STL: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Update, 22/11/2008: Thanks to Steve Mitchell for permission to reproduce his Powerpoint Presentation, SAP Go Live.

Cynics say that the light you think you can see at the end of the tunnel is the headlamp of an oncoming train. With Christmas fast approaching I guess that’s an easy mistake to make as we wait for our deliveries from STL to come through. But my own experience of walking through a railway tunnel (a few years ago at Birmingham New Street Station, if you must know) tells me that an oncoming train doesn’t necessarily spell disaster: on that particular occasion, the train stopped and the driver gave me a lift in his cab. It’s the only time I’ve ever had the privilege of riding in a train driver’s cab and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

It was a bit like that at today’s meeting of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group: a sense of not quite despondency, but something fairly close, hung over us. Christmas is coming, our deliveries aren’t and our customers are going elsewhere; then Steve Mitchell (Director of Stores, Wesley Owen) stepped in with a presentation and explanation, an insider’s view of what had happened, what went wrong and how things are panning out. This was the view from the train driver’s cab: in the tunnel with the rest of us, but in a unique position to assess the situation.

Steve’s explanation was frank and straightforward, with no denials or excuses but with honest analysis, humble apologies and the assurance that everyone at STL is doing their utmost to bring things back up to speed. He was unable to offer a date for when that is likely to be but again emphasised the company’s commitment to resuming normal service a soon as possible.

He circulated a letter from Graham Sopp, STL’s Chief Executive (Europe), which has also been distributed to the trade by email:

Open Letter to the Trade

19 November 2008

I am writing to apologise for the problems caused to your businesses as we have gone live with a new software system at STL Distribution.

The decision to change systems was not taken lightly but our old system, which was 20 years old, was beginning to show distinct signs of age and we feared that it would become unstable. We had already found immense problems in trying to upgrade the system to provide functions required by today’s market.

We originally planned to implement the new system in August. However as the date approached, it became apparent that further testing of the new system was necessary before we could commence training people in how to use the system. We were faced with a choice of going live in late October or waiting until January 2009. Unfortunately, we would have faced immense difficulties in standing down our external project team of consultants for three months while we prepared to go live and then to re-assemble that team in January. After extensive testing of the system we were confident we could start with, at most, minor disruption. So we took the decision to go live in October.

Most of the problems we have encountered over recent weeks are related to business process bottlenecks and are not directly related to software and, in fairness to the system team, could not have been anticipated by the extensive testing we carried out.

We have now deployed our warehouse team in a different way which we are confident will optimise the flow of orders through the warehouse.

At today’s date we are picking orders from 13 November onwards and are working hard to catch up.

I am determined to resume same day despatch for the vast majority of orders as quickly as possible, but I need to be confident we can consistently provide this high level of service. I will write to you again soon when I am convinced we can commit to same day despatch.

I know the last few weeks have been difficult for you as our normal service levels have been disrupted and I apologise once again. We are working round the clock to resolve these issues. I would also like to thank those customers who have contacted us expressing their support and understanding for our team in this difficult time.

Graham Sopp
Chief Executive (Europe)

12 thoughts on “STL: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

  1. I think everyone must be so weary with the whole process that no one has commented as yet.
    I am pleased to say that my Scripture Union dated order that I placed on the 5th of November has arrived today (21st Nov).
    My only other comment is that while I applaud STL for completely renewing their computer system (about time) why have they been still using a 20 year old system that is pre EDI, EPOS, Internet etc. Why wasn’t this done earlier?

  2. It’s certainly wearing me down, Geoff!

    Just had a customer come in asking for the advent books they requested — and which I ordered — more than a fortnight ago. I placed my order online and the website said “Stock available” — but by the time STL processed it (the rest of the order came in yesterday), all gone, now “temporarily out of stock”… and no reply to follow up emails, no ETA…

    I’ve done my best — I’m doing my best — to be supportive, but the situation really is out of hand…

  3. John: if I’ve understood things correctly, STL’s ‘business process bottleneck’ is an inability to transfer stock from ‘bulk’ — their overstocks warehouse — to their picking and packing area fast enough to keep up with the pickers and packers.

    Everything we want is there: it’s just that they can’t despatch it because it’s in another warehouse…

  4. On an old rant here! I just went to order something from the Select Catalogue for my customers – this Select is meant to last 2 months and guess what! Yep no stock, and this time its not even a price discounted promotional item, it was 2 Dayspring perpetaul calendards!! and supposedly it’s not even down to the system’s problems.I guess its just bad management of this promotion then!
    This is now the 16th & 17th item I have gone to order out of the Select promo for customers just to have this problem!!
    Just not good enough and yes maybe the suppliers did let them down but as far as I can see it is STL running the promo and charging me for it so it’s their job to keep it stocked appropriately surely?
    ok whinge over (actually no its not I’m fibbing!) – I now need to phone back my customer (for the third time for this particular customer) and apologise profusely that STL can’t get their stock levels right, oh and even better yet – the last invoice I had in yet again charged me full price for the few select items I was able to get in for stock!
    That’s twice now on that one! probably won’t be a third strike as it doesn’t look like they have anything in the promo left in stock anyway for me to order for the customers or my stocks.
    Batter Up!

  5. It is now the 28th November. The 28th of October marked the last of the four days of closure at STL as they tranferred their system. So one month later all should be well. But is it?
    I had an order arrive today (28th) that I placed on the 22nd so maybe things are better than the 10days that it was taking.
    However, we have been ringing up daily about the new Soul Survivor Live 2008. There is no sign of Kingsway’s album of the month order for 6 copies (and this is a key title). Our rep placed a top up order on the 15th for a further 6 copies – still not arrived. Finally today we have one single copy that WE placed on the 20th to try and prove that STL physically had stock and had had it for several days. Each time we rang up customer services they kept saying they had stock and this proves it.
    AND YET Compassionart was dispatched all on its own to us and arrived on the 26th in a parcel sent in the post. And STL say that every order is dealt with in strict order of receipt!!!!!!!

  6. Glad you got your order placed on the 22nd, Geoff. I’m still waiting for mine. Haven’t seen a sniff off the Soul Survivor album either, A discussion I had with customer services this week established two things: that they are working towards a 48-hour despatch, but that it in fact is taking a week to send orders out. Since my experience has been that it has been taking a week (at least)for several weeks now, what exactly does ‘working towards’ mean? I have seen absolutely no progress in the last few weeks.

    I also read in the new Christian Marketplace that Mark Hurley states (page 7) that ‘towards the end of the week ending 7th November, we were achieving 48 hour despatch in the main’. Really? Who to? Is there anybody out there who is getting 48 hour despatch today, let alone who was at the 7th November?

  7. Cloud and Cuckoos spring to mind.

    STL may be sending out more parcels as the days go by but how many of them are for
    just one or two books that are backordered items? I think STL have a major problem with attaching back orders to a normal order. It is a very hit and miss affair and this seems to be the problem with Soul Survivor. They definately have had stock since the 20th but it keeps saying 0 copies supplied.
    I had a box yesterday with just one single pocket NIV hardback in it. Another box came in with just 4 SU new publication items. This must be slowing up the whole system and is a crazy way of working.

  8. Pingback: STL: A Month of Darkness « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  9. Not sure how comment No 10 just got added as this comment was orginally added on the 28th? A bit of the STL deja vues?

  10. It’s called a pingback, Geoff: if the correct protocols are enabled, when one blog post links to another it ‘pings’ the post referred to and adds a ‘comment’ to it. Keeps everything connected: kinda cool, I think 🙂

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