Timing isn’t the issue: Mark Hurley

I asked STL whether anyone felt brave enough to address the question of the wisdom of timing a major IT systems upgrade during the critical period approaching Advent and Christmas. Mark Hurley replies:


It is not a question of being brave! As you would expect the discussion to Go Live towards the end of October, 6 weeks later than we had planned was a decision taken at the highest level. The thought process supporting this date was:

  1. All the Christmas scale outs were complete to the Crown group and other retailers.
  2. Retailers will have high stock levels and traditionally repeat sales have been low at this time of year.
  3. The end of a month is a relatively quiet time for business

In addition the expertise within IT that we have pulled together over the last 2 years would have been dispersed and would have had to be pulled together at another time, which would have caused issues at a future Go Live date.

In essence one can always find an argument for not adopting change at any time and I don’t believe the issue is about timing. For me the issue is about the difficulties we have experienced in achieving a same day despatch and maximising availability of product. Issues that must be resolved quickly, whatever the time of year to ensure that you and your customers receive the high level of service you associate with STL Distribution.

Mark Hurley


7 thoughts on “Timing isn’t the issue: Mark Hurley

  1. I suppose Mark’s point 1 answers the question where all the latest Select magazine stock has gone. But then if they knew how much they were scaling out there is even less of an excuse to run out of stock.
    Mark’s Point 2. Yes I have high stock levels but I order fast and furious from the end of October through to Dec 24th. My customers expect it. Isn’t STL’s philosophy for us to keep stocks lower and order frequently, and not to pile it high.
    On point 3. Yes the end of the month can be quieter for ordering, but only marginally so.
    The best time of year to have done it would probably have been the second and third week of January. Most ordering at that time is very small.
    I am trying to be supportive in what must be a very difficult situation but I have to balance that with lost sales and customer pressure.

  2. I entirely agree with Geoff, particularly on point 2. It is not an exaggeration to say that from a customer order fulfilment point of view, our business is structured around STL’s 24-hour service and this becomes absolutely crucial at this time of year.

    Regarding Mark’s last paragraph, the issue should also about what is, or isn’t, in the deliveries once they actually arrive. Getting 24-hour despatch back is important; getting deliveries that are accurate in relation to what was originally ordered is pretty important too.

  3. I have not had any deliveries at all from STL for three and a half weeks now. A total of three books have arrived on back order, by post and we have been chaged carriage.

    Marks’ reply to Phil triggered some real anger in me, actually. Why does every communication from STL about this problem seem to imply it is just a little blip? Is it just me, or has the whole Christian book trade been brought to a standstill on customer special orders?

    I find Mark’s response to Phil’s email completely out of touch and dismissive of the problems retailers are facing. It makes me wonder whether anybody at STL actually has experience of high street retail. Please understand, STL: people order their Christmas presents in November and if they can’t get it from us they will go to Amazon or Eden – and chances are they will never come back, because we have been unable to deliver what we promised.

    If my experience is anything like typical I cannot imagine how anybody at STL can even think of defending the timing of this. I have emailed Mark as I am sure many others have with the questions that need answers – what can I tell my customers about when their goods will be delivered?

    As I have already said to Mark (no reply as yet), detailed analysis of the problems they are facing in Carlisle doesn’t really help – for all I know they could be drafting in two hundred Oompa Loompas on 24 hour split shifts, it still doesn’t change anything for my customers, who up till now have been able to trust us to get what they want (okay, so long as it isn’t TOS!!). This Christmas, as if we didn’t already have enought to contend with, we will yet more lose customers to Eden and Amazon. Please, STL, give us some help!!

  4. You are not alone in your anger and frustration, Kate. This situation does seem to be crippling our market sector at the most critical time of year.

    The decision to go ahead was made at the highest level, but unfortunately it’s the people at street level who are having to deal with the consequences of it going pear-shaped. As another correspondent said to me, STL have gained a dominant position in Christian wholesale: that position demands a high level of responsibility and reliability; and that is precisely what’s gone AWOL.

    The timing wouldn’t have been an issue if everything had gone according to plan; but it didn’t. That possibility needed to have been factored in at the highest level, at every level.

    Like everyone else caught up in this fiasco, I wish to be supportive, which is why I didn’t raise questions publicly earlier… but goodwill doesn’t pay our wages…

  5. For me Marks Point no. 1 actaully says it all in terms of where I and other small independents are placed with regards to STL and also Select!
    – Crown Group get top billing, and in equal measure to this will be WO, and the rest of us – well we don’t get much consideration really. Select is a last thought to Independents as well – hence the screw up two months ago when someone didn’t remember to proof the independents edition and take out the WO tag. We also haven’t much of a chance with any stocks available of the offers in there this time as they have been scaled out, no doubt in great big lots to Crown and WO!
    And points 2 & High Stocks & quite – well lets face it

  6. oops- finger slipped and hit wrong key!
    ok so it should be:
    and points 2 & 3, well lets face it, High Stocks and quiet end of month ordering – that’s much more a chain thing (and yes Crown Group actually counts as a chain due to the way its structured and organised – a franchised model but chain nontheless! sorry not meaning to offend anyone with that but its about structure, design and economics and in this way its a chain model) than an independent – and yes I feel I can speak with a smidgen of intelligence on this one as most of my career was Chain and this was the state then! however as an independent that knew and knows other independents, well that’s not the case and largely hasn’t been the case for a long while, largely due to inferior credit terms and the need to watch cash flow and the like!
    This is a disaster for small independents at a time when it was least needed, what with WDA giving Eden free development money (though it is possible they too will have been effected negatively by this if they deal with STL on a large scale, though with the levels of stock they probably deal more directly with publishers) and with all the Scale Outs having gone out to WO & Crown Group, even if the customers don’t go direct to an e-tailer they are likely going to phone around – heck I know at least 1 of my customers has told me if her Hillsong DVD which I ordered last Friday for her isn’t here by Tuesday then she is going to Nottingham and will pick it up from WO whilst she is there. The likelihood of it being here Wednesday – well based on my phone call to STL today, pretty unlikely as it only just went to the warehouse today and ‘things are a bit slow’ but she was helpful and gave me the Ref I need to quote next week to find out its progress towards the end of the week.
    The support staff are helpful, honest and hassled and my heart goes out to them, but Gates of Praise and some others may well be getting my orders soon based on this fiasco.
    I am very very glad Gardners just opened their DVD wholesale arm as that will mean if needs be I can probably get the DVD from them, along with others – Gardeners also stock Zondervan product as well these days.
    Bertrams are pretty good on their holdings on a lot of Christian Publishers as well, and believe me both of these seem to like independents and do some fantastic offers directly to them and only for them! Oh and they don’t charge for their free magazines for Independents to give to their customers!!
    Gardners did a great 45% SU promo last month, a 45% SPCK one the month before as well. Bertrams also did a 45% one for SPCK and 45% on a lot of the Lion advent/christmas stuff, and they give allocated returns % on new product ordered each month via their buyers notes – not much but it all helps.
    Maybe we need to be giving consideration to alternative wholesalers, if not as preference then certainly as strong back-up.
    Perhaps it’s time to start liasing with them and giving consideration to forming an independent buying group or negotiations group?
    Don’t get me wrong the BA CBG is fantastic – I would love to be a member and involved but some of us can’t afford to be in the BA yet and I know when crunch hits memberships can also be one of the first things to go! (sorry guys I know most of you are on the BA CBG Committee! mea culpe Phil) but it might be worth considering if talks could be done or an Independent Shops group got together? I base the idea on the Independent Booksellers Group: info on which can be found here –
    Bertrams already work with the idea, Gardners probably would be open to talks as well and might well welcome the chance to cater to us?
    Anyway if others were interested it is something I would be interested in working on with them? or I could be talking utter waffle and rubbish too! feel free to tell me that.
    Ok thanks and that’s me done again. ;o)

  7. I really think you should give serious consideration to joining the BA, Melanie — I think your insights would be an asset to the CBG, and you would benefit from, amongst other things, being able to use batch.co.uk for invoice payments (massive saving on paperwork — to my mind batch alone is almost enough in itself to make the membership fee worthwhile). The BA is already doing a lot to support and promote indies with its Independent Booksellers Week and Small Business Forums, so what better forum than the BA to explore the idea of an independent shops group?

    BA sales pitch over! 🙂

    [anyone from BA reading: can I get a discount on my membership fee for this, please?]

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