May 28, 2013

Hundreds of jobs could go at Waterstones


Hundreds of jobs could go, in order to “secure the future of Waterstones”

Last week Waterstones announced that the company has begun a major restructure which could see hundreds of job losses. Staff who hold positions as branch managers, assistant managers, general managers and deputy managers were told they would enter a period of consultation before the company began its restructure and abolished those positions for good. During such workplace consultations, staff usually have the opportunity to discuss their positions and their work and decide whether they should stay in the company and whether they should apply for the new role being created. In the place of these roles will be a new role of ‘bookshop manager’, which will encompass all of the old positions.

Managing Director James Daunt sent staff an email making the announcement, writing that:

“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.”

The decision follows earlier changes to the structure of Waterstones, which included the creation of the ever-mysterious ‘hub’, as well as new strategies in how they order books, and in what quantities. The move seems to be not only a cost-cutting measure (which indeed it is) but part of Daunt’s overhaul of how the bookshops are managed. The layer of management which is being removed is redundant because, “We have restructured the business and moved to a cluster system, which no longer requires a mainly administrative management in our shops.”

The new centralised system has been at the heart of Daunt’s new regime. At a talk given to publishers which I attended earlier this year, representatives from Waterstones spoke about the need to control more closely how individual stores were run and how they were ordering books. They argued that one reason for their economic difficulties was that some in-store managers had not had adequate training, and that a centralised management would allow for greater control and supervision of stores. The creation of ‘retail manager’ roles means that shops are now separated into geographical clusters which are overseen by one individual who can compare the success of similar shops, and keep a close eye on orders and returns, as well as in-store activity.

In his email to staff, Daunt apologised for the new move, regretting that:

“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 there’s no doubt that Waterstones faces tough times, as its deal with Amazon to stock and display Kindles in its stores proved. Although Daunt was initially negative towards Amazon (he once described it as “a ruthless, money-making devil”) it is clear Amazon made Waterstones an offer they couldn’t refuse — perhaps one that would keep the book chain in business.

Daunt has promised that he would not be entering into this series of cuts “unless I thought it necessary, and unless I was sure that we will emerge a better, stronger bookseller for having done it.” It remains to be seen how many jobs will be lost, and what Waterstones will look like once the changes are in place.



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