Elliott Advisors, a U.S. investment firm, has agreed to buy U.K. bookstore chain Waterstones, which operates 283 bookstores in the U.K, with a handful of branches in Ireland, Holland and Belgium. Waterstones reported sales of more than £400 million ($557 million) in the fiscal year ended last April and employs more than 3,000 people.
The final sale price was undisclosed. When Lynwood Investments bought the chain in 2011 it paid £53 million. Lynwood will retain a minority stake in Waterstones.
James Daunt, who is credited with having returned the chain to profitability after he joined the company in 2011, will remain as CEO. Paul Best, who is Elliott Advisors’ head of European Private Equity, will be working with Daunt. "He has done quite a bit of retail,” said Daunt, who described Best as “extremely sensible."
In interviews with the U.K. press, Daunt has given reassurances that there will be no store closures or layoffs.
“There is an agreement about operational strategy” between the bookseller and the hedge fund, Daunt told the U.K. publishing newsletter BookBrunch, and the focus will remain on bookselling and giving stores more independence.
Daunt also sees opportunities for expansion, including abroad. “We’re a retailer that’s doing well on a high street which isn’t doing very well,” Daunt said, during an interview with the Press Association following the sale. “Whilst of course we don’t like seeing companies, other fellow retailers, going out of business, it is giving us quite a lot of opportunities to expand which we frankly haven’t had in the recent past because they’ve been very limited availability of new shops.”
There has been speculation that Elliott Advisors may have acquired Waterstones to flip it in a sale to Amazon in the future, a rumor Daunt dismissed. “I think that’s nonsense,” he told the Press Association. “I can’t see that Amazon would wish to run the sort of shops that we do.”
The final sale is expected to be complete next month.