Barnes & Noble boss James Daunt has sent a letter to staff warning of potential lay offs if stores are closed due to the coronavirus.
In a letter to employees dated 17th March, Daunt noted some parts of the business, particularly in children's books and online, had seen an increase in sales during the crisis, while other areas like the cafe operation had taken a hit.
He wrote: “Overall, if we can keep our stores open, it looks like we will manage well enough. This is a great testimony to the strength of the business and the loyalty to it of our customers.”
However, if stores do have to shut, the business would be “obliged to make the hardest of choices,” he said. Reductions would start in the home office but staff at shops would take a hit, he warned.
The letter stated: “The truth is that we cannot close our doors and continue to pay our employees in the manner of Apple, Nike, Patagonia and REI. They can do this because they have the resources necessary; we, and most retailers of our sort, do not.
"We balance now our determination to save the business with an endeavor to be as fair as possible to all. In consequence, when a store is closed, employees will first make use of their Paid Time Off. When this is exhausted, we will pay employees with 1 or more years of service for up to 2 weeks based on their weekly standard hours. Temporarily, and with sincere regret, on closure we lay off all those employees impacted with less than 6 months employment on the day of closure.”
Stores that had to close would reopen when permitted and rehire, he said.
Daunt, who took the helm of B&N last year after its takeover by Waterstones owner Elliott Advisors, told The Bookseller his approach to the situation had been shaped by his experience at the British chain when it, too, was struggling. By being honest about the situation, staff would be able to understand and prepare better, he said.
Daunt explained: “The context is a curious one which is that bookshops are doing very well as a result of this catastrophe that's unravelling before us. Whilst it's going on evidently people are shopping very selectively so supermarkets are doing extremely well but so are bookshops. Our sales are up very strongly but we're necessarily preparing our company and our booksellers for the potential that it could come to a standstill.”
He said there had been virtually no closures of B&N stores in the US so far but the letter had been sent to prepare staff if the situation changed.
Daunt said: “We really have to be ready for making sure this business can ride through this storm, and a storm that may last quite some time.”
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