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Angus & Robertson closures put focus on reinvention

Friday, 4 March 2011 | By Michelle Hammond

A small business lobbyist says independent bookstores look set to benefit from the closure of multiple Angus & Robertson stores, while franchisees of the battling bookstore chain will have to reinvent themselves if they are to stay afloat.

 

It’s been announced that 37 Angus & Robertson stores and one Borders outlet – both operated by collapsed retail group RedGroup Retail – will be closed in three weeks, putting 321 staff out of work.

 

RedGroup Retail, which employs 2,500 staff across Australia and New Zealand, was placed in the hands of administrators Ferrier Hodgson last month.

 

Administrator Steve Sherman said in a statement the restructure is necessary for the future of the business.

 

“These stores were the least viable of the 260 RedGroup Retail outlets and needed to be closed in order to protect as best as possible the future of the business,” Sherman said.

 

“We need to make these difficult decisions in order to give people at the remaining stores their best chance at a long-term future.”

 

Of the 321 Angus & Robertson staff dismissed, 102 were permanent full-time or part-time employees while the other 219 staff were casual. Ferrier Hodgson said assistance will be provided for staff to find new employment.

 

Although Angus & Robertson has 61 franchised stores out of a total of 169, all of the stores to close are company-owned.

 

But Peter Strong, executive chairman of the Council of Small Business of Australia and owner of Smiths Alternative Bookshop, says the future is uncertain for Angus & Robertson franchisees.

 

“What I’m hearing from the franchisees is very positive – I believe they’ve had a high level of interaction with the mother retailer but it’s something we have to wait and see [about],” he says.

 

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with them, but I suspect a lot will reinvent themselves with a different name... Hoping for the best is not the best approach in the modern world.”

 

Meanwhile, Strong says the outlook is even more positive for independent bookstores, which typically have more licence to reinvent themselves than franchisees.

 

“A lot of customers have said they hope [the closure of Angus & Robertson] stores means the smaller shops can continue on,” he says.

 

Strong says he is confident traditional bookstores can survive amidst the rise of online retailers and electronic books.

 

“We believe there is [enough demand]. We just need to work out how many operators will be able to survive in the marketplace. We’re all on a trip of discovery at the moment,” he says.

 

“A lot of the [independent] booksellers are quite excited about it. Small businesses can respond quite quickly [to consumer trends], which is exciting not only for the business but for the consumer.”

 

The Australian Retailers Association believes there is an opportunity for independent and specialist bookstores to benefit from the rise of online shopping and eBooks.

 

“Despite the trend for consumers to move away from buying traditional books and instead enjoy the latest popular fiction on their Kindle or eReader, booklovers who seek out rare or niche books will still prefer to buy from local community booksellers and read the old-fashioned way,” ARA executive director  Russell Zimmerman says.

“There is an opportunity here for independent, community-focused bookstores to do very well because they are more likely to stock the wider range of unique and quality books literature connoisseurs are seeking.”