Waterstones restructure nears completion

Around 200 of 487 managers have left their posts at Waterstones in its company-wide restructure, m.d. James Daunt has confirmed.

While a small handful of people remain in consultation over their positions, the overwhelming majority of decisions on branch and assistant managers have now been made, with around 130 leaving their posts on top of the 66 managers whose departure was reported by The Bookseller in July.

However, the figure of 200 includes those who have decided to accept non-managerial bookselling positions within Waterstones.

An unknown number of company employees will now be promoted to the new “bookshop manager” roles. No new recruits will be taken on from outside Waterstones for the posts.
Daunt reiterated that the consultation process had been “tough” and that “absolutely no one had enjoyed it”. He said: “Part of the consultation process was that anybody could take voluntary redundancy and in the end quite a few did, which included some people we might not have wanted to go. I think that part has been a relatively positive side of this— there were people who wanted to stay but there were also people who wanted to go, and those people have a chance to go in a different direction.”

The Waterstones chief added: “We have started hiring some new staff into the bookshop manager position and they are all internal, lead booksellers or senior booksellers. I don’t in any way celebrate their [the managers’] parting but it is an inevitable consequence of this process to give that opportunity to booksellers coming through, some of whom are extremely capable.”

The process has attracted criticism from former Ottakar’s boss James Heneage, who commented: “It’s sad to see so many people, with hundreds of years of bookselling experience between them, leave a business that will really miss them.”

He added:  “What worries me more though is how this experiment will work in the longer term. Waterstones needs knowledgeable and passionate booksellers backing books they believe in. I’m not sure that removing local book-buying responsibility is consistent with this.”

However, Daunt responded with a defence of his central buying policy. “What matters to a bookseller is that [a bookseller] has total freedom to display and sell the books they want—not that they spend time seeing reps and tapping on computers,” he said.

Booksellers having the power to champion the books they wanted was taking effect, he said, with individual titles selling well in particular stores. Daunt added that sales had been “robust” since last October, if the 50 Shades effect from 2012 was stripped out of the figures.

Some publishers have expressed support for the overhaul at Waterstones. Iain Chapple, sales director at Granta, said: “In the past 18 months, they have done some great things to our books. They are very attentive and we have seen some real sales spikes thanks to their efforts.” Icon sales director Andrew Furlow said: “There might be a general feeling that initial orders from them are small, but they are excellent at following up on successes and really getting behind a book. We are cautiously optimistic.”

Waterstones staff have given mixed reactions to the restructure. One bookseller, who declined to be named, said: “Employees are so stressed out and overstretched due to lack of staff that they are utterly miserable and demoralised.”

However, David Lund, a former Waterstones branch manager, commented on The Bookseller’s website: “As one of the 66 who chose to leave, yes, there were plenty of highly experienced managers whose departure was a massive shock for Waterstones, but after such a long service, the pay-offs were too good to say no to.”