Indigo Books & Music Inc. IDG-T chief executive Heather Reisman showed off a new store this week that represents her vision for a turnaround at the company – but she continued to refuse to answer questions about recent high-profile departures and allegations of mistreatment by a former board member.
During the press event at the store in Toronto on Thursday, Ms. Reisman shook her head when asked to speak to the resignations of nearly half of the company’s board of directors in June, and whether Indigo has addressed the mistreatment allegations.
“All I would say is this: You’re all journalists,” Ms. Reisman told an assembled group of reporters. “Do you believe everything you read in journalistic endeavours?” When it was pointed out that the allegations were included in Indigo’s own press release at the time, Ms. Reisman said she would not comment further.
Instead, the CEO and founder of Indigo – whose own retirement as executive chair of the board of directors was also announced in June – wanted to speak to her vision for the future of the bookstore chain. Ms. Reisman returned to the CEO role in September, after the departure of her would-be successor Peter Ruis, who was in the top job for just a year. In addition to Thursday’s in-person event, Ms. Reisman held two online sessions this week to answer questions from people in the Canadian book publishing industry.
She told that audience that she wants to lead a transformation at the company, which has been losing money in recent years. Her plan includes increasing the proportion of Indigo’s sales that come from books – a reversal of a strategy she began implementing years ago to branch out into selling more general merchandise. Over time, the stores expanded to selling items such as skin care, fashion accessories and bedding.
“I think what happened is, we got a bit too far away from what the original intent was,” Ms. Reisman said during Thursday’s online session.
During another event earlier this week, she specified a goal for books to represent 65 per cent to 70 per cent of Indigo’s sales. In the company’s most recent fiscal year ended April 1, 2023, print products accounted for 51.9 per cent of Indigo’s sales.
“I can confirm that we are always at our core, books. The majority of what we sell is about books.”
During the store tour on Thursday, Ms. Reisman elaborated that the selection of general merchandise that the stores continue to sell will not feel “random,” and will be rebalanced. The new Toronto store, which is located in a new downtown development called The Well, displays books prominently, alongside merchandise such as pyjama sets, candles, and throw blankets. At the top of the shelves are large displays of photographs of Canadian authors.
“It has been a chance to cull out … and see the right balance between the books and some really beautiful product that does tell a story,” Ms. Reisman said of the new store during Thursday’s online session. “And we’re going to see this happen with all of our stores. As we move out of Christmas, we’re going to put a lot of attention into our physical store network over the next several months.”
Another strategy Ms. Reisman has on deck is to give local store teams more control over their local presence. That’s a tactic that has worked at Barnes & Noble, which in recent years has also retrenched from a previous emphasis on non-book-related merchandise. Seasoned book retailer James Daunt, who also led a turnaround at British bookstore chain Waterstones, took over as CEO of the U.S. chain in 2019. Among the changes he made was giving store staff more power to order books and respond to local customers’ demands. Barnes & Noble has since seen its sales rise and has opened new stores.
“Each store should feel like an independent in its market,” Ms. Reisman told publishing contacts during Thursday’s online session. “That’s the organizing principle that we used to have some time ago. … We want to reignite that notion.”
As it rebalances the product mix in its stores, another priority for Indigo will be a return to profitability. It has lost money in four of the past five fiscal years, and saw its losses widen to nearly $50-million in the most recent year, which included the impact of a debilitating cyberattack in February.
“This is a business. Yes, it’s had its challenges,” Ms. Reisman told reporters on Thursday. “It has to be a profitable business. We care about that.”