Core Stock Part 2

Lost emails

My thanks to Mark Hurley, STL’s Commercial Director, who writes in response to my post about Core Stock back in May. Mark’s original message is dated 23rd May but that message never arrived; it was re-sent on 4th July, received by me today. Presumably it’s out there in orbit somewhere along with the other one thousand billion emails that have gone astray…

Dear Phil


Upon my return from Christian Media I read your blog posted on the 19th May-08 regarding ‘Core Stock’ and I understand you have contacted our customer service department inviting a response.
The core stock that is featured within STL Distribution’s monthly guide – The Bulletin – is listed by publisher because the majority of retailers buy by publisher and the Bulletin is an extension of our area sales managers’ activity who also sell by publisher.
Coincidentally at Christian Media this week STL Distribution invited publishers to present new title information by category.  This was supported by retail managers from Wesley Owen, Crown and other independent retailers who shared their sales experience of what has and has not worked for them.   This will build on the category work that STL Distribution has been developing with tools such as ‘The Bible Catalogue;’ ‘The Best Sellers Catalogue’, where titles are shown by category as well as genre specific see safe stockist schemes, for instance fiction and software, which STL Distribution has been working on with the independent Christian Retailer for over a year. I write this because STL Distribution is keen to continue to produce tools and information that Christian retailers find useful and feedback regarding their usefulness is essential.
However, irrespective of whether data is presented by publisher or category, the source is the same and I welcome your encouragement that more data is supplied to Nielsen Bookscan. To date Nielsen’s database of Christian titles is not as comprehensive as I believe they would like it to be, which is why STL Distribution has and will continue to encourage publishers to supply bibliographic data to Nielsen enabling retailers’ sales data to be captured.  I welcome the day when all within our industry believe that Nielsen’s data is comprehensive and adding significant value to buying decisions: until that time STL Distribution’s data is one of the best snapshots of what is happening within our industry.
STL Distribution believes the core stock list it provides supports the Christian retailer increase their stock turn but it is important that  this data and any other data available to the Christian retailer is enhanced by their own sales history derived from their electronic stock control system.   
Since last autumn, STL Distribution has made available to Christian Retailers its SyneRgi software FREE of charge (RRP £400) plus an £18 monthly support fee, which not only allows a retailer to order electronically from STL Distribution as late as 4pm for a same day despatch but provides a simple but effective stock control system.  Why is STL Distribution offering SyneRgi free?   As a Christian charity we believe it is imperative that Christian bookshops remain in our cities, towns and villages and remain viable allowing them to continue to impact the local Church and the local community. 
Stock management is an essential tool in enabling the mission aspect of a Christian Bookshop to continue supporting profitability, cash flow and showing what is and is not selling. 
Phil, you make two requests and one challenge:
The requests:
1. What is selling through Wesley Owen Retail Group?
This data is already available through Nielsen.  In speaking with Steve Mitchell, Wesley Owen’s Director Retail of Operation, he states, ‘Wesley Owen submit data to Nielsen on a weekly basis’.
2. Please organise your core stock by category.
I am more than willing to continue down the category route as used for example in our Best Sellers and Bible Catalogues & as used at Christian Media this week. STL Distribution would be willing to make more category data available to retailers if required.

The challenge:
3. 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%.
As I have already indicated STL Distribution is offering see-safe on a number of genres. Whist see-safe is a tool STL Distribution uses, in isolation it is not enough and I would want to see a combination of see-safe, linked with proven stock control information. STL Distribution would be more than willing to work with Christian Retailers in helping to setting up a stock control system linked to a core stock programme benefiting all concerned. 

With kind regards,

Mark Hurley
Commercial Director
STL Distribution

Responding specifically to your second paragraph, Mark:


The core stock that is featured within STL Distribution’s monthly guide – The Bulletin – is listed by publisher because the majority of retailers buy by publisher and the Bulletin is an extension of our area sales managers’ activity who also sell by publisher.

For my own part, the only reason I buy by publisher is because that’s the way your ASMs present their new title info. I organise my shop by category and I’d much rather order by category. Perhaps it’s time to review the way your ASMs work? The rest of the Bulletin is presented by category: why not core stock?

10 thoughts on “Core Stock Part 2

  1. Hi,

    I am interested to hear about the See-Safe promotions as I have recieved no information on these initiatives at all – but then in the 6 months I have now been fully running my Christian Bookshop business( I have though had an account with STLD for longer than this) and utilising STLD at least weekly I have yet to see an ASM and perhaps it is only if one see’s an ASM that one finds out about these initiatives – or perhaps one needs to be a Crown Independent Retailer to take advantage of these?

    I do of course get the Bulletin and order from this directly via the website – which by the way still seems to have a bit of a glitch when it comes to Discounts and matching them up to the stated discounts on the webpages and in the basket etc.
    I have also just recently signed up to the Select Scheme as well – but that is not see-safe, though it carries extra discount to cover the discounts given to the customers,a nd of course does cost £5.00 per 100 magazines. My hope is this will be recouped by extra sales.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with the premise that accurate stock control and stock management is essential in good, profitable and knowledgeable shop running – however I still think better margins/discounts and/or returns policies from publishers and wholesalers are also important, and I thank those publishers who do give good terms on all fronts, and also the wholesalers who give me automatic returns notes based on how much I have purchased in the quarter and good discounts each month on pre-pub titles – thus showing true support of small independent booksellers. This really does help boost the daily viability in our hard market.

    While it is great to see that STLD is offering Synergi free to the trade, I think it only fair to point out that both Gardners & Bertrams are also offering their stock management systems free as well.
    Though this may not be of interest to the majority of Christian Bookshops – to those with a wider range of stock carried then these can be good alternative system choices, also worth noting that they also support feedback to Nielsen etc.
    Also on the Bertrams offer I note that they give an extra 2% discount on orders through the system before 1pm – a nice incentive for early ordering there!

    To be fair I use none of these currently as I have a system that i have kibbled together myself from cheap library sourceware and a cheap laserchamp scanner – total cost less than £80.00, and it lets me keep track of my stock, book it in, print reports etc etc. I have been using this for the last 18+months and though not necessarily as wonderful as the systems on offer through the Wholesalers it does mean that it doesn’t cost me anything per month – and when utilised alongside pubeasy and suppliers websites it works brilliantly – though alas no nielsen feedback facility. Now if more Christian Publishers would sign up to Batch -not least Marston & Norwich Books, then I would be signed up, away and running in a fully tied up world.

  2. On Melanie’s note about Batch I heartily agree. We were told that Integrity, CWR and IVP were going to be joining at around the time of CBC but it all seems to have gone silent. And who knows about Marston? They had been giving positive noises but that has all gone silent as well. Now that Church House have moved to Norwich Books I think it is essential that Norwich join Batch.
    Give STL their due – they were the first to join Batch from the Christian trade several years ago and the system works extremely well.

  3. Yes: definitely top marks to STL for being part of batch 🙂

    Now c’mon everyone else: please stop dragging your feet!! I guess it’s too late for the Christian book trade to lead the way but why can’t we at least keep up to speed?

  4. Can I just say that I have been really impressed by Mark Hurley – who today made contact with me by email in follow up to my response to his blog.

    It’s nice on a number of levels – not least because it says this is a good forum (well done phil!) but also because it shows a great level of customer service and proactiveness.

  5. On the STL See Safe offers, it would seem they are mainly tied to taking large volumes of stock – not great for the small independent. We came voluntarily out of STL’s “Crown Retailers” scheme a year ago, we were getting 16 boxes of their selections of See Safe every 8 weeks and sending 15 of them back – paying DHL for carriage every time. Our cashflow just can’t cope with that and by the time we left we owed STL £7000 for stuff we basically didn’t want and couldn’t sell, and the move from 90 day to 30 day credit very nearly pulled us under.

    Although our ASM has offered us some See Safe since then, it always seems to mean taking 15 of something I know we can sell 4 or 5 of at most. Even with this kind of “See Safe”, the carriage costs wipe out our margins.

    We would welcome STL developing an approach that really caters for the needs of the small independent – at the moment my sneaking suspicion is that we are a bit of an inconvenience in the market and suppliers like STL would like us to either become bigger, brighter, more branded, more Wesley Owen-like – and hence more profitable to them – or die.

    So what would such an approach entail? Good discounts on our core stock, the way we define it – the stuff that we know keeps selling again and again in our little town. See safe on interesting new titles, without having to buy a ton of it. Information about what’s selling to customers rather than what’s selling to book shops (actually our ASM is quite good at this but it would be helpful on the web site). Promotional materials that don’t require us to buy £15,000 of stock a year to qualify (that is more than we actually have space for in our shop).

    I appreciate the Christian market is bigger than the small independents and given some of the comments on the ‘Christian Bookshops – Who Needs Them?’ thread, maybe some people would prefer to see some of them disappear. But in a tough market we all need all the help we can get to survive, that includes STL, and maybe STL will feel the pinch too if small independents go out of business – after all every time it happens it’s about £12,000 pa lost revenue to them based on our own spending.

  6. Kate,

    Funny you should say about leaving the Crown initiative as I was looking at the Crown Brochure the day before yesterday thinking if it was a worthwhile initiative for me- and I must admit that what put me off was the corporate branding of Crown Bookshops being emphasized so much.
    I acknowledge a need to some sort of marker and unifier to let people potentially know you are a part of a larger group of independent retailers working as a buying group for want of a better term, but I want to be unique! I don’t want to look like a franchise or concession shop, well not unless they are going to be paying for a whole new refurb for me, then I might consider it for a while.

    On a side issue but tying in at the same time, my first batch of Select Promotion magazines came today – I had to chase them when I realised I should have already had them a week or so ago – seems I got lost in the shuffle and though set up for them they just never got sent out from the warehouse, ahh well it happens, especially to me at the minute it would seem.
    Still 10 out of 10, I chased yesterday, got an apology from Wayne for the oversight and they duly arrived today. that’s pretty good follow through.

    So I sit down to look through it – after all it’s my first chance to see what’s in the promotion and think about ordering stock in prior to doing my mail out and on the first page in the welcome blurb section, in the first line it said…

    ‘… Here at Wesley Owen we have many items’!

    So maybe Kate you are onto something with your sneaking suspicion :o)

    Now in terms of customer service I can’t complain as I phoned STLD and spoke to a very nice woman, Janette, who went and fetched out some past editions, as well as the crown version and the WO version – and sure enough this go around all versions have the same wording, when of course normally they have a suitable ‘other’ replacing the term WO she assures me. She also said she would pass my upset and concerns on and point out the problem – though of course there is nothing they can do now.
    I ended the conversation at least feeling a little assured that its just the way my current week is running. 10 minutes later she phoned me back to say she had passed on the problem to her manager and they were aware of the problem and will credit me back the cost of this issue due to my upset – can’t ask for fairer than that really.

    However, OK, I know it was a just a proof read oversight but it really got to me – not least because this is a promotion I pay into by buying the magazines for at least the next 12 months, I know there are benefits and reciprocations: I get better discount to off set the price promotion items, and I know that this edition shall not have cost me anything but that’s just as well because I don’t think I can actually use these ones now as it says the wrong thing, heck it looks like I nicked them from the next city overs WO! and gives the wrong impression to my customers. Well come on it tells the customers that I am a WO and that could cause a bit of confusion – it’s bad enough with me having to do the ‘no we are not anything to do with SSG/SPCK, we are entirely independent with it all being done as my personal mission etc etc’ without having to potentially add the WO bit to the spiel when a customer who had recieved one of the magazines comes in with a return, concern, complaint or issue.

    So there we go, I just thought it somewhat fitting to share this after reading Kates post and her concerns – hope you all don’t mind. BTW I agree with Kates wish list: Good Discount of 40%+ on our Core stock, small level see-safe starting at 5 copies (though I would accept no see-safe and a high margin 47%+ on small scale firm sale lead new titles of 3+ copies), and yes good promotional material that don’t require lots of outlay and try to turn me into a WO.
    You know to be honest that list bit sounds a bit like some of what Bertrams & Gardners offer to the small secular independent shops! Maybe we should start looking at our Christian Shops with a secular focus for a while, after all if they can do it in the secular trade when their businesses are feeling the same pinch Christian ones are, surely we with our christian principles of charity, trust and charis should be able to emulate their good practice?? Just a thought.

  7. Thanks for sharing all that, Mel — and I do hope STL are listening! Defaulting to Wesley Owen in the entire ‘Select’ print run is a major goof up and I’d be inclined to request a re-issue as a well as a refund!

    As for the Crown Retailers scheme: I’d love to hear from some of those who are signed up. Hello to any Crown Retailers out there: how’s it going? Have you received any commission on the web sales yet? Enough to cover the membership fee?

    Gardners: yes. Back in my secular bookselling days we used Gardners daily: excellent service. I’ve just opened a Gardners account for LST and their customer service is still as good as I remember it, and the Gardners website simply makes STL UK look pitiful. Sorry STL UK dudes, but you are running a seriously sub-standard website… STL USA, on the other hand, is superb; so c’mon here in the UK: please get it together!!

    May we never become Wesley Owen clones! It’s bad enough seeing the March of the St Andrew’s Clones (on which I see that they still haven’t fixed their keyword stuffing) — we can do without WO clones too! Vive la resistance!

  8. Well spotted, Mel! We do SELECT, and I must admit I don’t read through it as carefully as I should. I think a refund is definitely in order here.

  9. I have requested a refund and enquired about a reprint. Here is my response:

    Yes, this was an error on our part. Unfortunately we are not in a position to reprint the catalogues. However, as a good will gesture, I am happy to raise a credit for the catalogues if you are able to supply me with an invoice number from where you were charged.
    Wayne Johnston

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