STL Still Struggling – and there IS a Christian Bookshop in Lincoln!

STL’s battle with technical glitches in their IT systems upgrade is ongoing, unfortunately, with another apologetic memo from Mark Hurley, company head honcho, sent out on Tuesday evening:

Dear customer,

The technical issues we have been experiencing over the weekend unfortunately continue to cause us difficulty although we are working hard to resolve them. The fundamental issue is obtaining enough stock from our bulk locations to meet demand. On paper this may sound a simple issue to resolve but in reality is quite the opposite.

I am conscious that this issue is adding to the delay in processing some but not all orders. Our priority remains to fix this issue until which time we are unable to work at full capacity.

Our inability to process orders as quickly as we would like is causing you inconvenience and whilst I can only continue to apologise be assured our goal is to return to a same day despatch as soon as we can.

The team in Carlisle are grateful for your messages of support and prayers and please be assured that our Warehouse and Customer Services teams are working hard to resolve queries and despatch orders.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Hurley

Commercial Director
STL Distribution UK
(11 November 2008 18:04:44 GMT)

Meanwhile Melanie Carroll of Unicorn Tree Books would like to remind all Christian publishers and their reps that there is a Christian bookshop in Lincoln. Yes, it’s part of a larger enterprise in the Lincoln Central Market, but that does not make it any the less a Christian bookshop, so let’s have less of the snobbery from those who don’t like market halls, please! For any who may be wondering what a bookshop in a market hall looks like, head on over to Melanie’s blog for a photo-tour.

Melanie writes initially in response to Geoff Wallace’s comment on my last post about STL’s difficulties. There’s plenty of food for thought in Melanie’s observations so I’m reproducing them in full, largely unedited except for adding a few extra paragraph breaks and reinstating a couple of asides {in curly brackets} that went astray:

Hmm, Geoff – you must be one of the glitches in the system! You have my sympathies and prayers that your customers are more patient than most!

Must admit that I am only awaiting a box from friday – oh and a credit note for all the current Select Promo stuff I had ordered (well as much of it as seems to be available – has anyone else noticed how much of the select promo stuff seems to be unavailable before the promo even starts? I have a number of upset customers on this front who have wanted a number of items just for me to have to tell them there are no stocks and this was on the first official day of the promo – makes me look bad and in turn Select ~therefore STL~ look bad and I am not sure where that all sits with new legislations etc??) and that was recieved in the day the systems went off line, and was charged at full price for- that took me ringing for 3 days after the original date given for recontacting them.

I found that just being put on auto hold continually was a tad annoying and that was on all the lines including the order line! it wasn’t until I left a particularly pointed voicemail about if you say you will phone people back then please do, that I was finally contacted back by Paul who was lovely and very apologetic and obviously feeling a tad stressed – I did apologise for adding to the stress! however the credit has yet to arrive but rather that than missing orders!

This really would seem to have been a bit of a shambles and my heart does go out to all the staff that must be at tears and breakdown point, it is not a fun place to be at all. I really can emote on this one as back in the SPCK day my shop and team were the beta test site for new epos software for the SPCK shops and that was a disaster initially too!

My prayers for all the staff – and for the systems too! I kind of think it would go something like ‘Lord of Pot’s and Pan’s and things’ – maybe Lord of Wires, Circuits & Code?

Ohh but I might be the one with the longest wait for a rep visit as I still haven’t had one since I went official in February as my rep has had to cancel a few times since the last time I mentioned no rep visiting on this blog. {grins at Tim the Rep who Mel likes and has known for what feels like forever!} To be honest it’s probably not that important as I can order from the Bulletin and other advance catalogues and Bertrams & Gardners give me better discount levels as standard anyway and I have an account with Ingrams in the US, but then I am lucky because I am a general bookshop as well so have these, other new starts probably wouldn’t!

To be fair STL are not the only ones that haven’t visited, I still have yet to be contacted by the CPR rep for my area, despite a few discussions with Mr Mordue who has said that I will be visited a fair few times now since Feb, and STL have the up on this one as at least I get Bulletin from them – though SPCK give me a decent level of support when I order from them, they don’t send any AI’s out to me, but then Bertrams, Gardners and STL do, so at least I shouldn’t miss anything too important! However all the other companies rep’d by CPR, well lets hope they are covered by me spotting them in the various buyers notes!

It puts a new spin on the publishers moaning about sales, buying stats and not being supported really – how do they know and who do they blame when the sales aren’t showing because the orders are all going through the big wholesalers, or books aren’t ordered because the info isn’t passed on to the shops to enable them to make the pre-orders and advance buying decisions??

Again let me point out I have 14 years experience in Christian Bookselling and own an independent general bookshop, so I have knowledge and resources many new starts don’t, if my experiences are the norm or a general trend then it’s something the trade needs to be looking at, and some a lot more than others!!

I think Lincoln maybe is too far from anywhere else on the road calls?
or perhaps after all it is just because, as another Christian Rep (from one of the headline Christian publishers) told me today whilst standing in my shop ~that just happens to be in a market hall!~,
it’s a shame Lincoln hasn’t got a Christian Bookshop anymore!
That did kind of make me wonder why he was there then!

I pointed out what he had said I considered offensive as Lincoln did and does have a Christian Bookshop thank you and duly led him over to the nicely appointed Christian Section that he hadn’t actaully been and looked at until that point and demonstrated that there was a full and comprehensive Christian Bookshop in Lincoln, and although compact in size it is widely stocked and represented and we don’t need much space as we do judicious ordering on a semi-daily basis of what sells and what will sell.

I also pointed out that with most places – though currently some exceptions exist! – offering 24-48 hour delivery this makes small works just fine thanks!

I also pointed out that there has not been a day when there hasn’t been a Christian Bookshop in Lincoln since the late 1940’s. Advance Bookshop (which by the way started out in the same market I now inhabit! I know this to be true and factual as Tim who owned Advance before it’s demise had told me so, and this was confirmed by the Daughter of the people that founded Advance Bookshop as she now uses my shop, as does her daughter, and they always express their delight in us being right where it started!) and the SPCK opened within 18 months of each other, and sadly closed down within 18 months of each other, – Unicorn Tree Books was already carrying a small range of religious books before SPCK/SSG closed down as Tim from Advance had spoken to me before he closed and I was catering to some of his customers whose churchmanship was such as SPCK did not suit them(!) and then later on even before SPCK/SSG closed I was having to stock Communion Wafers and other such items due to strange bannings on purchases by the then leaders of SPCK/SSG, thats why when the staff were so reprehensibly treated I already had the account with STL etc up and running and some stocks in, so there was no gap in Lincoln – its just I beefed up the selection, gave it it’s own entire unit, and didn’t have to worry about competing with my old staff and risking their livelihoods in anyway, indeed one of those staff still works for me Part-time!

So I guess if my being in a Market Hall makes me not real or non-existent (though to some I am a skin horse!) well I can carry on without seeing the reps, after all that leaves me more time for serving the customers!

However I do enjoy seeing the reps and others that do come or phone me very regularly, {mel waves at Mike, Shelley, Ruth, Aude, Kevin, Rebecca and a whole batch of others too!} and if any others want to come they are more than welcome, particularly if they can check the bias and engage the brain as they walk through the door to the Market Hall. Otherwise don’t worry too much, Bertrams and Gardners amongst others ~and soon once again STL we hope, especially for Geoff~ have a good speed of service these days, and some of them even do marginally better discounts than you might expect to get or do get from seeing a rep! That’s worth considering these days.

Ok sorry for hi-jacking Geoff’s real issue! Phil – feel free to cull this rant as needed or if you want, and if not (or even if so!) thanks for giving me somewhere to release the tension and share in the first place.

No apology necessary, Melanie — on the contrary, thank you for joining in the discussions. This is precisely why this blog exists 🙂

10 thoughts on “STL Still Struggling – and there IS a Christian Bookshop in Lincoln!

  1. Mel’s comment makes me wonder if everything leaves STL in strict order of priority of being received. If it was then everyone would be waiting over a week for their orders. What are other people’s experience? For those who are as long in the tooth as I am it reminds me of the days of the PDS van (Publishers Delivery Service) that many publishers used for their deliveries. It only came once a week so if your parcel wasn’t on it then you had to wait a whole week for the next visit.
    My Monday 3rd of November order has been promised for tomorrow (Thursday) (a mere 11 days)

  2. That’s a very good question, Geoff… can’t help wondering, for instance, if Wesley Owen are being prioritised over the rest of us? That’s not intended to be cynical, just a straightforward question. We need to ask some searching questions at next week’s BA CBG meeting, I think…

    Amongst other things, the timing of this whole debacle needs to be challenged: the run up to Advent and Christmas is NOT the time for an IT upgrade!

    I want to be supportive of STL’s staff and I empathise with the whole team as they struggle through this — but I think that at the very least there needs to be some acknowledgement that somebody within the organisation didn’t think through the implications if it all went pear-shaped…

    How many Christian bookshops are now losing their customers goodwill? How many customers are now shopping elsewhere? We may never be able to quantify the damage this situation has done. If even one Christian bookshop goes out of business as a result of this fiasco then… sorry: words fail me at this point…

    Mark Hurley – I hear your apologies and appreciate you taking the time to address things personally: thank you. But I wonder if something more than apologies is called for? Perhaps a gesture such as extended credit on delayed consignments would go some way towards restoring goodwill with retailers?

    My thoughts, for what they’re worth…

  3. This is certainly a matter which needs to be picked up at next week’s BA-CBG meeting.My initial questions from reading the various bits of correspondence are:
    1. Why have STL carried out this work at the busiest time of the year for retailers?
    2. Are all bookshops being treated equally and fairly – or are some being given priority? Which would be completely unacceptable.

  4. I agree with all that is said above. What is worrying me now is the chaotic state of the deliveries from STL that are arriving.

    Earlier this week I received a delivery from STL consisting of some items I had ordered through my rep towards the end of October. It was clear that there were should have been two boxes, but only one had come. When I phoned STL about this, they agreed that there was a missing box, but have been unable to tell me what has happened to it, or which items were in it. I therefore have to contact them with a list of what is missing, so they can give me credit.

    Today I have received a delivery from STL consisting of four boxes. Three of them were an order I placed last Saturday. From this order, there are nine lines (out of a total of around 35) which have not been sent. Only two of these appear in the ‘items not supplied’ list. The other seven are simply not there. As well as this, there are six copies in the delivery of ‘Faith and Doubt’, the new title from John Ortberg. The only problems are that a.) these six do not appear anywhere on the invoice and b.) my original order was for 18, with 3 at 100%.

    The other box I received today appears to be a repeat of part of an order I placed last week. Quite why they have sent this to me I have no idea. There is no paperwork in the box.

    I have received one other delivery from STL this week, which was substantially correct in terms of what was in the box matching what was on the invoice, but as Melanie commneted in an earlier post, virtually none of the items from the SELECT catalogue which customers had ordered were included.

    This is starting to feel like chaos to me. Like Melanie I have an account with Ingram and I feel tempted to transfer all my orders direct to the States, but with what is happening to the dollar exchange rate at the moment, that would be risky to say the least!

    My sympathies are with the customer service staff at STL. Let’s hope things get sorted out soon, but I can’t say I am very optimisitc at the moment.

  5. Put out the flags – Maranatha has received its STL order placed on 3rd Nov (arrived 13th Nov).
    Oh, correction, out of 16 lines ordered only 3 lines were received and a further 3 backordered. The other 10 lines are written in STL’s new invisible ink.
    (I really should forget about the shop on my day off!!!)

  6. After receiving my delivery today – Another part of the order I received yesterday – Dealing with the items received that were neither ordered or invoiced, Dealing with the items invoiced but not received – Dealing with the carriage charge for an order of £138 (invoiced amount). And dealing with the damaged items – I wish I had taken a day off 🙂

  7. We are experiencing exactly the same issues mentioned by others writing above. It is clearly causing difficulties for everyone in the trade and the effects will ripple out to individuals and churches that need resources in the run up to Christmas, as well as publishers with seasonal stock that is not getting to where it is needed.

    We voiced our concern over the timing at several meetings during the year, as did publishers and other retailers (apparently). It was obvious that any problems were going to be compounded by the seasonal increase in demand and that recovering from any glitches would be that much more difficult. Others in retail seems to agree that Christmas is the one time of the year to keep any risk of disruption to a minimum.

    Phil – you asked if Wesley Owen are being given priority. I think they are probably experiencing the same problems as the rest of us. At the checkout of their website the delivery time is listed as 10 – 14 days rather than the usual 48 hours.

  8. I can answer the question of whether Wesley Owen have received orders in preference to other trade accounts that STL Distribution serves.

    I can categorically state that Wesley Owen orders have not been given precedence over anyone else’s orders

    In fact STL Distribution made a request to Wesley Owen not to place stock orders in the week after the new system went live to help manage the work flow during the transition. A request we agreed to. So as group of stores Wesley Owen are further behind than anyone else in receiving stock orders., as Gareth states, has also had to change it’s delivery times reflecting the challenges we’re working through.

    I will at the BA meeting next week, and am happy to talk this through.

    So please, be assured, Wesley Owen is not being prioritised at all.

  9. Thanks Steve, especially for the Wesley Owen group holding back for a week to place orders. That must have been a difficult thing to do and is much appreciated.

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