Bookseller needs to report outside of trade press releases.

Indeed. We all look forward to their in depth investigations of WH Smith and Amazon.

Indeed. We all look forward to their in depth investigations of WH Smith and Amazon.

An "explanation" of central buying has appeared on compass not long after this article appeared on this website ;-)

Daunt has told publishers in an email it will have “multiple and complex implications”.

For goodness sake bookshops are not complicated so stop making them so! There is more to bookselling than Xmas and the sooner Daunt realises this the better...how about employing managers/buyers at branch level and then trusting them to buy for their local market.

I fear the end is nigh for Waterstones.

Alan

maybe he is laying the ground to the negotiations that he is going to have with publishers re margin re supply re campaign re positioning re returns .......

maybe like a lot of comments it is a bit premature to get all nostradamus on a hastily put together press release / one quote taken form a communication

Maybe people shouldn't be making "hastily put together press releases.."

I wish Daunt well in his negotiations...just hope he remembers Waterstones is a small player now and publishers have found other avenues for their titles.

The "Explanation" of central buying does not explain much as head office have no idea how the system is going to work. James is bringing in an idea that works for his "Niche" shops but will not work for a large chain such as Waterstones.
I Am Fearful that Alan Bradley is correct and that the end is Nigh!
The morale was high but has now sunk once again!!!

Never mind all that. What about the t-shirts?

Morale was high and is now low! Forgive me but he hasn't done anything yet! Secondly there is more to book selling than Xmas, except the majority of stores will deliver the vast percent I profit over this 5 to six week period, bad Xmas can turn stores into loss making ones and companies into defunct ones. You can't have buyer employed at local levels , there would be no margin leverage to gain from publishers from this and the cost implication would be massive . Once upon a time stores did order and choose the vary majority of there range, a time when margins were not so slim, buy this lead to massive amounts of unreturnable dead stock. Negotiate with publishers buy and scale what you can at good margins to stores. Allow local
Influence to order backlist and titles appropriate to them , but within achieve able stock levels to keep stores profitable.

Most sensible thing anyone has written on these blogs for a very long time

Most of the unreturnable dead stock we have in store was scaled out to us from central, not ordered by us.

In any case, come on guys, it's not going to be that different as we have hardly been ordering stock ourselves this year anyway (apart from replen' which was mainly what they suggested anyway). And at least we can dress the store as we like (as long as our RM says we can and we follow the 'suggested' VM and exact floor planning space ...and follow the campaign plans that we were supposed to be getting rid of).

And we can still order the books we want for our innovative feature spaces, we just need to get on to the dedicated phone line with our list of 100 books (to fill all those feature spaces they are still pressing on with). With concrete sales data of course !

Cheer up, we could be on the dole (not this year at least).

How true about piles of stock sent by those who never face the customer. Good booksellers have to buy well. I order a couple of copies as exception orders for my sections, then prove that I can sell them. That's what Daunt wants. He also seems to want to stop the mad buying at head office so he has to show how he wants it done when it comes to campaigns or general stock. It's not the booksellers who went buying madly and irresponsibly, it's the managment who convinced themselves that we have to compete with Tesco's or Amazon.

Looks like after a promising beginning Daunt is turning out to be like the rest - a bit crap & no confidence in booksellers buying decisions

To all the people bemoaning the decline of the expert bookseller, in my experience it was these experts who made the worst buyers, especially experts who treated each appointment as an audition for QI, or seemed to think they were subbing for their own private library. All that's needed is a quick yes/no. Not a 5 minute monologue to show how much you know about the subject.

This made me laugh!

Thanks.

Shops now have complete freedom to follow campaigns, planograms and put up with regular visits from regional managers who will tell you everything looks crap, sorry, I mean offer constructive assistance. Old habits die hard and I can see lots of warm words from the top which are then put into practice by HMV trained middle management who will soon be up to their own special brand of micro-management.

I haven't followed a planogram for nearly a year! it didn't fit my shopso I stopped doing it..as I never see my RM it wasn't a problem when they did turn up they were happy with the figures.

You seem to be expecting things to have already changed at ground level. Daunt has mad eit clear he's working from the top down, the bais infastructure of the company is flawed, he must fix that before worrying about planograms!

Just ignore them, put the stock in and put your bestseller in the best space...see what happens..I doubt your RM will even notice!

How else can James Daunt break the bad habits and decisions taken by all levels of Waterstones' management, including store managers. Most of these are institutionalised, groomed for brand fidelity, not customer benefit - many fast-trackers have never worked outside Waterstones, i.e. born in Waterstones and never ventured beyond the front garden. How else would you get a 24 year-old running a big store? Everytime some new person with responsibilty is appointed there is hope they'll be better, until they begin to drone on about how many link-saves we did yesterday and 'hey,let's see if we can do 2 more today!' No wonder Daunt doesn't trust these people.

James Daunt is rightly taking the decision-making away from them, until he has proof that they understand that it is not about the mass, but the individual. Personally, I think it will take a lot of 'natural wastage' in the next couple of years before we are rid of these people. Meanwhile the drizzle from the brainwashed RM goes on with supermarket ideas STILL being implemented.Sadly, I for one am not waiting around and am making other plans.

Hurrah. Bye!!!

The trouble is, Waterstone's has always been a centralised company, dictating from above via "guidelines", planograms and such like. Mr Daunt cannot tell us humble booksellers how much he is going to empower and free us, but also take away one of the few liberties we have - to order some interesting stock for our "loved" sections, without raising suspicions about his centralising tendencies. "Curating" is a very odd word to use about his booksellers' relationship to sections and their bookshops. If the buyers are there to provide for our needs, that will be great, though its hard to see how phoning or e-mailing them with lists of things we want to order will save time. If they are a means of tightly controlling any buying through a cumbersome process with them exercising vetoes over every choice about stock, it won't.

A good bookseller is also a good bookbuyer. The main reason why Waterstone's attracted many great booksellers over the years was the freedom to buy almost anything (within reason) and actually sell it. So Daunt appears to be about to withdraw buying power almost completely from booksellers/managers, which for the majority of talented booksellers removes the most pleasurable part of the job. It's also a waste of book knowledge when experienced staff effectively cannot use theat range familiarity in an off the cuff way (which is the true flair not seen enough in bookselling). How dispiriting.

This will free Waterstone's booksellers up, no doubt, for more 'active selling' and 'service' measured by consultants from mystery shopping companies who are selling companies like Waterstone's services they don't need. Do the public really wanted to be met and greeted when they walk through a bookshop door? This is the UK, and say what you like, a lot of people just want to be left alone to browse. Good service is being able to read when a customer wants/needs help and when they want to be left alone.

Back to the point: how can booksellers be truly entreprenurial when their ability to select and order books spontaneously is removed? There's no guarantee that the most experienced/best range knowlege booksellers will end up working with Daunt in Brentford. Not everyone wants to work in London, and mature staff who are settled (homeowners, those with families etc) whom are likely to have the longest experience and deepest range knowledge will probably not want to do huge commutes or uproot themselves for the capital. Young booksellers wanting to direct the public toward titles they might only otherwise find online will go and work for enlightened indies (if they can find independent shops with the budgetary power and footfall to sell interesting books to, a challenge in market towns sometimes).

For career booksellers deeply committed to range, Waterstone's has always kicked everyone else into touch due to the freedom given to booksellers to be entreprenurial and buy in books they feel they can sell. Install central buying and within a few years, given rates of turnover in the industry and there will be few booksellers/managers left who have the skills to buy, as newbies joining will just be little more than regular shop assistants (sorry, 'curators') who may as well work in any kind of retailing as opposed to passionate bibliophiles who can really bring enthusiasm and love to selling (sorry, we do sometimes make great booksellers, despite the naysing this concept often prompts here).

I'm sure James Daunt means well (why wouldn't he, he loves books and wants Waterstone's to succeed), but this new turn of events is rather sending the message that most people within the company that their buying skills and knowledge is weak. Looking at the absurd quantities, unpopular formats and uninspiring titles bought by the centre over the last ten years, I'd be keener to let the grass roots take over, since it was central buying that messed Waterstone's up in the first place.

I think the aim is to have a decent balance, the offers and promotions will have to be bought centrally, as will some of the core range stock. They need to get the stock levels right before letting everyone go nuts and spend, spend, spend!
You can exception order what ever you want, you just have to sell it - same as any business!

Absolutely spot-on, Reaper. Nothing more to add, except how very sad we feel.

Quick aside to Morpheus on an important historical point - Waterstone's has NOT always been a centralised company. There were no planograms or central buying etc before the collapse of the NBA (1995) and until the company had a networked EPOS system (Phoenix), which reached the smallest stores in 2001, there wasn't enough sales information for fully centralised buying. So Waterstone's ran for well over ten years before becoming centralised, during which time, the company was a Press Darling, feted for years as the saviour of bookselling in Britain, which it was.

I dont mean this as dig but a genuine question

in its 25 years how many times has W made an annual profit? If it was profitable why didnt Tim W manage to keep hold of it?

I dont mean this as dig but a genuine question

in its 25 years how many times has W made an annual profit? If it was profitable why didnt Tim W manage to keep hold of it?

Nonsense. You can still order books, any books. Daunt has yet to do anything wrong and the negative attitudes of the operational and 'old-school' managers are not helping the bookstore staff with the change.

Cheer up for goodness sake or go and work somewhere else.

I do agree with Rebecca -some mangers do have the wrong out look on this - though I suspect some of them have been battered by HMV and co for so long they will be shying away. I'm lucky to have a supportive (if absent) RM. but I bet there are some who don't want the changes to happen..after all if they are ineffective then they won't have jobs much longer!!

Bookish,

You sound like a really good manager and you sound like you have a really good RM who only interferes when they need to. Unfortunately there are a lot of managers and particularly RM's who aren't like that. RM'S who work against their staff, interfere in their stores on a daily basis. Seem to deliberately change everything, EVERY time time they visit, just to look like they are doing something or because they are control freaks who have to micro manage everything. They constantly berate, are extremely rude to their staff, even when they are having a hissy fit at things THEY have told the store to do (which just proves they don't know what they are doing). They make us change things that take £200 a week and swap it to what they want, (previously tried and only took £25 a week). They make us go off planogram and then come back on the next visit and yell that we aren't following planogram. I could go on.

Our new RM has just added a load of new 'fact sheets' that he wants us to add to our folders that non of the other regions have to bother with, and is constantly making up his own extra KPI's that the management team need to beat the rest with. There is a constant line of people outside the office of staff members waiting to spend a couple of HOURS updating their folders. Folders were hard enough to keep up with before, due never ending task. We hardly see customers anymore. Down to one on the floor, one on the till and 3 in the office constantly groupcoding and filing in the new spreadsheets.

This at a time when Daunt is telling us we spend too much time doing task, paperwork and 'tinkering under the bonnet' and that we need to reduce KPI's. And instead we have RM's increasing paperwork and KPI's, which bring nothing to increasing sales or helping the stores interact with customers.

This can't be coming from the top as Daunt is singing a different tune and if all RM'S were being made to do this, Bookish would be in the same position.

I heard about this -it's disgusting!!

When someone off your area get to meet Daunt - just take a folder to show him!

that will be interesting!

Personally I wouldn't do it..if it hasn't come from the top, and they don't help performace I would refuse point blank...if that ment bollockings, fine. I'd take that for the team and my store.

There are RMs in all businesses who haven't really got a clue and are trying to justify their own jobs usually the people above them have no idea what they are doing - we could do with a pointless paperwork whistle blower! lol

It will get better - it has to, right?!?!

Can I suggest posting said folder to James with a note. Or to the ops director. More effective than ranting on here - although completely understand why you're frustrated. The idea is to create less work for shops - not more.

Who is that guy in the picture? he's not wearing his uniform! Is he a manager that is awaiting change to his store or a random man dragged in off the street to pose behind a phoenix terminal and look at it with suspicious eyes. On closer inspection i think neither. I think this picture was taken in the 1990's as the man browsing in the background is wearing an orange t shirt. You only ever saw orange t shirts in the 1990's. Perhaps he was going to an Ash or Shed Seven concert afterwards. The mind boggles it really does!

Clearly Mr.Daunt agrees with my claim that too many booksellers overate their abilities to order stock correctly.Just because you have read the Stieg Larson trilogy,7 HP books and books about vampires doesn't make you a book expert.

HAHAHAHAHA!!

you think we've read Vamipire books? other than Stoker, not in my shop.

HP only the first 3 to see what the fuss was about - not that bothered

Larsson - NOPE, they sell them selves.

Just because you can type doesn't mean we want to see your drivel.

@ dynamic, Sounds like a manager I used to know.
@Bookish, do you have folders in your region? I thought they were
Mandatory across the company?

In our store out of over 25 booksellers only a quarter could be trusted to know what to order, so yes, they shouldn't be allowed to order until they understand WHAT to order.

That is because of the high staff turnover these days and the amount of staff on part time hours (a few hours during peak each day), and a culture these past years that employees didn't need to know anything. Employ staff on sensible hours where they can learn and keep them long enough to learn and all staff are capable of ordering.

Buyers for each genre receiving requests from 300 shops each with different cachment areas, this will have to be very carefully controlled to avoid a Byzantine disaster.

If the Hub is to be used as a stock holding warehouse, rather than just a transit depot, then a large percentage of new titles and range can be dealt with, and supplied to branches without the need for any extra input from the store teams, freeing all that ordering time for other tasks. An advantage comes from the extra titles that the stores 'spot' and then need to request from our appointed buyer. Instead of for just a single shop, these can then be assessed for wider opportunities. Reps may no longer be touring the regions, but I see many incoming store emails, as publishers get wise to the potential that our requests can bring.

We always thought the hub was supposed to be a stock holding warehouse to buy in bulk, recycle returns to other stores etc. This was what we were promised in the begining so hurrah for the hub finally being used properly.

All of this moaning, speculation and distrust is absolutely pointless as we simply don't know all the fine details about how it is all going to work. Until Daunt fully hammers out his plan and makes a detailed announcement, all this blathering is worthless.

Oh and the person that leaked the details to The Bookseller before everything had been decided is a chump.