A Modest Proposal to Save STL UK

We all know that STL UK (or Biblica or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) are in deep doodah. That’s not rumour, it’s fact as stated by the man himself, Keith Danby, in his miscellaneous missives to the trade with repeated references to financial difficulties and ongoing consultations with bankers and others.

There are some signs of hope, of an improved cash flow: one supplier I spoke to this week told me that their account, six months overdue, had at last been paid. Other sources, however, tell me about supplier accounts being put on hold due to non-payment; and I know, from my own experience of having to source goods elsewhere, that warehouse stocks are not what they ought to be, especially at this time of year.

What we don’t know, of course, because they’re not telling us, is how deep STL UK’s financial crisis runs: hundreds of thousands, or millions? If the former — perhaps even if the latter — then I suggest that, if we’re prepared to act together, between us we have the power to rescue them.

UKCBD alone lists more than 600 Christian retailers, most of them actively trading, most of them STL UK trade account holders. Then there are the many church and other account holders as well as all the suppliers: that’s thousands of us who stand — to put it mildly — to be massively inconvenienced if STL UK goes to the wall.

My proposal, modest though it is, is simply this: we buy them out. Between us, we pay off STL UK’s debts — or enough of those debts to make their bankers do a double-take — and take them over as a shared-ownership company. Careful plans, terms and conditions would need to be drawn up, of course; but amongst us, surely, we have the expertise for that.

If as few as 1,000 of us contributed as little as £100 each, that would be £100,000. I think that, however, is a very conservative estimate of the amount we could raise: there are far more than 1,000 of us whose own businesses and livelihoods stand to suffer immensely if STL UK cease trading; and whilst some of us would struggle to find £100, many of us could contribute significantly more than that to a trade buy-out.

We’ve prayed together. The time has come, I think, for us to act together: to put our money where our mouths are and recognise that we ourselves may be God’s answer to those prayers.

Too little too late, I hear you say. Maybe so: the winds of change are blowing in our industry as more and more business is being conducted online; but let’s not allow the Christian book and retail trade in the UK to go down in history as blown away by an errant trade wind when we could have saved it had we only been blown along by the Spirit of God…

Appendix: Biblica Financial Reports

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164 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal to Save STL UK

  1. Food for thought, Phil. We do not know what the score is re the Wesley Owen shops as well as the operations at Carlisle, and it’s a sort of chicken and egg situation as if the shops go that’s less cost for the enterprise, but also fewer outlets so reduced sales. We all remember how publishers felt when they lost sales from 23 SPCK shops, so what if 40+ Wesley Owen shops disappear?

    • The challenge for STL’s trustees — for Biblica as a global organisation — is whether or not they regard their work here in the UK as an essential part of their mission. If they do, there’s actually no problem: Biblica has more than enough money from its USA and other operations to bail out the UK division and barely even notice the dent in its coffers.

      It’s a bit like someone with a toothache: you either get it filled or pulled. STL UK — with its various subdivisions, Wesley Owen, Authentic etc — is Biblica’s bad tooth; and in purely monetary terms, that’s about the size of: small but painful. But is STL UK important enough to Biblica’s board to make it worth the repair work or do they just pull it, irrespective of the human cost?

      Watch this space, as they say…

        • I emailed Keith Danby and the Baker Tilly contacts given on the press release yesterday, requesting copy of latest accounts plus details of current financial situation and advised them of interest. I have also contacted another senior member of staff at Wesley Owen and asked him to convey to Keith that I am serious about this.

          I am awaiting their response: as always, watch this space…

  2. Phil we would certainly be interested here in such a move.

    However, your suggestion does raise the interesting question of why ‘100% Charity Biblica’ has not appealed to the many supporters on their many databases for support? There’s not only us ‘trade customers’ but also (I am sure) many thousands of retail customers, plus many churches who would (rightly) bear STL/WO/Biblica a lot of goodwill. Because, presumably as registered charity, if I was to personally give them £100 to support their ‘work’, this would be eligible for Gift Aid?

    Hopefully, someone in the Finance Department will at least have considered this?

  3. It’s a bit like the Church and its mission – sure we can have a “virtual” church with internet services, but is it Church? One can have literature mission via internet sales only, but I always maintain that the best mission is bricks and mortar – you can ignore a poster, advertisement, flier etc but you can’t ignore a large building with “Christian Bookshop” over the door – the original street mission.

  4. Perhaps we need a franchise model for the Wesley Owen chain where local Christians (as business or charity) own outlets but elements of the business plan are centrally developed.
    The problem is that what may be needed is a Christian+ model, because (for all sorts of reasons) the retailing of Christian product is a difficult business proposition on a standalone basis in the UK in 2009. But whereas we can (perhaps) agree on the Christian product, what the ‘plus’ element could be is more debatable.
    Ultimately, if bookshops in general are heading for a print-on-demand model based in shops (like a big photocopier), then the machine is content-free and it makes no sense to be just a specialist: customers will be able to get any book from any bookshop anywhere in the world, in the time it takes for the machine to do its work.

  5. Recieved this today, they are planning to sell off all operations..

    LEADING CHRISTIAN CHARITY IBS-STL UK ANNOUNCES PLANS TO
    SELL OPERATIONS DUE TO FINANCIAL CHALLENGES
    Leading Christian book and Bible charity IBS-STL UK today announced that it has appointed Baker Tilly Corporate Finance LLP to pursue the sale of its operations.
    The move has come after a succession of financial problems, in particular the failed implementation of a new SAP computer system in October 2008, the effects of which were exacerbated by the economic downturn. These have caused significant cash flow pressures, excess stock, and supply chain and service difficulties in its distribution and retail units. They have culminated in the decision to exit the business.
    IBS-STL UK convened an emergency task force led by Global President of Biblica and former CEO of STL, Keith Danby, which has been in constant dialogue with its suppliers and bankers. It had also engaged restructuring and business process consultants in an attempt to resolve the systems and financial challenges.
    Danby said: “Given the severe financial and operational strains we have experienced, the Board of Trustees and management team believe a sale or exit from all or parts of certain operations is a prudent and necessary step. Whilst a difficult decision, we are focused on finding a solution to continue the important work of IBS-STL UK, to secure the jobs of the 490 people employed in our ministry, and to fulfill our financial obligations to our suppliers and creditors. We are working diligently and praying vigilantly for a successful outcome.”
    The corporate finance division of Baker Tilly is actively marketing the operations of the charity to a number of interested parties and is hopeful it will complete negotiations for the sales or potential closures within the next few weeks. IBS-STL UK was founded in 1962 and has grown to become a major UK charity.
    IBS-STL UK has three trading divisions; Authentic Media, a book and music publisher; STL Distribution, a distributor of Christian resources and Wesley Owen Books and Music, a retailer with 40 shops in the UK. IBS-STL UK is part of Biblica, a global Bible translation, publishing, distribution and outreach ministry serving more than 100 countries with books, Bibles and other Christian resources. Biblica said the planned sale of the UK operations will not impact its other global operations and donor funds supporting Biblica’s worldwide outreach ministries will not be affected.
    Michael Fitch, Chairman of the IBS-STL UK Board of Trustees, concluded: “We continue to believe strongly in the power of God’s Word and Christian resources to change peoples’ lives. We are praying that we can pass the torch on to other likeminded organisations so that our UK staff, suppliers and ministry partners can carry our work forward.”

    • I am more than happy to do that: who will stand with me? I believe there are more than enough of us, if we act together, to save the day.

      As they say, watch this space…

        • If enough of us are willing to stand together on this, perhaps it can.

          I’ve already had one person say:

          Phil, subject to a robust business plan and access to STL’s financials, I would be prepared to invest a 4 to 5 figure sum.

          With lots of small investors and a few more like that, I believe that we can rescue this thing. We have the means if we have the will.

  6. The story goes that giants eventually turn into dinosaurs if they don’t look very carefully where they are going. We all know what happened to the dinosaurs!!

  7. I am in with the shares thing on the distribution bit.
    and my heart and prayers go out to all the 490 people faced with such a worry – especially this near to the christmas season and of course to the others who are not employed by IBS-STL UK but may also still be so drastically effected by this.

    But you know what, I don’t think this has to be such a negative thing for the trade as a whole – So ok obviously Biblica would rather digitise then harmonise, protect it’s hedge fund than the people – we are obviously not a missional field!
    (anyone remember the Biblica…’joint venture…to serve churches and parachurch organizations’etc.)

    But the truth is that this could be an upsurge and revival if we all work and pray hard enough.
    Out of the ashes of destruction new growth springs up and perhaps this is the start – a new crossroads, a call back to the old paths and ways but with modern thought at mind??

    Small local ‘traditional’ shops – community based and serving the smaller group rather than large global/national considerations.
    (Go Local to go global!)
    Let’s face it on the whole large chains aren’t working, but small models can (churchy reference: BEC!).
    Central adminsitrations can sometimes actually clog up things and stymie the processes.
    So let’s move back to independent ventures – lets get publishers to come directly and give us a fair percentage instead of the large percentages to the bigboys – after all if the bigboys worked so well wouldn’t the loss of the physical shops not have caused the issues they seem to have?

    let’s look at new old models!
    Christian Bookshops that are not just Christian bookshops (as pointed out above and as I can conclusively show work – general books alongside Christian, secondhand with new – not competing with the waterstones but compementing them – after all there is a lot they don’t do on their shelves these days!).

    Book van’s, market stalls (indoor is best as both I and i’m sure the one in Cardiff can attest to!) there are places we can go and a difference we can make – and if we are careful, hardwoking and judicious it can indeed work. It’s not easy – but then mission isn’t meant to be easy is it!

    I mourn that it has got to this state – that in so many ways the moneymakers have taken over and that globalisation, minimisation and digitisation have become the key words even in our christian venacular and outreach.
    But I rejoice at the opportunities it gives, chances to stand up, step out, reach out.
    yes trouble and change is coming – but I am called to stand and not conform (Romans 12:2, Ephesian 6:12 etc), whose with me?

  8. Pingback: And so it ends: STL UK puts up ‘For Sale’ sign « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  9. Pingback: STL-UK have announced that they are looking to sell all divisions of its UK operations

  10. Pingback: STL UK puts up the ‘For Sale’ sign: who will buy? « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  11. Hi
    As I said before, it’s the Wesley Owen shops that are haemorrhaging cash. Don’t forget that the discounts given to Wesley Owen shops are 65%-70%. Carole B’s comment “as if the shops go that’s less cost for the enterprise, but also fewer outlets so reduced sales” – true, but is the distribution arm actually making any profit at all (or is it a loss?) on its trade with the retail arm?
    I too would be prepared to look at a 5 figure sum on the basis of a robust business plan & access to the financials but only if we as a group were able to get rid of Wesley Owen, move STL out of its one size fits all mentality, move in a wholesale buyer with real talent and take note of the real burgeoning market in this country – the black churches. Then let’s radically shake up the operations and get back STL to what it does best – supplying the Christian trade.
    I am really extremely concerned that if STL distribution goes under, we could lose the Christian marketplace in this country (sorry about the pun, Phil).
    I agree in part with Melanie about independents, but we must be careful about suggesting that any one model will work in all cases. God doesn’t work like that. He deals with each of us individually, and a model that may work in Cornwall for example may be totally inappropriate for say Birmingham.

    • When you say, “get rid of Wesley Owen” are you aware that you’re talking about people’s livelihoods? You’re talking about mass redundancies of people with mortgages to pay and families to feed.

      No: getting rid of Wesley Owen is not the way forward. A major rethink of the business model, yes. But just pulling the plug? Not if I have any say.

    • I agree there are issues with Wesley Owen stores, more from the business model than the stores themselves. They are given best discounts but the stock they are told to push is what the industry thinks people want instead of what the shop knows its customers want. They then have to give their profits to charity which happens to be their parent organisation. Until the UK christian trade stops blanket importing USA items and instead applies common sense to stock management and stop telling us that’s what we must stock we have little hope. If we allow the WO shops to function as Christian bookshops instead of money filters to STL then they become real Christian bookshops. If that happens and the ‘privileged’ deals stop then each shop could try and stand on it’s own feet.

      I remember when WO took over Stockport Scripture Union, Manchester Scripture Union and then Manchester Christian World, closing the Manchester SU shop and changing the stock at all shops to a sanitized usa stock base, most of us in the area lost access to the items we’d been buying for many years and ended up not shopping at the WO’s. There is a lot of bad management decisions and history that would need to be overcome in any kind of reorganisation.
      As Phil says, there are a lot of good people who’s jobs are at risk and we should aim to be Christ-like in our prayers and thoughts about them, but we should also be Christ-like about business and that includes using our ‘talents’ wisely. A hemorrhaging
      wound needs a lot more than a cash bandage, it needs major surgery.

    • John

      with the greatest of respect it would be more useful if you got your facts correct before posting again!!! Wesley Owen do not receive 60-70% discount. The standard discounted rate was between 40 and 50 % something similar to yourself I imagine. Greater discounts are offered on promotional items,, but, as I am sure you are aware this makes up only a small percentage of the stock carried.

        • My memory is hazy but Matthew is correct, John.

          When we moved from being independent to WO, our margin at improved by 10% at best.

          Discounted material for sales etc came through at much high rates of discount 60-70% but general stock remained at 45 ish.

  12. Totally agree with Mark except for a reservation about USA material. Our shop thrives on the God Channel.
    Phil – of course I realise and feel for the livelihood of the many good people in the WO chain.
    But what did Jesus say in Matt 18:8-9?
    And if the STL distribution chain does go down, I think ALL Christian bookshops in the country will fall with it – and that will affect even more people. No – of course try to sell back the originally independent shops back to local church communities, and dump the hubris-inspired major shops with colossal rents.

  13. I’m very shocked by the news of STL putting everything up for sale but not surprised. I do feel for the staff in all this.

    I was manager of Crownbooks Sutton from ’94-97 and we were sold to Wesley Owen during that time. The reason: We just couldn’t make ends meet. Our turnover: £200K plus. With Wesley Owen’s margin, a profit could be made, but as an independent (on average 35%) we just couldn’t quite be viable. We worked hard with book agents, events, everything else. Believe me, I was very upset when we were taken over but, in hindsight, it was the only way.

    Whilst I have sympathy with many of the comments above, the reason for this happening is not just a recessionary issue but to do with the decline of the UK church, and the growth of online shopping. A lesser factor is the law of diminishing returns as publishers and record labels continue to churn out the same old stuff and rebadge it. As it was, back in the 90’s, only 10% of Christians ever used a Christian book shop. That, on current stats, would make our “catchment” – 0.7% of the UK population – probably less. The fact is, literacy amongst Christians is declining as much as the is church declining.

    The problem is the same as it was for me back in the 90’s. If you have manageable overheads then you just about can make it work (low or free rent, a big volunteer force). Equally, if you have a captive audience with which to sell to, that also helps (students, large church etc). I did not have either of these as a bookseller and we were one of the larger shops.

    Phil – I’m not putting you on the spot…but you have both! Don’t get me wrong, I studied at LBC/LST and you do a fantastic job. But the High Street is a different prospect.

    The future of the trade? I do not think it viable for churches to subsidise shops. Equally, a “buy out” of STL by the trade sounds like too much money. Besides, if they can’t make it work, how would we? It’s possible that the trade could be “hosted” within larger churches. Publishers too need to listen to what the trade is saying and provide help.

    I do hope and pray that the trade find a way forward that can continue this valuable ministry. As a Pastor, I value the trade and hope it can survive in some shape or form.

    • Phil B,

      Not true to say that shops can’t make it – I have neither a captive audience, large church or students! I am in fact a sole trader with paid staff and no free rent and it is working, yes it’s hard, very hard in these uncertain times but it’s growing not sinking!
      Yes I am different to the norm – I’m not ‘posh’, I am based inside an indoor market and yes I do general and secondhand as well as Christian. But it is working!
      So I think it can work but you are right and what we need to look at is the new models to support the old methods of traditional brick n mortar bookselling and outreach.
      The fact is that being in the market really means that I outreach to loads not churched as well as those churched and it’s great – but I do say that we do need to get our churches more involved with us, for them to see us more as a community venture, to establish (or re-establish) the principal of Going Local to build global!
      The idea of community at the heart of the church, and community is a local thing really with a global outlook.

      • Hi Melanie,

        Sounds really good what you are doing. Indoor market is an interesting option – and with lower overheads and “not trying to be posh” sounds good!

        I never said shops can’t make it! My point of view comes from maintaining a “typical shop” which has associated high rates and rent, insurance plus maintenance issues. For example, in the shop I ran, we generated around £60K profit from our annual turnover. Over £20K of this went immediately on rent and rates. If you can reduce this key overhead you’re in with a good shout.

        The sadness for me was that the margin between success and failure was so close.

        The irony of STL’s struggles are not lost on me. We were on track to break even after about eighteen months of my time there (I previously worked for WHSmith). Unfortunately for us, another independent bookshop opened up in Kingston upon Thames during 1995/6 which was an enormous success – outstripping our turnover in the space of a year. We lost at least 10% of our sales, possibly more. Our fate was sealed and our directors let us go to Wesley Owen. C’est la vie.

        When the Kingston shop came in for rent review a few years later their costs tripled to something like £30K p.a. They too ended up with Wesley Owen because they couldn’t afford to continue and the branch manager, Steve Mitchell, ended up being Managing Director of Wesley Owen when Eddie Olliffe moved upstairs.

        I’ve no axe to grind…but, as I say, the margin between success and failure in business (not kingdom) terms is a fine one.

        • Hi Phil,

          I used to manage a “typical shop”, actaully I managed a few for SPCK in my 14 years with them. The last one was SPCK Lincoln and our rent there was 27K per annum, my rent in the market is over 20K per annum but then that’s because the size of the units I rent in the market give me the same combined sq footage of the sales floor space of the SPCK Shop and the market is in the same street as the SPCK shop was!

          But the best thing with it is as I said before it’s lack of barriers and openess to reaching out that is just not there with a typical christian shop (that word really scares a lot of people away!)though by the same token because we are in the market we have met some resistance from some types of churched people, you just can’t win sometimes :0)

          I am still required to have all the same insurances as a shop, all the same legislations apply, and I am responsible for the repairs and furnishing of my stall – the landlord (local council) does not even idemnify for anything really so I have to have business disruption cover just in case as well! It is in this way the same lease as with a standard shop rental in a shopping centre.
          (don’t let this frighten you off though dear readers – not all markets are the same and I still reckon it’s a good viable model for easy start up! its pretty cheap as most often it’s only 1 months rent unlike shop leases, and tends to be a monthly thing).

          When STL pulled out of the SPCK deal I was straight in with an offer to do a management buy out of that shop because that shop would have worked too as a stand alone, unfortunately that choice was never even looked at and we all know what happened there.

          The truth is, almost as you allude to above, that independents sometimes have advantages over chains – central administration can often be costly, and adaptability can also be an issue in some cases. But to be fair there are plus and minuses for both.
          I wish we made 60K profit! and given what you have said I can understand your disappointment with being sold out, given the figures you cite that was indeed a viable business.

          I really would say that there is still a mission on the high street and in the markets, there is a need for the books to be where the people can get them, for spaces for people to come in and talk in, our challenge is to do it despite the hardships and doomsayers, to rise up and step out!
          I think there is real potential now for growth, I think there is a real need for us to dig deep and dig in and I hope that there are people out there that can see the potential and reach for it because I do believe that there is still growth out there!

    • I started out in mainstream bookselling, Phil – first with Books Etc, then with an independent high street shop – so I know the score out there.

      As for the LST bookshop being rent free with a “captive audience” — not quite the case. The shop is wholly owned by LST so true, it doesn’t pay any rent; but all income over expenditure goes straight into central funds: there’s no profit, no money to invest in developing the business, no reserves to fall back on during the lean times — and this last year has been very lean indeed which means I’m sitting on a knife edge of viability: if the shop doesn’t break even, LST are liable pull the plug on it just as Biblica have pulled the plug on Wesley Owen et al.

      Captive audience? When every student has internet access in their room? When during the school vacations everyone disappears except a few diehard research students? In real terms I have to do 12 months worth of business in only 8 months — that’s one heck of a challenge: there are no passers by who might wander in; and the shop has no outside door which means weekend and evening opening aren’t viable because when there’s no one on reception duty visitors can’t get in anyway.

      Nuff said. Simply wanted to point that I’m not talking from a secure position here: my job is as precarious as anyone else’s; and if one of my major suppliers goes down the pan I’ll be scuppered along with everyone else for whom STL has become an essential link in the supply chain.

  14. Hi John
    Thanks for the agreement, I’m not against USA material perse, its having the ability to pick and choose that’s lacking in the STL distribution items. We’ve run as an independant shop ‘The Burning Light’ since 1997 and we found that as we had niche areas (Spirituality, Monasticism, Spiritual Direction etc) there were not enough titles from STL that fitted our brief. We got an account with Ingrams about 8 years ago (they own Spring Arbor – largest USA Christian distributor) and pulled titles and music direct from them.

    What we found frustrating is, we carry the full back catalogue of John Michael Talbot; in the USA anything older than three years from him was priced at between $2 and $8 which with the exchange rate and always getting 40% discount was fantastic. When we tried to get the same titles from the UK we were told max 30% discount on £14.99 rrp.

    It’s the only way as an independant bookshop that we not just survived but grew to the point where we could totally concentrate on the Lindisfarne Scriptorium stock that we now create, carry and supply to other independants and it makes 80-90% of our sales with the rest being music and books.

    As someone else said. We need to specialise, people can buy online far more cheaply than our bookshops can even buy items for. I don’t know what will happen with STL but I do know that the whole Christian marketplace is getting a thorough shakeup through this and we have to pray that God’s hand is on it all.

    • Mark

      Your work sounds very encouraging. I’m not surprised that you can’t find much on your chosen range of material from STL! Benny Hinn isn’t known for his new monastic streak (wink).

      I agree that specialism is the way forward. But niche markets are hard to maintain in the High Street because, as you say, people can get a much bigger range online. The biggest problem i found was high rents/rates ate up nearly half my profits. The remainder went on staff.

      Your point on John Michael Talbot is an interesting one. A niche artiste if there ever was one. For me, a steady albeit slow seller – but for you – someone who fits your specialism.

      I retreated on Holy Island last year and your Scriptorium material is of great quality. Keep it up!

      I too hope the trade finds a way forward in difficult times.

  15. There’s a point here about form of incorporation.

    OXFAM Bookshops get a total subsidy well in excess of £1m per year from relief on Business Rates alone.

    * How are bookshops incorporated?
    * What difference does operating from (say) church premises make? Probably quite a lot.

  16. I am one of the many staff from the Wesley Owen bookshops and this news has been quite devastating to us all. The business has been struggling for a couple of years now as most people are aware and of course the recent financial meltdowns in the wider world have not helped.

    I hope that somehow that Wesley Owen can be saved. It’s my job but it’s also part of my ministry. There’s a tendency to overlook that aspect when we focus on “selling product”, but ministry is a vital part of the “work”. No only are we seeking to equip the Church with good material but we are seeking to see God work in the lives of those who frequent our shops. To me the customer is more than someone who spends money. He/She is also a soul that is seeking to walk with God in the midst of dark and difficult days and in the shops they find a little bit of relief from the daily grind. We have opportunities to encourage folk in their journey and even to share the Gospel with those who have never heard it before.

    It would be a great sadness losing WO. I’d be sad because for the past 7 years or so it has been my place of ministry and employment. I have made lasting friendships not only with staff members but also fellow brothers and sisters who come to the store.

    We can only place ourselves in the Hand of One Who is far wiser and perfectly works out His plan to His own glory and honour. A bit like the disciples of old the only thing we can say is “to whom else can we go, You alone have..”

    • I completly agree the staff have been called missionaries .We all go the extra mile for our customers ,our collegues and our bosses,.Its a caring mission at Wesley Owen.Wheather its seeing that the right card is bought,even explaining its use,to making sure that the customer who comes in for “the bible” goes out with the right version to help her,etc.We,re all devistated but we,re stil what we always were willing to serve.Please dont throw us away.It,d be a terrible waste of afantastic resourse.PLEASE save wesley Owen.

  17. Phil – I’m up for joining you on putting some cash in because I run a business and I know that several factors are operating simultaneously – one of which is the banks who are part of slowing the cash flow down.

    FACTOR 1: All bookshops, secular and faith-based, are suffering from the internet boom but WO could improve their internet presence and do a much better job on that front … so that has to be part of the proposals.

    It will remain important that a professional bookshop for Christian books and music remains a presence in shopping centres. It’s an important window that drives quite a lot of the internet sales … people see it in the shop and get it cheaper on line. Therefore the FRANCHISE option should also be part of the proposals. All outlets have a recognisable WO brand but by franchising to independents some shops will merge to reduce the number of shops overall … but that way the Christian window into the world in the UK will survive.

    FACTOR 2: Is straight-forward finance and the aggressive harsh terms now exacted by the banks for keeping even profitable businesses going.

    FACTOR 3: High street lease costs, rents and rates haven’t yet fully responded to the reality of 20% of ALL high street shops closing (see the latest government report on the fate of the high street) – all high st shops are suffering and yet the premise owners haven’t yet responded to the realisation that they are losing income to empty shops. Patience resolves this one.

    FACTOR 4: We simply need a bit of increasing cooperation. If you put on a training event of church event develop a relationship with your local christian bookshop and seem if you can’t get a sale or return book box and have a bookstall at the event. People at training events love bookstalls.

  18. Melanie…

    Your story is really encouraging. I completely agree with your comments re. chains vs. independents. And I hope too that there are more entreprenurial spirits like you in the trade willing to try new avenues.

    And don’t get me started about “churched types” complaining about your location. Some people sadly just want to maintain the “bubble” at all costs….

    Hope things continue to go well….

  19. Pingback: clayboy » The end of Christian bookshops?

  20. As a former WO member of staff, the news has rocked me to the core. What is sad to me is that people have always wanted to have a pop at WO, and they seem to be still doing it when they are down. Let’s reflect the love of Christ in this situation, and love our brothers and sisters. Let’s pray for them. Let’s encourage them.
    If STL (or whatever their name is now) goes down, it’s not just the 490 staff that they employ who will lose their jobs but I fear for some of the publishing companies and their staff. If something doesn’t happen to save STL, I fear the domino effect could happen across all Christian retail and publishing. Let’s work together and pray together to see the name of Jesus Advanced through Christian Distribution and retailing in whatever format they may take in the future.

    • Father Andrew thanks for your support bro.

      This is really difficult for all the staff at WO so please pray for us.

      The fact remains that God is sovereign in EVERY situation.

      We are having a day of Prayer and fasting as a team in Croydon tomorrow 18th so feel free to join us.

      Our God is a great God regardless of our circumstances.

    • Wesley Owen has its faults, like all of us. Some independents have, not unreasonably, felt under pressure (that’s putting it mildly) from WO; others have been saved by the group’s willingness to step in: witness the Kingston-upon-Thames story outlined briefly above.

      I simply reiterate what I have said elsewhere: this does not need to be an unmitigated disaster. There are more than enough of us whose livelihoods are on the line alongside the 490 employees directly affected: more than enough of us, if we are prepared to stand together, to save the day.

      There are big publishers and small; there are private individuals; there are many, many shops, all of whom could, if they will, contribute to a group buyout.

      As a trade we failed SPCK in its hour of need. Are we going to do the same again with Authentic, STL, Wesley Owen?

      For ancient Israel, Jericho appeared to be an impossible obstacle. But when they raised their voices and waved their torches, the walls came tumbling down. Their future was at stake and they staked everything on a ridiculous scheme — and won.

      Yes, of course we need business acumen. We also need wisdom and God’s grace. But together, I believe we can find a way.

      We’ve prayed together and we need to keep praying; and we need to listen to what the Spirit is saying. I believe God is calling us to take responsibility for what he has entrusted to us: it’s our call. Listen, and act: it’s time to seize the day!

      • Bless you Phil and all like you im sure theres many of the 490 who,d love to be in with a rescue plan.But since this has got worse over recent times.Are having to borrow to make sure all the bills are paid every month.yes we,d like to be in doing our bit to but we dont have any spare cash .We,ve already started cutting bacck again. So if aconsortium gets together and saves the shops.And i pray that it does can you sugest figures that the little man can maybe buy half a brick.

        • Every brick counts. Every stone. Every grain of sand. Every hair is numbered (not difficult in my case).

          I am serious about this. We may be nobodies, insignificant blips on Biblica’s horizon; but there’s a whole ocean out there behind us. Call on your church, your neighbours, your friends to catch the vision.

          Lord, have mercy.

    • May I second your comments Andrew. It is sad when people take a pop. Can we ask for that to be stopped on this blog. Constructive criticism is one thing – taking a pop during this dire time is quite another.

      • If anyone does want to take a pop at someone, I suggest the so-called IT consultants who sold them SAP. They really ought to be brought to book before they screw anyone else over. Shameful.

  21. Pingback: Good Bye Wesley Owen? « The Sacred Fish Project

  22. We are a much smaller organisation but if it did come to a trade buy out we would certainly want to support it. We will also keep the whole situation in prayer, nothing is impossible to the Lord.

  23. Rev. Andrew is spot on with his comments because if WO/STL does vanish off this earth it is not only staff from that company who will be part of the fallout. There are lots of other companies that are linked in some way big and small that will be affected. Also the knock on effect to book stores that were supplied by STL will feel the pressure.

    I am not a business guy, just a shop worker who has an affection for books & music and it is hard to see and hear some of the negative comments going around about STL/WO in the aftermath of the news that they are selling up. I am encouraged by many of the comments I’ve read here, in particular Andrew’s comment: “Let’s reflect the love of Christ in this situation, and love our brothers and sisters. Let’s pray for them. Let’s encourage them.” I hope that exhortation is taken to heart.
    Thank you Phil for heart in this matter. It’s very refreshing.

    • As with everyone else, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone caught up in this mess.

      The Booksellers Association Christian Booksellers Group Committee meets tomorrow: contact details here: http://bit.ly/ba-cbg

      Might be worth people firing off a few questions for them to consider — though I’m sure they have plenty already!

      (contact info is a tad out of date as I myself am no longer on t’committee)

  24. With greatest respect Phil the life of Wesley owen is very short is the cavalry near at hand. Before the staff say bye bye .And walk away into the sunset.?

    • Don’t know about cavalry: do know about Calvary; and that crucifixion comes before resurrection; and that following Jesus will never be easy or pain-free.

      No, S danny, there is no cavalry riding to the rescue, just as no legion of angels came to rescue Jesus when he faced the cross. There’s only us: but if enough of us stand then these “next few weeks” within which it’s hoped a buyer will be found will be like three days in the belly of a whale. It wasn’t until the third day that Jonah was thrown up on the beach, that Jesus rose from the dead.

      Believe me, I’ve thought about making like Jonah, running away. But the truth is we’re all — every single one of us in the Christian book trade — in this together. Don’t look for a miracle: be the miracle.

      Maybe I’m a fool talking like this. So be it: I’ll be a fool for Christ, for his people, for a cause I believe in. Join me.

      • Hi Phil

        We have to keep Jesus on the High Street !! Will keep you in my prayers and happy to offer my services as a ‘secular’ senior retailer to support. The Web is not where lives are changed but similarly, the traditional Christian bookshop needs to develop. Would be great to talk. Every blessing to you in this project

  25. Pingback: From Dream to Nightmare to – where do we go from here? « Phil's Boring Blog

  26. Pingback: New Ways of Being Bookshop « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  27. i am really shocked & somewhat sad at the STL saga. i was gobsmacked over the years to see STL vacuum up the SU shops. also gobsmacked to see the SPCK saga & the dragging of Eastern Orthodoxy into the mud via the trust.

    i worked in the second hand, religious (APCK, Dublin) & general trade. added up it makes 21 years in retail book selling up to 2001. there are 3 SU shops here & a few small independents & a few Veritas Catholic based bookshops.

    what amazed me here in Ireland was that _no_ Christian bookshops, until very recently, stocked second-hand books for people who need such concessions. i first raised this issue about 15 years ago….i have been trading used theology books with a measure of success for the past 15 years online on ABEbooks.com

    might this element be considered as part of the general STL recovery plan? many people in many churches have many books gathering dust in their homes. set those books free!

    i’d be happy to join any venture capital in a modest way even though i gain nothing from it & the STL problem doesn’t affect the Irish scene apart from wholesale (or, is it partsale? – going by those references to rogue deliveries!).

    i will watch & pray with interest & concern. our bookshops are getting a shake down here also….

  28. Hello fellow Christian merchants in the UK!

    I am/was a Christian book merchant from Germany and I failed miserably with my online bookstore because only the big online stores find costumers AND make a profit online nowadays in Germany. The competition is VERY TOUGH – even online!

    I offered secular and Christian books with a charity-scheme but still didn’t succeed. I just closed my shop down in September 2009 after 1,5 years. You have to be part of a chain or of a “book merchants buying co-operative” to survive.

    But I may have some interesting information for you:

    Our biggest German Christian wholesaler “Hänssler” faced severe difficulties a few years ago and they formed a co-operative – or more precisely: they started a TRUST/BENEFICENCE. In this case Christian publishing houses/media companies pitched in to save the wholesaler (I don’t know the details though).

    Now – many Christian publishers stand as a team together but, everyone remains independent at the same time. Get some information and advice from Frieder Trommer in Germany, if you can. This trust helps the Christian book trade. I don’t know how it works but it seems to work REALLY WELL. The TRUST’s website is: http://www.stiftung-christliche-medien.de/

    Churches and Selling Books …
    I personally don’t believe that churches can function as “alternative bookshops”. They are not trained to do so. They will mess it up. Booktables in churches are successful here but the whole approach has its limits. You can only use volunteers up to a certain point. You can’t expect the church to run a business. Selling Christian books IS a business – even though it is also a ministry. Business has to remain business. If it were to be a pure ministry one would have to ask for book donations instead and then you don’t have a business anymore. It just doesn’t work.

    I am half British and half German. I always felt that English Christians are better off because they have so many more Christian titles to choose from. So much variety in Christian literature!

    I really hope that the British Christians will wake up to the fact that what they have is precious and rare (compared to the rest of the world).

    Wish you all much wisdom, God’s grace and a wonderful miraculous “solution”.

    Best wishes, Saina

  29. Pingback: A Message of Hope from Germany: Co-operation is Possible « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  30. Pingback: STL UK Crisis: Reports roundup and further reflections « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  31. I recognise the name of one contributor, Phil Barnard, on this blog.

    I do not own a shop but I have worked for Dillons/Waterstones in the past. One of the biggest failures of this takeover was the move to centralised buying. Staff no longer met reps in store to decide what new titles to bring in or not and in particular those new titles that local buyers actually wanted! Also with centralised buying came in a back catalogue that sat on the shelves collecting dust rather than being ordered if a customer requested it!!

    So as with other chains WO/STL/Authentic needs to learn its lesson if it is to phoenix. A pre-pack can be done with Baker-Tilly to get rid of the bad parts of the business (the debt/loss making elements) so the other parts can start afresh as others have done such as the chef Anthony Worrall-Thompson’s own restaurant chain, so watch out, it would not suprise me if there was a management buyout.

    But what next from the phoenix rising from the ashes…more of the same?? I hope not. Local buying must come back in some form so the needs of the local markets are met. Diversification be that selling secular books as well (potentially losing Christian identity), opening cafe or internet cafe so the business is a social hub will bring in extra income that is clearly needed. It’s not rocket science folks..it costs a pub a few pence for the coke a pub puts in your glass and they charge you £1.50!! Catering even small operations are highly profitable and you would create a space that local churches could use for events or neutral ground for a Christian to bring a non-Christian friend. As an ex-VAT man you can trust me!! Major cost cutting is needed from where the books are sourced from (buy english versions from the far east/india) to renegotiating leases to downsizing to smaller shops. Cost cutting is the only way that the books can be sold at an attractive price nad I have to be honest apart from the Sale WO in Croydon which has good bargains the costs in the other branches are horrendous. £14 for a CD when a consumer knows the cost for producing it is £2-3 we don’t want to be ripped off anymore. Anyway its late I hope and pray that something better will come from this.

    • wonderful ideas, comments, critique Spencer. you should be part of any MBO.

      the idea of secular books, cafe etc is very good.

      you have the nous for the proposed turnaround. would you jump at it?

    • Hi
      I’d just like to comment on the last bit. CD’s do not cost £2-3 each. Their duplication and manufacture do but what about the studio recording fees, payments to the recording artists for their time and song writing, MCPS royalties. Our recent project with Dave Bainbridge and David Fitzgerald, cost £5,000 for studio/composing/editing, £500 for mixing, £900 for MCPS and £3000 for manufacture. The big distributors want 60% discount minimum of retail, the stores want 40%. You have to have a very large manufacture run and lots of sales to cover the startup costs for an album.
      We are both retail and manufacturer and trust me the market is as bad on this side of the fence as it is on yours.

      Mark

      • The point on the cost of CDs is well taken. £1.50 for the glass of coke also covers the cost of the glass, cleaning the glass, paying the member of staff who served it, the lights so you can see it, the ice machine etc etc (can you tell I used to tend bar!!). But surely these costs are the same for the secular market and yet if I went into a shop and was charged more that £10 for a CD I would turn around. I guess it is to do with the bulk that is produced.

  32. My wife Pam & I own FOOTPRINTS, with 3 shops in the NE. As with anyone else, we are finding trading difficult, BUT, we will support a trade buyout. Our funds are limited, but what we can, we will pledge.

  33. Pingback: Saving STL UK: Towards a sustainable business model? « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog

  34. Hi Phil

    As one who is already caught up in the STL saga I take little satisfaction from being one who rather saw it coming.

    As a small distributor we have obviously been badly affected by this sad situation especially as we have been largely prevented from selling to Wesley Owen stores for about a year now even though our product seemed to sell through with no problem.

    I take the view that whilst we need to save everything we can it does perhaps present an opportunity to do things better, quicker and more profitably in future.

    As far as the stores are concerned I’d certainly be interested in possibly contributing to ant buy out and I do know other people who are like minded but time is short I would suggest to put proposals together and avoid an even bigger problem.

    I’d be happy to talk with anyone on this subject.

    Rob

  35. You know what is wrong with STL & Wesly Owen is bad management. I work in retail and these stores were just under performing. Sorry you can not run a retail business opening your door at 9am and closing them again at 5.30pm. Right now if I owned those 40 stores, I’d do a category review of every line that sold in my branches. Remove poor performing lines and make the stores more charismatic with coffee bars and internet access. Close badly perfoming branches, but if you want these branches to remain open and profitable, appoint me as the MD of the division and I’ll show you what I would do.

    • David

      If only we’d had your wisdom!

      I think there are lots of good people working in the company who have already looked at lots of these areas.
      I personally spent 3 months looking at sales history of one particular market(As seen on TV) and there were at least 10 others doing this.
      I think you are perhaps over simplifying things.
      If you think you could do such a good job then put your hand in your pocket and make it happen.

      • Simply for the record, in case anyone thinks I have delusions of grandeur, I’d like to point out that I am perfectly well aware that I do not possess the wisdom and skills to turn this thing around.

        If — and it remains a very big if — my proposals here come to anything, it will only be because others have been gracious enough to share their wisdom, insight and experience with me.

        Now we see Borders crumbling and all the same questions being faced over again by our colleagues in mainstream bookselling. There are no easy answers, no simple solutions: this trade of ours is changing and we must be prepared to change with it.

        • I don’t think anyone thinks you are saying that Phil.
          I think your proposal is a good one.
          I don’t like the I told you so brigade who put posts about what they could have done differently and intimating incompetence.
          This is really tough for all of us in the industry particularly the 490 of us who may lose our jobs.
          For the record some bad decisions have been made by some people, but realistically many are the same people who have been making excellent decisions in the last 20 or so years.
          The margins are so fine and it’s just one of those things.
          God is still Sovereign and is in control of all of this.

      • David – your last sentence appears to be a little sharp. i trust that isn’t intended. the watch word are:

        A MODEST PROPOSAL….

        my guess is that everyone is waiting for everyone else to jump first. in this situation it takes someone brave to at least speak up.

        i’d be happy to join the modest proposal fund. will you?

        perhaps Phil, is akin to myself – i frequently accelerate towards windmills with my lance, on my donkey…..

  36. Phil – as i said privately to you a few days ago, i take off my hat to you & Walker etc, who had the faith & nerve to take on the intimidating Brewer brothers, as they successfully ruined & raped decades (centuries??) of good work that the SPCK established.

    so, i think that gives your voice quite a whack of authority to speak out as you do now with the STL saga. you lined up to take the Brewer bullet & didn’t flinch….

    keep on keeping on

  37. I am involved in a shop owned by Churches Together in Faringdon (Oxfordshire) in which we sell Christian Books etc. I would be willing to contribute a 4 fig sum to a plan of rescue.

  38. I see mainstream publishers are working on a lifeline for Borders UK: http://bit.ly/6wB9q6 why are so few Christian publishers willing to push the boat out for STL/Wesley Owen/Authentic?

    Is the Christian book trade going to be put to shame by the world?


    Edited 26/11/2009: please see comments below

    • I understand that many Christian publishers Christian have had the “boats pushed out” for a good 12 – 24 months and they have enabled the trade to continue. I hope they don’t have to sink before you congratulate them on their efforts.

      • You are perfectly right, Gareth: I stand corrected. I withdraw that remark and apologise for it. To all those publishers and suppliers who have been so patient with STL for so long rather than call in their debts earlier: respect!

        I also take this opportunity to echo Melanie’s thanks to you, Gareth, for that email you sent out. The more we can do to work together and support one another, the better: thank you.

        (Now you know why I’m a bookseller with a blog and not a politician)

  39. Sorry but I’d have fired the MD of Wesley Owen, because I’d never have employ him to turn Sainsbury around.

    What plans did him and his team have in turning the business around? NONE!

    I believe that there are proberly only 13 profitable branches out the 40. Some branches are not even doing £150.00 per hour.

    Extend your time of trade like other bookshops are doing here in London.

    Close the smaller branches down like Harrow Weald or move it to a larger site in Harrow-on-the-Hill. Make the investment in your London branches and you will reap the benefit in the long run.

    Get rid of your C.o.E image and take the middle ground and cater for the full body of christ.

    Go to the US and see how Family Christian Stores do things. If you have to go charismatic then go charismatic. Do what you have to do to bring the dosh in.

    Lastly get ride of the bloody charity. Wesley Owen is a viable business and not a charity. If you want to have a charity then separate it from the Wesley Owen side of business.

    • David

      There are some factual errors in what you are saying here.

      At a presentation a few years ago a former MD stated that it was the smaller Wesley Owen stores that were the profitable ones, not the larger ones (this was a generalisation). In particular, and despite considerable investment, Wigmore Street in central London was not viable when looking at the cost of rents etc.

      Family Christian Stores in the US is also struggling financially right now, with a considerable drop in sales so I don’t think it is a good model to look to.

      Wesley Owen stocked a good range of Evanglical literature, from conservative reformed through to open evanglical and charismatic. It wasn’t ‘CofE’ any more than anything else.

      Without the charity status overheads would have increased by up to 50% (depending on location) with the increase of business rates etc.

      There were problems with Wesley Owen, but I think your analysis is not the correct one.

  40. Phil

    Thank you for this blog, if you get in touch we might be able to discuss how we’d go about saving this Titan

    • I’m sorry, David, but the tone of your postings does little to endear or inspire confidence in you: a little grace and humility goes a long way – please try it.

      I happen to know and respect the MD of Wesley Owen. Of course he isn’t perfect and I’m sure he’d be one of the first to admit that. But the problems WO are experiencing run at a far deeper level than you seem to imagine.

      • Hi Phil

        Thanks for your reply and if I have offended your friend I’m sorry, but I just dont feel they have done enough to sort this company out. At one point W O did £12m taking. What went wrong? Lack of investments like JS? STL will have to bite the bullet a bit more and invest in their branches. If STL were screaming about the leases it had to pay for Wigmore Street, I wonder what they would have said about having a shop front on Oxford St? I tell you something, if were them I’d be interested in snapping up the lease on one of the Borders shops on Oxford St. If they got the products right they could easily make over £5m a year from that one branch. The product range would have to be mmore than just books, music, dvd and gifts.

        I often dream about having a Christian store the size of Selfridge’s in the UK and all of this came about after going to the CBA in the USA

        • David, it’s not that you’ve offended my friend — I’ve no idea whether or not he’s even following this thread — but the way you’re laying into these guys.

          No one at STL is proud of what they’ve achieved or failed to achieve this year, of what those in senior positions have allowed to happen. There’s a very keen sense of failure right at the very highest levels: yes, there have been grave mistakes, they know it and some of them will undoubtedly pay a very heavy price. People’s livelihoods, careers and even their homes on the line here, and kicking them when they’re down doesn’t help.

          The wisdom of hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we do need to learn from what’s gone wrong; but it’s time to stop sniping: if you feel the need to keep bashing at people, please go start your own blog and do it there. What’s needed here right now, though, are fresh insights and constructive analysis. Please go take a look at Matt Wardman’s post, New Ways of Being Bookshop, and the series of links in the appendix for some examples of the kind of thinking that’s needed.

          Thank you.

  41. Hi All, I’ve been reading this blog thread with great interest and wishing I could think of something to say to add to it, but just not had the words to do it! I think I know what I want to say now though. I wanted to give a ‘from the shop floor’ perspective. I’ve been priveledged to work for Wesley Owen for the last 9 plus years, in that time I’ve come to find myself surrounded by a family, not just work colleagues. We’ve worked for each other in our different stores, always willing to step into the breach when one store is short staffed. We’ve done fantastic events together, making lifelong friends and coming away with memories that will stay with us for a lifetime! In all that time, I have come to believe in what Wesley Owen stands for, what STL-Dist as a whole stands for. And I’ve seen it in action, when customers come in to find music for a loved one or a friend to show them the way to a whole new life in Christ, when people come in so burdened down and they need something to show them there is grace, and we can be there to give them that Book, Bible, CD or whatever. Its those times that make me think “yes, that’s what I’m here for!” Now I know there have been mistakes happen and some poor decisions made, I’m not naive about any of it and I do realise we live in a real world. But what is keeping me lifted as a guy who works on the shop floor level, has been the way we as a family have all pulled together, and the wonderful level of support that has come from all quarters! God is in control, and as I was told by a good friend “this is where we get to be Christian, and trust!” I do want to thank Phil and everyone else here for the fantastic support and for what has in the most part been an encouraging and uplifting blog thread. I will continue to read.

    • You’re welcome, Stef; and it’s comments like yours that make me think, “yes, that’s what I’m here for!” — so my thanks to you, as well as continued prayers for you and everyone in your Wesley Owen ‘family’.

  42. I suggest we split this blog, so one for general talk, and a seperate one for financial pledges, so we can all evaluate, if this “Modest Proposal to Save STL-UK” is viable or not.
    I suggest all pledges,received so far, be transferred to it.

    • Thanks John – I’ve been thinking along similar lines.

      As I said in my more recent post Saving STL UK: Towards a sustainable business model?, however, I have still not received any response from either Keith Danby or Baker Tilly to my requests for company information. Until such information is received, it remains impossible to take things forward.

      As to why I have received no response: I suspect it’s because this is an open forum. Other prospective buyers have had to sign confidentiality agreements, which is no doubt why we don’t know who they are. Since I haven’t even been offered a confidentiality agreement to consider it’s difficult to comment further at this stage.

  43. Hello again from Saina Veigel, trained bookmerchant and freelance TV producer and Christian from Germany.

    Why doesn’t anyone think of mobile bookshops travelling through the UK?
    Especially now that books need to be sold to generate some instant money that would be a great thing to do … Santa’s Truck hits the road … 🙂

    I envision huuuuge book buses travelling on a fixed route and with a fixed itinerary through the UK.
    Of course, these buses are ‘multimediatainment’ stores with brilliant costumer services and – hopefully – spiced up with some interesting Christian events …

    This kind of thing is interesting for churches. Co-operation would be possible.
    Maybe the idea of fixed stores isn’t really such a good idea because the really good locations are too expensive. We live in a mobile world. A store that comes into town on mondays and thursdays might be much more spectacular than one that can be visited on every day of the week.

    What do you think?

    I am praying with you all.
    Greetings from Germany, Saina

  44. Thanks for the blog I was really moved by it. If we as Christians want to save this company we are going to have to do some serious praying.

  45. Dear me, Phil – not the dreaded confidentiality clause which was the downfall of the SPCK shops! Properly applied, fine, but BAD if it protects for the wrong reasons.

  46. Hi Phil

    After Looking at book value for last year I’d say the Company is now valued around £5m but I do know how much of a premium one would have to pay for all those patents / rights to sell things in this country?

    Do you think it would be sold before Christmas?

  47. I have just had the US Christian Trade News Dec 09 and I attach an extract for your info
    Ray

    U.S. GENERAL TRADE BOOKSELLERS’ COMPLAINT: COMPETITION

    Barnes & Noble, America’s largest book store chain with 775 outlets, and Borders Group, the next largest, both have reported quarterly financial losses, citing “competition from discount chains and online retailers” as their biggest challenge. The “big box” stores (such as Wal-Mart) are selling books, especially new titles, at bigger discounts than either chain can match. Some releases, such as Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, have been priced at US$9, well below what a bricks and mortar store can profitably sell.

    Barnes & Nobles CEO argues that best sellers represent less than 5% of their business, but every sale counts. Book selling is a “long tail” business, and when best sellers are released often other books by the same author or on similar topics benefit as well.

    Christian stores who see their best-selling titles discounted by other retailers or online stores have similar concerns. Only Christian stores carry the full line of, say, Zondervan, not just its best sellers.

    • Thanks Ray. The problem of online/supermarket competition is certainly not unique to our ‘small island’ or our own niche marketplace.

      The reason bricks & mortar retailers can’t match the online/supermarket prices, of course, is that it’s not a level playing field: if publishers gave us similar trade terms to Amazon et al then we’d be able to offer similar prices…

  48. Phil,

    I would like to add my prayers and support in the hope that a solution can be found for this , when I first heard at our local shop , I too thought it would be great if the Christian community could pull together to keep the business going. Wesley Owen has been vital in the growing of my own faith , and I also believe that as a ministry it is a vital outpost right in the middle of the community. I would personally like to offer whoever provides the solution to this , I am ready to offer whatever service I can ( I have IT background and retail management experience) , totally voluntary for however long it would be needed. I do this because I believe we need that Kingdom presence on our high streets.
    God bless you for all you are doing Phil. And to everyone else following this I would like to suggest a co-ordinated time of prayer each day at 10pm when we all just ask that God will help and empower all those involved in this situation to bring a solution that will keep the Wesley Owen ministry alive.

  49. One option worth considering is for the funds raised to buy the shop premises and rent them back to Wesley Owen for a “peppercorn” rent – i.e. £1 per month. That way the money of those who invest is kept in the properties and can be returned when the properties are sold.

  50. @John and @Clive … and @everyone else following this thread: thank you for all the support and suggestions made.

    We now appear to be at a point where Biblica have firmly closed the door on the possibility of a trade/church consortium buyout and have selected their “preferred bidders” from others who have expressed an interest: STL UK: Preferred Bidders Selected but Outcome Remains Uncertain.

    Interestingly, Keith Danby has now stated that it was not pressure from the banks that led to Biblica’s decision to pull the plug on their UK operations:

    We are not being forced to make this decision by any bank. We came to the decision after struggling on for 12/13 months that now was the time to give the opportunity for new investors, new thinking and leadership to do what was best for the continuity of the ministry and all of the stakeholders. [1]

    To me, presenting a business as for sale or bust seems a strange way to attract new investors, but all that remains for us now is to pray, to watch and wait — and hope that whichever bidders are successful will have sufficient business acumen and wisdom to take things forward where Biblica failed.
    ——
    [1] Religious Intelligence: Financial disaster hits British media player

    • The official line is that the sale or sales are expected to be concluded by the week commencing 14th December (today) and a further announcement will be made “when the sale process comes to a conclusion” … so yes, tomorrow could well be the day…

  51. STL basically got too greedy. they tried to domineer the whole of the Christian booktrade. Their demise will not be missed. There are booksellers who a leaping with joy. bring back the independent publisher link.

    • Whilst there may be something in what you say, John, I think leaping with joy over an event that could see many hardworking people lose their livelihoods is more than a tad heartless.

      If you have something constructive to say, you’re very welcome. If all you want to do is slag people off, please go away and start your own blog.

      Thank you.

  52. What I am saying is that STL in the eyes of some were too greedy. They wanted everything their own way. I can say has being in both reatil and publishing they wanted to run with the hares and chase with the hounds. The message I am getting here is that nobody is allowed to ‘criticse’ STL. With that attitude, nothing has changed.

    • Criticism of STL is more than welcome, John: I’ve given them plenty of stick myself over the years, as regular visitors to this blog can testify. All I ask right now is that you show some consideration by offering constructive criticism, not simply have a pop at them. Kicking them when they’re down helps no one.

      STL may seem like an impersonal monolith but behind that facade there are real people — ordinary people like you and me, just doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Yes, those in high places within the organisation have screwed up badly; but it’s the little people who are now paying the price for that. Please think of them when you speak of leaping for joy and ask yourself how you’d feel about that if you were in their place.

  53. I would like to point out to John that his comments are grossly offensive and extremely arrogant. While he may have those views about STL, it just goes to show how very little he knows. Take the blinkers off John and look around. It was never about empire building, or trying to rule the market, it was always about promoting the Kingdom of God in a professional way on the high street. STL are to be creditted with allowing the Christian market to expand and grow in the uk, and I for one will be very sorry if we lose STL and it’s stores.

    • I am always sorry when any Christian shop closes, and I know that the vast majority of STL & WO staff, are serving their Lord in the place He called them to work.
      But I have personal experience of STL’s empire bulding, so know it did exist. But is that in itself wrong? Do we all not try and grow our trade?
      I do believe however, that some of the hierachy did try and empire build for the wrong reason. But, at the end of the day, we come back to “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” Now it is important to see the WO shops & their highly skilled & motivated staff, continue, wether as Indies, or part of a new group. So as a Christian Bookseller, I want to see STL & WO, rise again.

    • Ditto, please, Clive. My understanding was that at least some shops were in with a good chance with strong interest from certain parties. Recent comment on my personal blog says that “the future is also much more optimistic for Wesley Owen and Authentic than it has been over the last few weeks.”

  54. On an optimistic note …. Individual branches and other offers could be made to the official receiver when the law firm seems to have instructions to try to sell the parts as complete groups. So there is a bit of time for interested parties to make offers to the receivers when it is announced who the receivers are.

  55. @ Clive and Andrew ~ Thank you for the information ~ Facebook post reads:

    “Wesley Owen Edinburgh We are now in administration and will be closing shortly. As will almost all of the Wesley Owen shops. I thank you all so much for your support and can I ask you to pray for all of the staff that received the devastating news today at 5.35.”

  56. Iv got to say, even though iv remained quiet on this, that the timing of this is awful.

    When a previous press release indicates that this whole situation/sale was not a forced decision – which contradicts previous statements by the way – its hard for me to understand why this had to all happen 6 days before Christmas……………

    I really feel for the staff

    • as A MEMBER OF STAFF WE REALY APPRECIATE PEOPLES PRAYERS AND SUPPORT .YES IT HAS BEEN A VERY STRESSFULL TIME AND WERE ALL FEELING QUITE GUTTED.

  57. What awful news. I knew many of the people who worked in WO shops. I’m really sorry to hear that many (most?) of the shops are to close. Do we have any news about the future of the distribution centre in Carlisle yet?

    • C, I guess you’ve picked this up by now, but according to Everything Christian, the distribution centre is being taken on by John Ritchie:

      STL Distribution has been purchased by Scottish book wholesaler John Ritchie. However, it isn’t clear how much of the business they will retain, or which employees will be transferred.

  58. It would appear that the way this has been handled is shambolic to say the least. Some staff yesterday didn’t know what was going on, while others did. Soem were unsure if the were receiving P45’s, or wether they were in administration. From facebook pages, there are some very angry staff who are in the dark, and only find the info they need on the web. This is a very sad mess, and my thoughts and prayers are with the WO staff very much. Come on STL, treat the staff with dignity, and communicate clearly to them. Afterall, they deserve it.

  59. Dear Phil

    I am indeed sadden to hear that all of the Wesley Owen branches are to close. I can feel the notch in the pit of my stomach.

    How much would it have cost to have saved the branches, well at least some of them and to have turned the business around?

    I know that the loss making branches would have had to close anyway as this is what Borders did to theirs. I believe that all of their West London branches have closed down as well.

    LORD I wish I had some money to save these branches, because I know they could have been turned around

    The YHVH knows why He permitted this to happen.

    I will pray for the staff of WO that the Lord would help them through this difficult time.

    David

    • @David – to clarify: it’s not all the stores. The breakdown is reported to be:

      26 shops told at 5.35pm yesterday that they were in administration
      6 shops taken over by CLC
      8 shops taken over by Koorong

  60. There is still the opportunity for interested parties to make an offer for all or some of the shops as soon as it is announced who the receivers are.

  61. I don’t think Edinburgh branch were authorised to say what they’ve put on their website but it is understandable. I run a business and handle everything right isn;t easy but in this case I think Rev Andrew is right.

    • Well when you go into any of the 26 branches that are in administration you will certainly know as there is a big sign in the window and at the counter.

      Communication is an interesting concept that has been sadly lost on some within STL.

      To be left waiting and waiting for information is unacceptable.

      On a positive note 14 stores have been saved so that is great.

      All will be revealed on Monday but as far as I’m concerned there is no confidentiality on administration if it is on the shop window which is open to the eyes of the public.

      James

  62. Please note that comments left on this website by the person going simply by the name “clive” are not mine. I would appreciate if the person leaving the comments could clearly indicate their second name or other clearly identifyng detail to avoid confusion or any assumption that they are mine. Many Thanks

  63. Could someone please tell me how are these branches sold?
    Is it via location?
    Value of the remaining lease on a property?
    Shop fittings and equipment, epos etc
    Stock value?

    How is all of this done?

    • Difficult one to answer David but usually when a company goes into administration a receiver is appointed by the bank to get the best price they can for any assets. Selling the shops will take all the things you mention into consideration along with any debts. In many cases the debts will outweight the assets – if this wasn’t the case they wouldn’t be in the mess they are now. So sale prices are usually very low as essentially the buyer is taking on a liability – a loss making enterprise, at least in the short term, in the hope they can turn it around where STL was unable to.

    • David, if you’re serious about getting involved, you need to contact the administrators, Baker Tilly, specifically Russell S Cash and Don Bailey (named in the Bookseller report I linked to above).

  64. Hi Phil

    I have been trailing through your site trying to find the original statement STL made about putting the business up for sale.

    The link gave email addresses to the administrators

    I’d be grateful for your help

    David

  65. Hi again Everyone, I wanted to post again just to say thankyou for all the support and encouragement this thread has given me over the last few weeks! I work in one of the stores which didn’t find a buyer, and as such is facing closure. But I am thankful, so thankful that 14 stores, the warehouse and Authentic publishing/media were able to be saved. The ministry can continue from these and grow again, this is good news! I have found and still find it difficult to cope with all that has happened and is still happening, but the prayer support thats come from all around has been invaluable to me and my colleagues! And on a very personal level, reading this blog and seeing the support in it has helped me to get through a very difficult time! Being honest, I’m not ready to give up hope of an 11th hour, that more of the stores can find buyers and be rescued, I will continue to pray for this and thank all the people who have and continue to pray for this to happen too! I’ve had a fantastic 9 plus years of ministry here, I’ve been surrounded by friends from inside and outside the company. We’ve done Spring Harvests and Keswicks and a number of other events together. We’ve made lifelong friends in our customers and co workers from other organisations and companies. We’ve worked for eachother in eachothers WO stores. And for all this that I have been so blessed to be part of I am forever grateful! It has been more than special! Again I thank you all! From Stef.

  66. ah stl they galloped up into the troubled market place, bussiness suits a gleeming.Promising to be the super efficiant christian bussinessmen.Planting the christian flag in every high street.They galloped a head buying suffering shops and christian companies.Though carefully closing little uneconomical shops,Thier standard shown brightly onward still. in the distance silently loomed the spectre of the economic crisis which eventialy dropped on us all . So they bought a big computer system .! Who,s idea was that.?

  67. Its like standing on the edge of a cliff i hate seeing all the strain on my collegues faces its made the place completly differant to work in. when they told us the shops were going into administratin at least it was final but of couse we,d rather be open and serving .Its the not knowing one way or the other. Lord forgive me my lack of faith.

  68. I see that CLC list the shops they have taken on, & on the WO site only the shops Koorong have, are listed.
    Can someone please post a list of the other shops, still seeking an owner. This will enable us to pray for the staff at each shop, & may even spark interest among those on this blog, to look at possibly taking on one of them. Possibly, we could have posts from each shop, giving us prayer pointers.

  69. thanks Mr groom for the way of finding out whats happening But the titan is broken is broken and dying .At least mr Danby is happy with the success .

  70. last few days phil. ! Maybe the proposal was to modest.!? .But thanks for the talking shop! big bodies got to much debt of thier own.? Trusts being to cautious.!. ? ” But where will we go for our?”.????.

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