I have a confession to make, I have an obsession with book shops. I cannot pass one by without ducking in. The calm atmosphere, the smell of the books and the different nooks in which you can disappear, I could spend hours browsing a good book shop (I will put a list of my favourite independent bookstores at the end of the article).

Selling books was arguably the first large business sector to be disrupted in the digital age. The advent of Amazon as a marketplace for books in 1994 and it’s launch in the UK in 1998 was predicted by many to be the beginning of the end for physical book stores. Initially, at least, this appeared to be the case and eventually in 2009 one of the largest chains, Borders, went into administration.

However, since those dark days there has been an increase in the fortune of the bookstore, it started in the UK and has started to spread across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA. One man has helped define this revival more than most and his name is James Daunt. Proprietor of Daunt Books (the Marylebone branch scratching another itch of mine, travel) and also MD of Waterstones (largest high street bookshop in the UK) and CEO of it’s North American counterpart, Barnes and Noble.

James Daunt is known as “the man who saved Waterstones” (https://bit.ly/38gWizk) and his approach shows he clearly understands the complexity of 21st century retail. When online shopping is quick and easy, trips to bricks and mortar shops are now more events or entertainment. Daunt promoted experience and did away with discounting (to maintain the value of the product), taking promotional payments form publishers (to display certain books in prominent positions in all stores) and central office inventory and layouts that were applied to all the nearly 300 Waterstones stores.

In a complex environment those closest to the action are best able to make decisions. Daunt realised this and pushed decision making outwards. To him it made no sense for stores in Edinburgh and Exeter to be selling the same stock. The decisions on what stock is sold is now placed in the hands of the manager of each store, these staff are local and know their customers better than anyone in head office looking at spreadsheets of sales figures.

That is not to say stores are given completely free rein, there exist exacting standards of how books should be displayed (perfect shelf angle to catch the light anyone!? https://nyti.ms/3sTemX4) and the environmental feel of each store.

Great coaches understand that it is the players on the pitch who must make decisions in the game. The coach can provide a framework of how they want the team to play (tactics) and neutralise the opposition (game plan) but they cannot dictate exactly which pass every player should make in every scenario, as this is unknowable.

The best coaches I have worked with also know the value of information from those who are closest to the players, whether this is the kitman who shares a cup of tea with the player each day or the physio who literally has their hands on the player.

It is the same in global football groups. As a centralised body you cannot make decisions for the staff in each club. No matter how good your data and information there is no way you will know more than the staff in the club working day-to-day with the team. The best you can do is provide a framework and tools to aid their decision making.

Can you identify the areas of your business that would be better served by pushing decision making to the front line? What areas need to be a part of your framework and tactics?

Independent Book stores

  • Outwith Books
  • Hyndland Book Store
  • Golden Hare Books
  • Portobello book shop
  • Topping and Company
  • McNally Jackson
  • Daunt Books Marylebone
  • Kemptown bookshop