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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hey Hey Ho Ho George L. Jones Has Got to Go!

So somehow or other Borders has managed to get itself into a deep cash crunch, is pursuing "strategic alternatives," which is Wall Street speak for praying for rescue, has seen its share price drop toward $5ish a share. It'll never happen until it's too late, but it's time for the board to admit it made a mistake in hiring George L. Jones to run the company, and to put him out on the street.

I've been very ambivalent about George L. Jones for a long time. Big picture, he's seemed to have some good ideas. Chief among them: he stopped pouring money into wasteful store remodels; he did what needed to be done at Waldenbooks which had gone from being a cash generator 10 years ago to a cash drain; the new concept store idea was intriguing. Some ideas had potential but carried a lot of uncertainly, in particular the benefits of having your own web site instead of tying in with Amazon to allow better integration with the stores and the Borders Rewards program, but that up against the risks of having a lot of capital invested in launching what would clearly be no better than the #3 internet retail site for books because of the sheer impossibility of going after B&N and Amazon.

And I don't know if George L. Jones is responsible for this, but I do think the current buyer for sf/fantasy is the best person Borders has had in that position in my entire professional career.

But small picture, the company has been a mess. The employees at the Evanston, IL store know that the picture on the BordersStores web site is of the old location, which they relocated from five years ago, I've written to point this out, the employees have tried to get it changed, and it doesn't happen. The Paramus store moved nine months ago, and that picture hasn't been updated. It's a small thing, but the store relocation manual should have as step 6.A.2 "update picture on web site," and the district manager should see that it is done. They sent out a press release to announce the opening day of their Santa Monica store just a few days before, changed the web site on that day to say "Now Open," and Brandon Sanderson get there and the store is days away still from opening, and there's no excuse for that. That happened multiple times. Stores would change hours and the web site wouldn't be updated, and again, isn't that step 2.B.1 on the "changing hours" manual? Barnes & Noble does better. He's complained about the inefficiency of returns, but does nothing about the stores that have extremely high rates of store-generated returns like Columbus Circle, Manhattan because of space issues, which sees the store shipping back 2 copies of Brandon Sanderson's WELL OF ASCENSION one day so that the central office can reorder them the next and ship 2 right back. This is a problem that can be solved, by building taller shelves or segregating the hardcovers and trades as all Borders once did to maximize efficiency or by shelving more creatively. There isn't a complaint in this paragraph that I haven't written to Borders about. Why in one instance did it take me two letters to get them to update incorrect store hours on the web site, when one should have sufficed, and none have been necessary?

And I'd keep thinking in the back of my mind that I didn't really think I or the board or anyone should be too trusting in the CEO of a major company who didn't care about doing the little things right, consistently.

On their last quarterly earnings call, George L. Jones took great credit for his initiative in being sure the endcaps ran on time. He had gone into some markets, got the message across from the top down that every store had to be doing its store promotions consistently and correctly and etc., and gotten great results. But where's the passion for all the other little things?

And if he was so happy to take the credit there, will he take the "credit" for steering the company to the precipice of a cliff?


Maryannwrites said...

Interesting information. Thanks for the insights regarding Borders. I agree about those little details. They can hang you up.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed when retail vendors don't do the little things that make the difference between the customer giving the vendor his money and not doing so. But then again, Border's has been so far behind B&N for so long that I honestly can't say that I would notice if the entire chain disappeared. (Although I am sure that the overall effect would be Bad.)

Anonymous said...

Seems to me Mr. Jones was given the reins to a company that was steered toward the precipice of a cliff well before he took over. It also seems the board has a great deal of trust he's still the right man to get it back on track. They specifically hired him because he's turned worse around before - as the "rescue hire" CEO of Rose's department stores when they got in trouble. Wait for it, this man may very well have found his niche... As well, it might behoove you to ask to show her boss your list of grievances That way if uncorrected - you might actually have a legitimate case of holding Mr. Jones personally accountable. Or not..

Unknown said...

Borders fired it's Dave Carpenter Award winner of 2005 whose from new orleans the day before they make a press realease about putting up a concept store on St charles ave. I don't think this was a good idea since he was with the store in metraire since it opened ten years ago. The stock keeps going down wondering if the St Charles store will even open and will they have anyone who knows the city running it.