Phew. Grim out there, and getting grimmer. Volunary salary cuts at Quercus and looming job losses at Waterstone’s ahead of the opening of its distribution hub. The latter was inevitable ever since Waterstone’s first started talking about this two years ago. It’s worth looking again at what MD Gerry Johnson told Publishing News at the time: “There are three drivers of this project. Firstly, publishers said to us that the current supply model was difficult and expensive. We process 2.5m invoices a year which we think we can reduce by 95% and free-up time for selling books. Secondly, there are environmental issues: how green can it be to handle 2m cardboard cartons every year? Our Consolidation Centre will be a closed system involving re-useable plastic totes [something akin to WHSmith's well-known 'orange boxes']. And thirdly, our competitors, the supermarkets and the internet operate without those inefficiencies. We have to ask ourselves what is the best way to not only secure the future of Waterstone's, but the future of specialist chain bookselling. We have to be at least as efficient as out competitors.”
Few would disagree with that. What hasn’t been discussed so much is the possible effect on distributors. Once the distribution centre – actually, Johnson calls it a Consolidation Centre – starts running, some observers believe two consequences are likely: a greater increase in the number of deliveries direct to it from printers, bypassing distributors, and an increase in the number of bulk deliveries to it from publishers’ own distribution centres.
One senior figure from that side of the business told Publishing News: “There is the possibility of redundancies across the distribution centres. Distributors will save because goods-out will be pallets, not parcels, going to Waterstone’s consolidation centre. So there won’t be so many people needed to do the picking for x number of Waterstone stores.”
As of today, many Waterstone staff are angered because the story appeared in today’s Guardian first, ahead of today’s store briefings.