Eason to lay off 150 staff as it prepares for June reopening

Irish-owned bookseller seeks ‘substantial’ rent cuts from landlords over Covid-19

Eason on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Eason on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan

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Irish-owned books retailer Eason plans to cut 150 jobs and put some other staff on a four-day week from June 1st as it looks to reduce its costs by 30 per cent in response to the financial hit from the coronavirus lockdown of the economy.

Having shut its shops on March 24th, Eason plans to open four to six of its company-operated outlets on June 10th, with a view to opening the rest by August, subject to the continued opening up of the economy and consumer demand. It has written to all of its landlords to seek rent reductions.

In a letter to staff yesterday, Eason managing director Liam Hanly said the cost-cutting measures were necessary to ensure the business “remains sustainable in the context of what we believe will be a very different retail landscape in the future”.

Mr Hanly noted that the book market had declined by 20 per cent overall since the lockdown in March, with online sales making up 80 per cent of Eason’s total book revenues compared with the same period of last year.

“We will continue to invest in and develop our online offering,” Mr Hanly said. “However, our success in online does lay bare the significant challenges we will face should the migration to online remain substantially or even partially permanent, with the associated impact on footfall in store.”

He told staff caps on retail footfall would limit customer visits and result in shopping becoming “functional and transactional, with browsing slow to return”. The busy periods of back to school and Christmas would be “particularly challenged”, he said.

Rent and rates

Eason has also written to all of its landlords looking for “substantial rent reductions” over the next 18 months and “we look forward to a favourable response”.

“We will make similar approaches to local authorities around rates and we are hopeful that a Government-led approach will help address both these issues given the systemic impact each has on all retailers,” Mr Hanly added.

The job cuts are targeted at staff with less than a year of service, subject to a consultation process with unions. The headcount reduction amounts to about 20 per cent of its workforce in the Republic.

These measures do no affect Eason’s operations in Northern Ireland, where it employs about 150 staff.

In addition all of its “support” office staff will be reduced to a four-day week, on 80 per cent of their normal salary.

Mr Hanly said Eason had so far managed to retain all staff in employment with the support of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme and said an extension of this would be “critical in supporting the business during our elongated reopening schedule”.

“This public health crisis is going to have an ongoing impact on how we operate the business for some time to come, and how we respond will determine how successfully we return to normalised trade,” he said.

Founded in 1866, Eason is Ireland’s oldest book retailer. In February the company announced the acquisition of Dubray Books, which continues to operate as a separate brand. The deal was facilitated by the injection of €20 million of capital into the Eason & Son retail business by Eason shareholders in 2019.

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