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The Barnes & Noble Massacre of 2018

In the spring of 2017, there were approximately 26,000 employees in Barnes & Noble stores (600+). Today, that number got a whole lot smaller. What I’m calling, “The Barnes & Noble Massacre”, others in the company are calling, “The Green Wedding”. The layoffs all happened on Monday. The employees who were let go were told to pack their things and leave before their shift even began. These were people I cared for, people who work hard and gave everything up for this company.

It was a bloodbath.

My partner has worked at B&N 15 plus years, 12 years as a receiving manager and was laid off today. He told me 500 receiving managers country wide were being let hit.

– Anonymous

That’s only the Receiving Manager count. Also let go were Newsstand Leads, Bargain Leads, Digital Leads, and Head Cashiers. A massive cut nationwide on a scale we’ve never seen before. B&N is staying relatively quiet outside of a vanilla press release, but the estimated number is about 1,800.

 

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The scene at Barnes & Noble stores all day.

 

Even worse was that the news broke on private Barnes & Noble employee forums before the afternoon and night shifts started. That meant some of the unfortunate had hours of crippling anxiety before having to go to the store to see whether they would keep their job. Barnes & Noble also decided to try to cover up the fallout by announcing the new guy (who’s never worked in the book space before) hired as Chief Merchandising Manager. Introducing the well paid Mr. Mantel! Surely, this could have been handled differently.

Yes. I got laid off this morning. I’m a receiving manager… Oops I mean I WAS a receiving manager at a store in SWFL. My heart is crushed. I’m trying to be an adult about the whole thing. I absolutely loved my job! I had been with the company for 12 years. 10 years as receiving manager. I’ve never been laid off before but honestly I did see this coming when 2 weeks ago I was told that we can’t order any more paper! That has since been redacted but we were all in shock. I don’t normally toot my own horn but they lost a dedicated employee with an excellent work ethic. So long.

– Anonymous

An angry employee sent me this (below) a while back, but I didn’t do anything with it. You have to admit, if you know what you’re looking at, it’s horrifying. Who can keep the kid’s section in correct order with one Kid’s Lead? Who? There are fifteen sub-categories in Toddlers alone! Customers need to prepare themselves for messier shelving. It will be harder to find the item you’re looking for when it’s been shelved by Wanda the semi-retired, part-timer who works six hours a week. Want more terrible news? My little birds (and this chart below) tell me that most stores will be cutting one of their Assistant Managers. Who knows when that next wave of layoffs will hit, if at all. B&N expects to save $40M from this restructuring. Will that be enough?

 

 

As for the Head Cashiers…what? Who’s accountable for the money now? And the Receiving Managers? They’re in charge of scanning in every single item that is sent to the store, making sure the product ends up in the right spot. The Digital Leads are the people who help you with your Nook or Samsung device. The Bargain Leads keep that large discount section you see when you walk in, shelved and organized for you. Newsstand Leads do the same for magazines. My heart is also aching for those left behind, having to pick up the slack when there is literally no one left to help customers but high schoolers and retired people who have no idea what new book came out last Tuesday because they only work a few hours a week. So much for knowledgeable people handselling to customers which equals higher sales-per-transaction numbers.

Please read my older article HERE about my predictions about the company. I hate being right all the time.

Receiving manager here. 10-15 years gone. Worst part? There was wind of it in November and we were told that we’d still have the job, it just wouldn’t be replaced had we have left. I get the need to cut staff, I get the need to cut benefits, but blindly cutting positions like this makes you end up with stores having undertrained staff and what few managers you have left being stretched so thin they can’t actually describe what their job is supposed to be. I feel for my comrades who’ve fallen with me, and my sympathies to those left to fill in the workload. This will be a noticeable difference even to the customers.

– Anonymous

 

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After the Affordable Care Act passed, B&N stripped health benefits from part-timers. That used to be the shining star of the company, something that set B&N apart from other retailers. With prices going up though, it was understandable. The company just couldn’t support this benefit after the recession.

Now they’re letting the expensive people go so they don’t have to deal with paying their healthcare because guess what? They told some of the employees (many with decades of experience) to come back in a few weeks to apply for part-time positions offering minimum wage:

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“Take that! And that!”

 

I was shocked by the brutality. Most of these full-timers were the most loyal employees Barnes & Noble will ever have, having given up Thanksgivings, holidays, family gatherings, birthdays, weekends, nights out with family and friends… All for your store hours, which need to be changed if we’re talking cutting costs. B&N, you do realize these people were also your loyal customers, too? A lot of booksellers spend large chunks of their paychecks on Barnes & Noble merchandise. It’s highly likely Amazon will feel a nice bump from this fiasco.

It’s company wide, I don’t think there are any exceptions. These are people who have been with the company for over a dozen years in many instances, people with children. The only thing that made this company better than amazon was the fact that it was employing real people in a real store, but that doesn’t matter if they can no longer afford to treat their loyal employees with dignity and respect. This will probably get the stock price to rise but who gives a sh–? People are really hurt by this.

Get ready for an exodus of experienced employees. They know what’s coming next.

– Anonymous

 

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Something tells me many of these bookworms will never shop at Barnes & Noble again.

 

I understand that from the business side, the company is doing everything it can to stay afloat. Many companies and investors like Sandell Asset have made offers to buy the company or move it in a new direction. I can’t imagine that Amazon hasn’t reached its hand out once in the last five years. After all, the real estate is a gold mine and many tech companies would love to have the floor space. The brand is high end. However, corporate is determined to keep the B&N the last great bookstore. I admire that. This decision couldn’t have been easy. I’m sure Len Riggio, the last higher-up who truly cared about the bookstore employees, is devastated by all of this. I love Len Riggio. Right now, he’s really just a bystander, so please don’t hate on him.

Let’s play devil’s advocate. If everyone was given two weeks notice, I know quite a few booksellers who would stop shelving books in the correct spots, chill out on receiving standards, and speak their mind to an angry customer all because they would have nothing to lose. That’s the reason for this mass firing. Some people couldn’t be trusted, so everyone was punished. I get it and I don’t. This bad PR was probably not worth the decision that was made. Speaking of PR nightmare, check out this Kickstarter campaign for a dedicated bookseller with five children or look up Twitter’s backlash. B&N is going to have to address the outrage at some point.

 

Future generations will wonder what happened, so here it is. 

 

In a bright spot so minuscule you need a microscope to see it, most of the booksellers were not cut off completely. One employee who had been with the company 16 years was given a severance package that lasts 16 weeks which includes benefits for that amount of time. From what I hear, everyone was offered a severance package though there are whispers that the packages may come with a social media gag order. I guess we can be grateful that it’s not like the stories you hear about those restaurants that lock their employees out one day, leaving them to figure out what happened, essentially ghosting them for eternity. I’m grabbing at straws, here.

 

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Don’t blame the messengers, by the way. Many employees are angry at the store manager who laid them off but these managers were unaware until the last minute. You wanna to know how I know this? The news didn’t leak. Everything gets out these days, especially on the anonymous bookseller forums. That’s why we couldn’t open super secret S.O.S. until Monday nights. B&N can’t trust anyone to keep a secret.  I pity those who had to let their booksellers go without notice. Real cowardly, Corporate. Didn’t Ned Stark say that the person who passes the judgment should be the one to swing the sword? Yeah. That.

What can you do as an outsider? Go to Barnes & Noble. Buy things. Be patient as booksellers try to find your book in the middle of the chaos. Be kind. Bring your kids. Bring them to Saturday morning storytimes. Teach them to love these stores or they will all close and you’ll be that jerk who says, “I can’t believe the bookstore is gone!” when you only went there twice a year. Yes, the price is a little higher in the stores, but the price we all pay for not going in is too high.

I felt bad for my boss. He couldn’t look at me without crying. He said that he wasn’t sure when it would be his turn either. They do what they’re told. I would start looking for another job if I was not laid off. Especially the children’s lead if it’s true that they are safe.

Anonymous

 

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*I used Golden Girls gifs to lighten the mood. Layoffs and firings are nothing to joke about, but the subject matter is so depressing that I wouldn’t want to read this text only.

 

Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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