Daunt: Waterstones 'not put off' opening more unbranded stores

Daunt: Waterstones 'not put off' opening more unbranded stores

Waterstones m.d. James Daunt has told The Bookseller he has received “endless” emails from members of the public urging the chain to open unbranded shops in their towns and cities, after the existence of such stores was highlighted in the press.

Criticism of the chain for opening unbranded stores has recently resurfaced in the media, after controversy over the unbranded openings in towns such as Southwold was first reported by The Bookseller back in 2014. Further unbranded shops were opened in Rye and Harpenden, reported last year.

The BBC said that Waterstones was “under fire” for opening “secret shops”, after the Mail on Sunday  quoted John Wells, 77, owner of Wells of Southwold, which has been selling books, cards and gifts for 30 years, who said: “To call themselves Southwold Books is a bit naughty. Locals know what the shop is but visitors don’t.”

Daunt subsequently defended the move on the BBC’s "Today" programme, saying the chain entered onto high streets where independent retailers operate “quite sensitively” and added “we wish to behave as they do.”

The Waterstones chief said he had not been put off opening more unbranded Waterstones stores by the resurfacing of the controversy. Far from it, he had received numerous emails from members of the public imploring him to open independent-style stores in their local towns and cities, he told The Bookseller.

“I have had endless emails from people saying, ‘Can you open an unbranded shop in our area, we don’t have a bookshop because it closed down’. Someone from Oakwood in Leeds contacted me this morning, and someone from just outside Bristol yesterday. We now have lots of new potential areas to look at,” he said.

Daunt underlined that the company’s directive was to “operate within the world in which we live” and would never, for example “open in Chipping Norton to put the Jaffe and Neal bookshop out of business as another commercial beast may operate, that is not what we are about.”

The locally-branded shops suited outlets of less than 1,000 sq ft, Daunt added, and would not be used for larger shops.

Waterstones returned to profit after five years in the year to April 2016, with sales up 4% to £409.1m, helping it achieve an operating profit of £18.8m, resulting in a pretax profit of £9.9m, after finance costs, compared to a pretax loss of £4.5m a year earlier.