Waterstones has begun a company-wide consultation with around 560 management-level staff as it prepares for a restructure set to put more emphasis on traditional shop floor bookselling.
Staff were told last night (20th May) in an email communication from Waterstones managing director James Daunt that those holding the positions of branch manager, assistant manager, general manager and deputy manager will enter into a consultation before the company restructures and those roles are abolished. A new "bookshop manager" role will be created instead to encompass those positions, which will "call on different skills", he said.
It is not clear how many members of staff will leave the company. Existing managers will be able to apply for the new role and there may be multiple bookshop managers at some stores.
In the email to staff, Daunt said: "It is particularly important that we do this because more than ever before our managers will be central to our ability to deliver effective bookshops: the decisions that define the character of our bookshops will fall to them in the new role."
He said that this included a more responsive and intelligent head office and a competent Hub which supported stores. "The future of Waterstones ultimately rests on the skill and effort of the bookselling teams in our shops and the leadership given to them," he said.
The consultation move follows a restructure of the regional management level of Waterstones in February, which saw seven regional and divisional management roles made redundant as a new "leaner" structure was unveiled, creating the role of retail manager, which would oversee geographical clusters of shops.
In this latest move, Daunt apologised to those affected and recognised that the restructure came at a time when employees were working hard and sales were "robust" at the company. He said: "I would not be entering into this unless I thought it necessary, and unless I was sure that we will emerge a better, stronger bookseller for having done it . . . I am acutely aware that we do this at the very moment that we are doing well. Sales are robust, costs and operational process greatly improved and the net performance of Waterstones has made a step-change for the better. The substantial part of this improvement is down to your individual and collective effort."
But, he added: "The context, however, is the current unforgiving bookselling environment. We may be running better bookshops, and running these in a very different manner to before, but we have yet to recognise this in our management structure. If we are to secure the future of Waterstones, we must take the difficult step to do so."
Daunt also said its website offering to customers was "subject to fundamental review", with work currently underway to revamp it. A new EPOS system will be installed in the company in summer and Waterstones also plans to invest further to improve the Hub.
Daunt added: "We are expecting an enormous amount from our BMs [branch managers] and AMs [assistant managers] at the heart of this on-going transformation. They will have all the assistance we can provide centrally but nothing will be more important than the support of their immediate teams. In anticipation of this, I am extremely grateful. Your understanding and patience are greatly appreciated.
"I would not be entering into this unless I thought it necessary, and unless I was sure that we will emerge a better, stronger bookseller for having done it."