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Family owners put Blackwell’s bookshops up for sale: Waterstones seen as potential buyer after 143-year-old chain ditches plan to become employee-owned

1 February 2022 | The Guardian } Sarah Butler

The family behind Blackwell’s, the UK’s largest independent bookseller, has put the business up for sale after ditching a plan to hand it to employees. A deal would take Blackwell’s, which operates 18 shops and a website, out of family control for the first time in its 143-year history.

The retailer said it was looking for an external investor after a plan to put the business into employee ownership fell through. It said that goal ultimately proved to be difficult, due in large part to the ongoing uncertainty on the high street caused by Covid-19”.…

Julian Blackwell, the group’s owner and president, said: I would have loved to have handed over the company to its staff, but I also accept that in order to grow and remain competitive in the future, it is time for new ownership, ideas and investment.

Potential buyers are likely to include Waterstones, which is owned by the aggressive New York hedge fund Elliott Advisors. It snapped up rival independent Foyles in 2018 and previously took over smaller booksellers Dillons, Hatchards and Ottakar’s. While such a deal might attract attention from the competition watchdog, the scale of competition from Amazon and WH Smith means it could gain approval.…


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The family behind Blackwell’s, the UK’s largest independent bookseller, has put the business up for sale after ditching a plan to hand it to employees.

A deal would take Blackwell’s, which operates 18 shops and a website, out of family control for the first time in its 143-year history.

The retailer said it was looking for an external investor after a plan to put the business into employee ownership fell through. It said that goal ultimately proved to be difficult, due in large part to the ongoing uncertainty on the high street caused by Covid-19”.

Blackwell’s, which was founded in Oxford and operates Heffers in Cambridge as well as flagship stores in London and Edinburgh, said underlying sales for the year to December 2021 rose 1.9%, a figure that suggests falling store sales and rising online trade.

Julian Blackwell, the group’s owner and president, said: I would have loved to have handed over the company to its staff, but I also accept that in order to grow and remain competitive in the future, it is time for new ownership, ideas and investment.

I have always stood for innovation and transformation in the constantly changing world of bookselling. I am delighted to have supported, and now see, Blackwell’s become a significant player in online bookselling.”

Potential buyers are likely to include Waterstones, which is owned by the aggressive New York hedge fund Elliott Advisors. It snapped up rival independent Foyles in 2018 and previously took over smaller booksellers Dillons, Hatchards and Ottakar’s. While such a deal might attract attention from the competition watchdog, the scale of competition from Amazon and WH Smith means it could gain approval.

David Prescott, the chief executive of Blackwell’s, said: The sale of Blackwell’s represents a genuinely unique and exciting opportunity for any potential buyer to own a much loved and trusted bookselling brand. The business has been quietly and successfully transitioning itself in recent years to establish a substantial global online presence alongside a core portfolio of iconic shops. We hope that a new owner and investment will help us to secure a long-term future for Blackwell’s and its booksellers for many years to come.”

The potential sale was first reported by Sky News.

[Full text is provided here in the event that the original news story is no longer available. If possible, please read the original story at The Guardian.]

Authoritative information may be found here.

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source URL 🌐Family owners put Blackwell’s bookshops up for sale | Retail industry | The Guardian
date recorded 📅2022-02-02
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