What’s happening at STL? BA CBG to Carlisle, blog updates coming soon and invoices – aaaargh!

Today sees the the BA Christian Booksellers Group gathering at STL HQ in Carlisle for its AGM tomorow. The timing, regrettably, is such that I can’t be there, but I take this opportunity to wish all who do attend a very worthwhile meeting: I look forward to hearing what transpires. Who will make up our new committee? What will STL have to say for themselves?

Yesterday I tweeted Steve Mitchell (@SCRMitchell) — head honcho at Wesley Owen and a member of the STL blog team — to find what’s happening with their blog, which hasn’t been updated since the Message from Keith Danby was posted a few weeks ago. Steve tells me that we can expect some updates after today’s and tomorrow’s meetings and assures me that the issues being raised in the comments will be addressed: watch that space.

I was also up until midnight beating my head against the brick wall of STL’s incompetence, attempting to reconcile my invoices with their latest statement and their postings at batch.co.uk: the phrase “dog’s breakfast” barely begins to cover it. It took me approximately 20 minutes to whizz through all my other suppliers invoices; then almost 3 hours to work through STL’s, and I was still left with over £500 of unreconciled invoices and credit notes.

The problem is exacerbated by STL’s failure to make use of the batch claims system. For those who don’t use batch, allow me to explain: batch has a very straightforward way of dealing with invoicing errors. You call up the invoice onscreen, identify the problem item, select a reason for your claim (wrong item supplied, incorrect carriage charge, wrong discount etc) and hey, presto: that item is magically removed from your invoice total, allowing you to pay the remaining balance whilst your supplier deals with the claim.

STL, on the other hand, insist on doing their own thing, raising a separate credit note whenever they screw up and then reinvoicing. Sometimes the credit notes cross reference the original invoice; sometimes they don’t. As I said: dog’s breakfast.

This is not a criticism of those wonderful folk in STL’s customer services department who are continually working their socks off, who remain unfailingly polite as they attempt to pick up the pieces in the midst of the ongoing chaos. Janette Ivison and Michael Swan in particular deserve recognition for their good humoured and efficient responses whenever I raise a query: my thanks to both of them and to those working with them. The problem is that the queries I constantly find myself raising should not be necessary in the first place.

Today, I shall attempt to reconcile the rest of my STL invoices and credit notes. It may or may not work, but it will almost certainly take most of the day. I am close to despair and seriously considering boycotting STL as a supplier.

It’s become clear that I am not alone in feeling like this: STL, be aware.

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8 thoughts on “What’s happening at STL? BA CBG to Carlisle, blog updates coming soon and invoices – aaaargh!

  1. I could ask why a box of books containing advent literature for 2008 found it’s way to a booksop in 2009.

  2. Hi Phil
    Sorry to hear you are having a problem reconciling Batch. I’ve just done my April Batch invoices for STL. 54 invoices, exact match to statement. Time taken about 5 minutes.
    You missed an excellent event at the AGM

  3. Hi Geoff,

    Ahh I wish my monthly reconciliation like yours had been so simple – but I am afraid rather like Phil, I found it a bit of headache matching up the invoices and wondering about the missing credits for all the errors, overcharges and carriage charges pointed out quite a while ago.

    Still I am sure in time it will get better – after all in time everything does in some way.

    Any chance of giving us your report from the BA CBG AGM then? It would be good to get another report on what went on and was said.

  4. It seems there are a number of differing experiences of the STL statement issue.

    We are in the fortunate position of having an accountant looking at the overall position for the GLO ministry. So I don’t have spend loads of time to reconcile the statements- STL or anyone else. And, since I don’t see Ian tearing his hair out, I presume he is doing reasonably well. We are working on fairly old-fashioned paper-to-paper entry, which is probably pretty clear cut- either I’ve signed the invoice/credit and he has the bit of paper- or I haven’t. In which case we give a call to our friends at Customer Services and the paper promptly arrives in some format.

    In case this sounds a rather smug posting from the GLO Bookshop……

    That is not to say there are not issues, and that the constant emailing isn’t frustrating etc. And I’m not convinced that STL couldn’t do something more to inform about/correct global nil discount problems and promotional price issues, without 200 shops having to individually write an email….

    But I’m afraid I’m not signing up to a boycott of STL, ladies & gents! I’ve worked with a number of companies before, and have seen all these frustrations before. And if we were to boycott STL and shift the 80-85% of our trade to other businesses, I’m not convinced we wouldn’t find those frustrations simply moved from one place to another. Far better (I think) to work with STL (and all other suppliers) to minimise time wasting errors & processes. And, yes, to hold them to account where neccesary. But please be assured reading your postings make me very, very, very appreciative of the fact I don’t have to sit up at night reconciling paperwork…….

    Apart from that, the weather is far too miserable to be standing on a picket line on Kingstown Broadway in Carlisle with old shop fittings burning brightly in the obligatory oil drum, holding my little home made banner and chanting

    ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?’

    ‘Correct Stickering on all Zondervan products and Proper Discounts allocated on the SAP matrix with less paperwork!’

    ‘WHEN DO WE WANT IT?’

    ‘As soon as the SAP consultants can reasonably assess the situation and suggest appropriate changes to the process flow charts prior to implementing (but only after the proposed changes have been thoroughly trialled and debugged)!’

    It just doesn’t have the revolutionary ring, does it? Although, maybe on a nice sunny day in July I’ll think differently…..

  5. Andrew,

    Are you really telling me that you have had another supplier give you 6 months of continuous issues with what seems like very little resolution?? cause if so who?
    (other than Orca’s delivery time and that’s at least one that has always existed and is even something they inform you of up front)

    I have been in christian bookselling in some way or another for over 14 years now and haven’t had that until this last 6 months with STLD.
    Oh and yes I do believe 6 months -yes folks that’s right it is now a full 6 months since implementation of this system! – is more than enough time to have had to resolve the problems.

    Personally having worked with Gardners, Bertrams and a fair few other wholesalers and distributors I am absolutely convinced they could do the job without the problems occuring on the scale that the STLD ones still are.

    I notice a report in Christian Marketplace of at least one publisher that has made the decision to move to having multiple official distributors in the UK now – that strikes me as a telling statement that this issue is not a small one relegated to a few sitting with their ‘homemade banners and chanting’.

    To be honest I think you rather make light of the issues at IBS-STL UK (or STLD) they strike me as being significantly more than just incorrect labelling and nil discounts perpetually re-occuring after 6 months.
    I would give you a listing but then I am pretty sure they have all been covered more than adequately on this site already.

    Still I thoroughly agree with your right not to pickett at the front gates of Kingstown Broadway – I certainly won’t be there. After all boycotting and picketing are two completely different things for a start. But I do uphold your right to choose not to boycott as well.

    Ohh and whilst I’m here –
    SELECT Promotion takers – can I take it you all did get and read your email about the unsolicited goods ie HOLIDAY READING LEAFLETS that you were going to have scaled out to you and be charged for if you didn’t reply and opt of within 5 days?
    of which the first day was the friday the email was sent, and then one was a sunday and the other a bank holiday?
    Just in case you didn’t reply in time… http://bit.ly/tiX9W

    Also just to put others minds at rest I have raised this and other issues with those with official titles at STLD just last week, and did indeed offer to be a consultant for them as I would like to work with them to resolve what I see as serious problems and issues, but as yet haven’t had a response back to my offer.

    Ohh and talking of things IBS-STL, well tangentially anyway – have people recieved their general passes to CBC as I haven’t (and I know a few others that haven’t as well) and I thought it said on the site they would be sent out 2 weeks before the event??

  6. To clarify several points.

    1. When I say I’ve worked with a number of other companies, I mean five other retail companies over 30 years, from supermarkets to sportwear. I arrived in the Christian book trade some five years ago. So I have seen some pretty poor service and inept systems management. And I can assure you that, overall, I was very impressed by the general standards in the book trade supply chain when I arrived (Orca excepted….!). And STL were certainly were showing the way.

    2. Yes, there has been six months of problems, and I don’t make light of them lightly (if you see what I mean). But I do think that, overall, the attitude of the people at STL has been remarkably open & contrite. I have seen similar problems on a number of occasions(and have, regretfully, also been involved in inflicting similarly ill-tested systems on long-suffering end-users). They are not easy to solve, and I’m sure if STL could have resolved them six months ago, they would have done so.

    3. The idea of a boycott did make my mind leap to a mental picture of myself standing at STL on a picket line. As my kids would say to me, ‘Too far, Dad, that’s just too far’. I’m sorry if I have trivialised what is to all of us a serious matter, and will think a bit more carefully before hitting that fatal ‘Submit Comment’ button the next time……

    4. While I don’t agree with the idea of a boycott, we should all be assessing our supply chain. One of the reasons why I enjoy being an independent bookseller is that we can assess the best distributor to place orders- looking at margin, availability & delivery. And at GLO, we are certainly doing that, and our proportion of business has markedly changed in the last six months. And, if STL are worth their salt, they will come back fighting to regain that market share- hopefully enticing us with good offers, good service, and resolution of the issues they are facing. And, yes, they need to take advantage of offers to get good information about what is happening at the sharp end.

    5. And, finally, if I seem to make light of all this at times, perhaps it’s because I am (still) hugely enjoying myself in this trade. After years of bringing in lorry loads of milk crates in the Scottish sleet at 6.00am, and contending with drunk/smashed/agressive yobbos when trying to close the shop at 9.55pm, I think this is the best job I have ever done. It may be pretty busy, it may have its frustration, but it is a privilege to be able to do it. I work with a great team, I get a lot of job satisfaction, and I really look forward to going to work each morning…..In my previous job, I would have been too exhausted to even think about ‘blogging’!

  7. Pingback: Christian Bookselling: “the best job I have ever done” – Andrew Lacey, GLO « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

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