27 May 2011

Norman group acquires Whitcoulls

4:49 am on 27 May 2011

A New Zealand company has acquired the Whitcoulls and Borders bookstores.

The future of the New Zealand-based chains had been up in the air since Australian owner REDgroup Retail put itself into voluntary administration in February this year.

The new owner is the James Pascoe Group, a New Zealand retail business owned by David and Anne Norman that employs 9000 staff throughout New Zealand and Australia.

The group's companies include the Farmers department stores, homeware retailer Stevens and jewellers Pascoes, Prouds, Stewart Dawsons and Goldmark.

Administrators Ferrier Hodgson said on Thursday the deal will save 900 jobs and most, but not all, of the bookstores. The price has not been disclosed.

Ferrier Hodgson expects the sale of the 57 Whitcoulls stores and five Borders stores to be completed by mid-June this year.

Hamish Wright from Booksellers New Zealand told Checkpoint on Thursday he has faith in the abilities of the new owner.

"They have a proven record; they have good, strong brands and Whitcoulls is a good, strong brand ... So I'd say the same strategies would be brought to bear here."

A union representing some Whitcoulls employees says staff and publishers will be relieved to see the stores back in New Zealand ownership.

National Distribution Union secretary Robert Reid told Checkpoint publishers had terrible problems trying to get good New Zealand titles into Whitcoulls stores because all the ordering was done out of Melbourne.

Mr Reid said that hopefully, the new owners will make sure they become flagship book stores - not just stationery shops with a few books thrown in.

In April, 10 Whitcoulls airport bookstores were sold to the Australia-based travel retailer LS Travel Retail Pacific for an undisclosed amount. The chain of eight Bennetts bookstores have been sold to a New Zealand-owned textbook retail company.