September 11, 2013

After nearly 50% of managers leave their positions, Daunt’s Waterstones restructure is almost complete


Daunt commented that “absolutely no one had enjoyed” the consultation process

In May, I wrote about the news that Britain’s biggest chain bookshop Waterstones had begun a major restructure, which threatened to result in hundreds of job losses at the company. Then in July we reported on news that 66 managers had left the bookshop as part of the restructure process, which would abolish the roles of branch managers, assistant managers, general managers and deputy managers and introduce a brand new role of ‘bookshop manager’. Now as the Bookseller reports, Managing Director James Daunt has confirmed that 200 out of 487 managers have left their positions, and that the restructure is almost complete.

While not all managers have left the company, with some choosing to take on non-managerial bookselling positions, this is still monumental change for the chain, and the ‘consultation process’ (managerial speak for hiring and firing) clearly hasn’t been easy. Daunt described the process as “tough”, stressing that “absolutely no one had enjoyed it”:

“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…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.”

Or, as former Waterstones manager David Lund, 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.”

The book chain has lost many committed managers who worked at their local shops for decades and have been described as having “hundreds of years of bookselling experience between them”. Where will those members of staff find new jobs now? Those individuals take their thorough knowledge of books, authors and running a bookshop with them, and their insight will not be easily replaced. It will take some time to build that expertise back up.

However, there are some positive points to be taken from the news. The new ‘bookshop manager’ roles will only be filled by internal candidates, which, as Daunt notes, presents an ‘opportunity to booksellers coming through, some of whom are extremely capable’. This should ensure that the roles are filled by individuals who have bookselling experience, and who are capable of leading Waterstones into its precarious future.

And, while many have expressed concern over the new central buying system, which took book-ordering power away from managerial staff, thus making their roles redundant, Daunt argues that:

“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”

So although booksellers can no longer chose most of the stock in their shops, Daunt’s plan to get booksellers back on the shop floor hand-selling books is surely to be celebrated.



Zeljka Marosevic is the former managing director of Melville House UK.