Core Stock

“We all know what we like… The skill is to know what your customers like!”

If you’re an STL trade account holder you’ll be familiar with that slogan, boldly proclaimed in their trade Bulletin’s  ‘Core Stock’ focus every month as they highlight the “proven sellers” from two or three publishers. These, we’re assured, are products that “sell consistently – week after week after week!” — followed by the proviso (in smaller print: you do read beyond the headlines, don’t you?) that “titles move in and out of Core Stock data”.

Which, to my way of thinking, makes the whole thing a bit of a nonsense. On the one hand, we’re told, we’re looking at “proven sellers” — “Never be out of stock with core stock”, screams the header; use this info to “Take the risk out of your buying decisions”, we’re advised. Then that tiny voice of caution: “titles move in and out…”

So are we looking at “proven sellers” or not? Does STL’s Core Stock focus really offer us the possibility of a risk-free buying experience?

In a word, no.

Because all that STL’s warehouse sales data can tell us is what’s going into the shops they supply. It can’t tell us what’s going out: it can’t tell us what our own and our fellow retailers’ customers are buying; and it can’t tell us what ends up stuck on retailers’ shelves, languishing quietly until the only thing that shifts it is a drastic price cut, probably to less than we bought it in for.

Nielsen LogoThe thing that can tell us that is Nielsen Bookscan, and we urgently need more Christian retailers to supply their sales data to Nielsen. Every month Christian Marketplace provides us with a bestseller chart taken from Nielsen’s data — but how many of us are contributing to that? Until we reach the point where it’s most of us, we’re inevitably — to steal St Paul’s phrase — “seeing through a glass darkly”, just seeing a part-picture.

If you’re not contributing data, why not? If you are, please tell us something of your story: was it easy or difficult to set up? Has it caused any problems or brought any benefits?

Back to STL, however: another problem I have with STL’s Core Stock focus is that it’s based on “selected publishers” — and that, quite simply, is not the way I do business. My shop is not organised by publisher but by category, by the categories that my customers are interested in; then it’s A-Z by author surname. Organising by publisher no doubt works in a wholesaler’s warehouse, but it seems a somewhat surreal concept for a retail environment.

Of this I am certain: if I stocked my shop on the basis of STL’s monthly Core Stock profiles, my shelves would be full of dead stock and I would very soon be out of business.

So to STL I’d like to make two requests and offer a challenge: 

  • Request 1: Please tell us what’s actually selling through the tills in your own retail outlets, Wesley-Owen.
  • Request 2: Please organise your Core Stock focus by category, not by publisher.
  • The Challenge: if you’re serious about wanting to help us with our stock management rather than simply boosting sales for the publishers you’re highlighting, please offer us Core Stock on a see-safe basis, at least 50%. 

Are you confident enough in your recommendations to share the risk with us? If not, then on what basis do you expect us to trust them?

In the end, however, for all of us, it comes down to that statement of the blindingly obvious that STL offer us each month: “The skill is to know what your customers like!”

Have you worked that one out yet? If so, how did you do it? Did you carry out a customer survey? Or have you been in business so long that you know your customers well enough to put a potential buyer’s name to every new title that you order?

For better or for worse, we’re all in this game together; let’s not compete against one another: let’s share our experiences and play together to win. And that, of course, includes, the good folk at STL: thanks guys 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Core Stock

  1. Phil, let me ask a question which you have been asked many times before – but which might make a good subject for blog debate. Why should I buy books from you (or another Christian bookshop) when I can get them from Amazon at a significant discount? (You can assume a fair bit of devils advocacy in this.)

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