Barnes & Noble counts on store managers running its business better
At a recent virtual Annual Meeting of the Book Industry Study Group, James Daunt, Barnes & Noble’s CEO since August 2019, detailed his strategy to provide the chain’s store managers with more local autonomy over the books they stock and how they are displayed.
Empowering store managers, he believes, is necessary to not only provide customers with book selections geared toward local tastes but to offer the personality and passion that makes bookselling thrive. He sees the in-store experience as the way to win loyalty and differentiate from Amazon.com.
“If we are not inspiring within our communities and able to attract customers to us, frankly we will not exist,” said Mr. Daunt. “How is it that bookstores do justify themselves in the age of Amazon? They do so by being places in which you discover books with an enjoyment, with a pleasure, with a serendipity, that is simply impossible to replicate online.”
Mr. Daunt employed a similar strategy in driving a turnaround at Waterstones, the U.K.’s largest bookstore chain he has led since 2011. Waterstones’ owner, Elliott Management Corp., acquired B&N last year, which has seen seven straight years of sales declines.
The changes have caused friction. Nearly half of the chain’s corporate book buyers — touted in the past as the talent discovering tomorrow’s authors — have been laid off. Corporate still oversee decisions over new books, although store managers don’t have to reorder them.
B&N’s move has strained relationships with some publishers because the local focus is scaling back on the co-op practice of paying for title placement. Mr. Daunt told The Wall Street Journal the practice leads to high returns, or unsold books heading back to publishers. B&N’s return rate is at about 25 percent versus Waterstones’ 3.5 percent.
The local shift further means B&N loses some discounts from bulk ordering. Mr. Daunt is counting on shared practices across branches to help elevate the chain’s performance.
“As you let the stores diverge, a quarter will be brilliant and a quarter will be absolutely terrible,” Mr. Daunt told the Journal. “A significant number of your stores will become worse, not better. Then you teach and encourage them and, in time, everybody becomes better.”
- Conversation with B&N CEO James Daunt – Book Industry Study Group/Youtube
- Barnes & Noble’s New Boss Tries to Save the Chain—and Traditional Bookselling – The Wall Street Journal
- Daunt outlines his strategy for Barnes & Noble – Bookseller
- B&N CEO James Daunt Delivers Keynote at BISG Annual Meeting – American Booksellers Association
- Everyone Wants Barnes & Noble to Survive. Can It? – The Hot Sheet
- Bookstores could be in store for a post-lockdown boom – RetailWire
- Barnes & Noble’s plan is to be more like an indie bookseller – Bloomberg
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see more pros than cons in Barnes & Noble’s new focus on local autonomy? What else may B&N have to change to compete better with Amazon.com?