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Barnes & Noble, the New York Times reports, has a new look.

Actually, a number of new looks.

"The green carpet is gone," the Times writes.  "Dark wood shelves are no longer in favor.

"At many Barnes & Noble stores, the green-striped wallpaper and hunter-green walls have been scraped away and painted over in sandy shades of white and pink as the nation’s biggest brick-and-mortar bookseller pursues, in fits and starts, a back-to-basics, books-first strategy.

Other stores will have a different look. The design of a new location in Brooklyn reveals the polished concrete floors from its past life as a Barneys New York. A Barnes & Noble recently opened in California with cerulean walls, and an experiment in robin’s egg blue is in the works for some East Coast locations."

CEO James Daunt acknowledges that “any design agency would have a heart attack if they could see what we’re doing.  We don’t have any architect doing our design at any stage. There’s no interior designer.

"And certainly the identity people would have a complete crisis,” Mr. Daunt continued, referring to branding consultants. “It’s breaking all the rules.”

This "idiosyncratic approach to mass retail" reflects Mr. Daunt's self-described mindset as "an independent bookseller in background and ethos,” who is "pushing the chain to act more like the indie stores it was once notorious for displacing — and to embrace lighter, brighter interiors with modular shelves designed for maximum flexibility."

The Times writes that since Daunt "embarked on the Barnes & Noble redesign in 2020," he has "demonstrated that consistency doesn’t rank very high on his priority list. New York City has nine Barnes & Noble stores featuring four different logos above the front doors. Two stores are new; one has been fully renovated; and the others have had some updates but are mostly frozen in time, the still-functioning remains of bygone retail strategies in a company — and industry — that has undergone an upheaval."

More from the Times piece:

"Bookstores, in Mr. Daunt’s view, are fundamentally different from other retail businesses, partly because of the range and variability of the products. Under his leadership, local managers are given a free hand, meaning that the Upper West Side store may offer a shopping experience quite different from the one in Spanish Fort, Ala.

"'The curious trick has been that if you actually let the local book-selling teams do what they think is best, you suddenly get much better bookstores,' Mr. Daunt said. Then he quickly added a caveat: 'About a quarter of them become dramatically better, and a quarter become dramatically worse — but it is much easier to focus on that quarter and improve them'."

KC's View:

I've long been a Barnes & Noble skeptic, but I have to say that with every story I read, I become a bigger James Daunt fan.  He just seems like the right leader in the right place at the right time to save a business that desperately needed an unorthodox approach to chain retailing.  I suspect that he is asking questions within the organization that needed to be asked, and to which people don't have the same-old answers.