Business profile: Ian Owens, manager Waterstones Argyll Street

Business profile: Ian Owens, manager Waterstones Argyll Street

Turning an unprofitable store into a profitable one is no easy feat, but it is something Ian Owens, pictured accepting the Manager of the Year prize from Tim Waterstone at this year’s Bookseller Industry Awards, has been able to do.

Branch manager of Waterstones’ Argyle Street store in Glasgow for 18 months, he has spent the past 12 months leading staff through one of the chain’s four trial re-fits, with great success—footfall is up by 15% from the regional average and like-for-like sales are up 30%, something Owens is unsurprisingly pleased with: “For many years the shop looked very dated and was in need of some real TLC—at one point it was even on the closure list.

“But since the re-fit it has been amazing. Sales have rocketed, and it’s become a really lovely, atmospheric shop with great specific homes for key genres, which it didn’t really have before. There is a big music scene here in Glasgow so we requested extra space for that, which we got, and it’s great because we have seen really strong sales.”

Owens has been a bookseller for many years, starting 15 years ago at Ottakar’s. He has since been a branch manager for Waterstones at both its East Kilbride and Newton Mearns stores. When James Daunt took over the top job he looked for four branches to trial the chain’s new look, and Owens felt strongly that Argyle Street had the right potential. “We put a proposal and vision for the shop forward and really thought about who our market was and what our priorities were, so everyone here has been responsible for what’s happened, which is great. I’m really proud of the shop and the team, and pleased James Daunt took on board everything the staff put forward.”

Community service

As part of the development, Argyle Street was fitted with a Café W and with customer service in mind, all of Owens’ staff are now trained to work behind the café counter as well as on the bookshop floor because, as he suggests, “it is no good speaking to someone behind the café counter if they don’t know about books too. We’re one shop, and it is important that shoppers get the same message from everyone”.

The new café has also helped with events, providing a home for music nights, book clubs and book launches—including appearances last year from Emma Thompson and Clare Balding.

An annual event for the Argyle Street branch, which Owen’s played a central part in re-establishing last year (having been involved with it in his Ottakar’s days), is Glasgow’s very own Crime in the City festival. “We are just about to finalise the programme for this year, but we will have events that take place in the shop and outside, including crime writing walks around the city and guided tours of sites in their books by authors like Alex Gray.

“We re-started it last year for the first time and it was great to see an uplift in sales. There is massive support for crime writing in Scotland—crime writing here is fantastic—and it’s just nice to bring a different festival to the west coast, alongside the Edinburgh Festival and the AyeWrite festival in Glasgow—and it’s nice to have something specific to Waterstones.”

All of the cakes and pastries sold in the café are from local suppliers, because for Owens and his team, community is key—something he wants to build more on in the year ahead. “We want to be a real part of the community. There are two shops in Glasgow, there is a superstore in Sauchiehall Street, but we have our own specific market here, which is amazing.

“We work very closely with that branch but we don’t want to mirror each other. We are very strong in sci-fi, crime and Scottish books, and we also do well with the tourist market. We are really excited about the Commonwealth Games as well, that’s coming to Glasgow next year, it’s going to be fantastic. We’ll do lots of events and promotions; it should be great.”