Barnes & Noble bookseller LiveJournal community offers candid, depressing look behind the scenes at B&N stores

Over on The Passive Voice, I found a link to a LJ community where Barnes & Noble employees anonymously discuss their work lives. I’ve been reading through a few comment threads, and wow is it depressing.

You would sort of expect Barnes & Nobles to be decent places to work, wouldn’t you? All the books, the surrounding of pure distillate of culture on every shelf. It’s not an “everything store” for cheap and shoddy goods like Wal-Mart, after all. Surely they pay their employees a decent wage and treat them decently, right?

Right?

…wrong. The comments read like a pen full of turkeys who know Thanksgiving is coming. For example:

I’m the poster who had hours cut after a regional call to make payroll for the year.

UPDATE: I’ve spent the last couple of days loking for another job (since I have the time from my cut schedule at B&N).

There must be a Christmas angel!

I was offered a job at the McDonalds up the street: +$1 over B&N pay and 40 HOURS!!!! They can only guarentee 40 hours through January, and then they will adjust them to a permanant level based on my performance.

My brother is going to lend me enough $ to get my kids some Christmas presents. Christmas is saved!!!!!!!

I start at McDonalds on Sunday. I’m stopping at B&N this afternoon to quit on the spot. That will be the last time I will ever set foot in B&N. I’m having someone pick up my last checks!

He (or she) is ecstatic to quit a bookstore to take a job at McDonald’s because it pays better and has more hours. McDonald’s is under fire for not paying its employees a living wage. And B&N pays $1 an hour less than that?

Someone else offers advice for employees who want to stay employed:

Never call we listen it’s a trap, never share ideas or have opinions with management, keep a low profile, no gossip or complaining on the job, never show anger or stress on the job, go along with anything management is into, never tell anyone you are looking for a job, be careful what you share on the job, trust no one, focus on work no complaining or worrying, always have a plan B, the longer you stayed at B&N the more likely you will have hours reduced & be let go, working here feels like you are working in bizarro world so know that this is all intentional just smile and go along with it, never call a meeting with a DM or Sm, the DM’s create a hostile work environment on purpose so long terms won’t stay around/just smiles and focus on your job, always be positive on the job & smile a lot, kiss ass to all management, every store & district is different so don’t assume all booksellers are having the same experience, start a business or go back to school, always be looking for a better job & better opportunities.

One follow-up commenter says, “You sound like a crazy person.” Another replies, “Damn good advice and I’m a Sm.” (I’m guessing “DM” = “District Manager” and “SM = Store Manager”.)

In another thread, someone else waxes pessimistic about B&N’s chances.

In the end none of this sh*t matters. We all need to take tons of pictures of our stores before they close down. Bn anti photography policy is crazy bullsh*t. I called Blockbusters video the other day wanting to take some pictures of the inside of the store before they close. A few stores said sure come in and take some photos but one store had this uptight manager that kept talking about how important corporate policy was and because of her position she had to uphold it. She sounded like the typical bn *ss kisser corporate suck up which in my view has been destroying this company since the middle 2000’s. My advice is take more photos and forget these corporate idiots.

In the end the only thing we will have is photos & memories.

One B&N store manager mentioned finding pieces of paper with the blog URL in his store, and asked some questions about how B&N could be saved, offering to forward the advice to “We Listen” and corporate. The main response he got speaks volumes about how B&N workers see things from the trenches:

You must be new to Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble cannot be "saved." It may survive. If you have been around for at least one review cycle and got a 3 or more for Business Acumen you know that B&N is hurting in a significant way. The biggest reason for this is the abject failure that is NOOK. Corporate makes poor strategic and tactical decisions. If B&N survives it will be in spite of corporate.

If you want a real way to make a difference for employees this Christmas season tell cashiers they only need to focus on three things: Membership; gift cards and processing the customers’ transactions as quickly as possible. Pestering every customer with more than a dozen questions just annoys everyone.

Since you are new to the company, let me let you in on a public secret. We Listen is just a tool used by the B&N legal department to avoid lawsuits. The only time contact with We Listen results in action is when the legal department thinks there is a threat to the company. The action taken is solely to protect the company; not improve performance; not improve morale; not to right a wrong.

Your local DM and the folks at corporate are only concerned about surving in their job until they are no longer with B&N. They have no power to effect real change.

You as a store manager can directly effect you store. Treat your staff like human beings. Work side by side with them on the front lines. Ring sales. Answer the phone. Stock books. Make lattes. Never ask a Bookseller to do something they do not see you do yourself. Acknowledge that the situation at B&N is crappy but you all need to do the best you can for the time you are there. Ensure that your entire management team behaves in the same way. These are the things done by a leader.

Realize that this is not at all like your DM and corporate want you to behave. You will get grief over this until you find a new job. Your team will appreciate you for the few months you are with the company and remember you fondly as one of the good ones that never stick around.

More pessimism:

Just a quick heads-up: DMs will be pushed to start supervisor annual reviews after the first of the year. Notes are being taken on all these store visits and will be used against store supervisors next spring. Not making your gift card goal: you are screwed. Not making your book drive goals: you are screwed. Not making your membership goals: you are screwed.

No excuses or consideration for unobtainable goals will be given. Performance reviews will be used to thin the herd next year.

The worst is yet to come!

And m
ore:

Our store does not have enough seasonal help. So we are always backed up at cashwrap and customers are not happy to be waiting. We are selling lots of toys, games and gift items. Also, our membership sales are good. Always pushing gift cards and we are somewhat behind plan. Forget about the nook — it isn’t even spoken about. For some reason our managers seem optimistic, but I think that is just a "front". I’ve been around a long, long time and have never seen it this slow. I think we are makng plan only because our plan has been lowered. Just going to wait and see how it all shakes down. This season almost has a "this is our last stand" feel to it. I don’t know why, but it just seems like that for some reason.

And more:

I WAS a longterm bookseller. I walked out in the middle of my shift yesterday because I got fed up with my dumb*ss DM visiting on a Saturday and demanding merch resets in the middle of the day. Our poor manager was in tears after DM left. We set the store as directed, but these immediate demands for change were the last straw. DMs on up really don’t know what they are doing!!! It is desperation from NY that has caused this behavior.

I’ll get another job after the first of the year. It will certainly be with a company that respects their employees. B&N is the perfect example of what NOT TO DO!

I’m going to enjoy the first Christmas in 10 years WITHOUT B&N. I feel so much better now that B&N is behind me. I can respect myself again!!!!!

Ditto:

I was with the company for 11 years. In that time, I worked in every position. The last 2 years I spent there I was the music/movie department, the only toys and games person, and responsible for much of the zoning in the bookfloor areas between the two. They took my insurance and pushed me out the door a few months back. My store was in an uproar over it as my coworkers and managers saw the value in what I did. None of it mattered. Now I’m in a new job that pays much more and requires me to talk to people less and physically work much less. I would still rather be at BN, but that was very much taken from me.

Ditto:

That something positive thread is gone. I guess people are scared to post something positive about B&N.

We made money last quarter. We could have always made money if we hadn’t p*ssed it all away on nook campus and designer cases. Next quarter we will make even more money when the last remaining employes with decent pay and benefits are eliminated.

William Lynch and Len Reggio will eat well these holidays, but my co-workers are going to die from lack of medical care next year.

So, B&N is cutting hours and terminating workers during the holiday season, when any retail store not in trouble (or retail support industries, like the tech support call center I used to work in) should be hiring extra staff and running overtime? Bad sign.

And one thing you get from these comments is that B&N is not being killed off by e-books, but by poor management from the parent corporation. One of the Passive Voice commenters noted that Borders employees had a similar LJ community shortly before they imploded.

Supposedly the B&N stores are doing much better than the Nook division, which is why B&N has been wanting to spin that division off. But if these accounts can be believed, it’s getting along by chewing up and spitting out its store-level employees. (Not that Amazon warehouse people are necessarily treated much better, but at least they don’t have to deal personally with irate customers on top of everything else!) Can B&N carry on this way even if it does shed the Nook division?

Or maybe this is how it is retail-wide. Maybe everyone treats their employees like dirt. Maybe the bargains that we get everywhere are built on the backs of unfortunate serfs. What a lousy system.

9 Comments on Barnes & Noble bookseller LiveJournal community offers candid, depressing look behind the scenes at B&N stores

  1. I used to work for Borders in management, and left a few years before the final implosion because I saw the writing on the wall.

    You could replace all of these B&N references with Borders and it would still fit. This is eerily similar to what Borders was like when I left.

    For example, I was ordered to write up our best cafe employee for not making her Borders Rewards signups. When I pushed back, pointing out that as the only quick service option in the mall the cafe didnt get many people interested in books and instead got lots of mall employee traffic looking for coffee, I was told either I wrote her up or my boss would write both of us up.

    At my exit interview with my DM, he asked how the store could improve. I told him we needed more workers, and he responded “Well, you’re over payroll for the year, so what else?” Didn’t matter to him that our issue was that customers were walking out because no one was free to help them…we had to find some other solution besides running a huge store on the bare minimum (it was awful-one busy night we had one manager [me], one person in cafe, one person on cash wrap and one person in music [music had a separate entrance so it had to be staffed during all business hours to prevent theft.] The phones were ringing, cafe and registers had lines and two people were waiting for help at the info desk, and the only free person was me…customers were not happy or understanding, but according to the DM I just wasn’t coming up with any creative ideas. Too bad closing half the store wasn’t an option!)

    My heart goes out to B&N’s employees…hopefully they get a better holiday present than Borders used to give (a box of grapefruit and a box of oranges for the store really says “We care enough to spend as little as possible.”)

  2. Working retail is not glamorous, regardless of the store. I worked retail in college MANY years ago and, no, it didn’t pay well. Everyone knows it doesn’t pay well. It has NEVER paid well. One’s experience with management will vary greatly by store. And, let’s face it, management is not exactly raking in giant salaries either. THEY are stressed out and over-worked, too. It’s a job. If you can find a better one, great, go for it. Is B&N any worse than any other retail chain? I doubt it.

  3. When I worked at Borders in 1990 it paid a little better than your average retail store. It paid something like $6.30 an hour to start when minimum wage was $4.75. But at the time if was still an indendant chain owned by two brothers. Employees had to pass a book knowledge test to get a job interview. Those days are long gone.

  4. Dredging up years-old commentary to bang on BN is just shoddy work.

    Your selected comments betray this — Lynch has been gone for 6 months. Blockbuster references? Got any pictures of the disco era you’d like to share?

    Seriously, this seems like yet another “large bookstores are killing the small independent” rant, supported by emotion over fact, dated information over current.

    You must be proud.

    Please, in the current economic environment, find me a happy retail employee. Or, you know, just keep writing moonmaiden-charged emotional blather intended to whip up a storm of negative sentiment of one of the few bookstores left that can actually provide reading materials to the entire country.

  5. If anyone would like a look into how the B&N Management does NOT care that a store manager of theirs verbally and physically assaulted my Autistic son, here’s the story regarding it. I have tried contacting their corporate offices, by going up the chain from local to national and have received NOTHING from them. They have avoided and ignored what took place. My family and I haven’t stepped foot into a B&N store in a year because of this. – https://www.facebook.com/RoninTheNihilist/posts/596740643669510

  6. @iknow, all the comments Chris posted are recent, with most of them from this month and a few from last month. Hardly “years-old commentary” or “dated information.”

  7. Last year when I released Hospital Gowns in early December, the speed at which the digital versions were posted varied enormously. I went direct to Amazon and Apple. Amazon literally had the ebook up overnight. I uploaded it Friday evening and it was available for sale when I got up Saturday morning. Amazing! Apple took about a week, which is what they typically promise. For the other ebook retailers, I released through Smashwords. All but one downloaded it within a week and probably posted it soon thereafter.

    Then there was B&N. It took over a month to even download my book files from Smashwords. (Smashwords’ Channel Manager tells you such things.) That meant B&N was missing Christmas sales for my ebook and thousand of others. That’s no way to run a business, especially when you’re in third or fourth place.

    About six months later, Smashwords did publish a notice that B&N would be trying to download and post ebooks more quickly. I’ve not checked to see if they’re doing that, but the experience did leave me wondering about staffing and morale at the company.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  8. Susan Lulgjuraj // December 23, 2013 at 12:56 am //

    I had a relative that worked at B&N for several years and was the reason I went with Nook initially over Kindle.

    Her and I would talk about the work environment there, and she had great things to say, but the negatives weren’t petty and more big picture stuff. It’s why she left there and is working for another large retail company where she has seen an amazing difference in how things are run.

    Many of her friends also left B&N to go to different, more stable, retail chains. None of them have looked back.

  9. Barnes & Noble uses employees for a few years then spits them out when they are done with them. Bn intentionally hires jerks for managers so the good employees will leave so they can save money. Consider yourself lucky if you get a quarter raise per year then eventually you stop getting them. As time goes on they start reducing employees hours while they continue to hire new cheaper employees. All the while they pretend to value long term employees by give them silly anniversary pins to give the illusion they value long term employees. Bn is a temp job at this point!

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