UBS: Unemployed Book Sellers?

UBS: Unemployed Book Sellers?

Staff restructuring at the University Book Shop (UBS) has seen a number of positions made redundant, with those staff members affected invited to reapply for newly-created positions. The restructuring is the culmination of six years of falling profits due to the difficult trading conditions faced by many bookstores. UBS ran its first deficit in recent times last year.

Critic spoke with UBS CEO and manager Phillippa Duffy about the restructuring. “We had already scrutinised and worked on every other cost area, but unfortunately the sales that we have at the moment could not continue to sustain the size of the staff that the business was carrying,” Duffy said.

Duffy took over as manager at the start of the year following the retirement of long-serving UBS manager Bill Noble. When asked if the restructuring could be attributed to deficiencies in the previous management, Duffy insisted that this wasn’t the case. “I came into a particular organisational structure and in the context of the trading environment that I inherited I just didn’t think it was the right one for the challenges down the track … the size of the staff was an issue relative to sales.”

UBS had around 19 full-time equivalent staff, and the restructuring made significant changes to many of the existing positions. While Duffy remarked that a “small number” had chosen to take voluntary redundancy, most elected to apply for the new positions, which have now all been filled.

Rod Morris, the husband of a laid-off staff member, told the Otago Daily Times on 7 June that staff were “shocked and stunned,” and felt “utterly betrayed” by the lay-offs. He also said that six of the key staff members, including his wife, each had more than 20 years’ experience which “could be lost.”

“There’s a huge amount of knowledge accumulated in those staff,” he concluded.

Following revelations that the current UBS on campus was set to expand into the former OUSA Events office, there has been speculation that UBS’s recent move onto campus might be the first phase of a complete relocation. There have also been rumours that the Great King Street address was in need of earthquake strengthening. Duffy denied these accusations, telling Critic that “there are no plans at all to close Great King Street.”

The move to the campus premises, which have been in place since earlier this year, was a “decision to get closer to the students” and has been “fantastic,” according to Duffy. She stated that the new location has prompted an increase in textbook sales for the first time in around six years.

Duffy added that the two stores have completely different product mixes and customer bases, with the campus store focused on textbook sales and Great King Street appealing to the wider Dunedin public as one of the country’s leading independent bookstores.

According to Duffy, the space UBS occupies on campus was “already earmarked to be extended as part of the OUSA extensions.” The expansion will enable warehousing onsite, which will allow for easier and more efficient receipt of stock. It will also give a larger retail space for UBS on Campus to expand from its current stock of textbooks to include other books and stationery of interest to both students and general academic staff.

While the fate of bookshops in general is unclear, Duffy remarked that sales at UBS had stabilised in recent months, which she saw as “encouraging.” Book launches have also proven successful. Duffy reiterated that UBS is a commercial business in a very competitive environment and that she must react accordingly. “The prudent thing is to be managing a business that is secure in its future for its customers and its staff, and for our shareholder, OUSA.”
This article first appeared in Issue 14, 2013.
Posted 6:05pm Sunday 7th July 2013 by Claudia Herron.