Saving STL UK: Towards a sustainable business model?

Whether or not the possibility of a group buyout for IBS-STL UK will even be considered by Biblica’s Board and Trustees remains to seen. As of this posting I am still awaiting detailed financial statements from the company, without which it is somewhat difficult to even begin to prepare anything remotely resembling a firm proposal for prospective investors to consider. My understanding, however, is that the level of interest from prospective buyers has exceeded Biblica’s expectations and that discussions with some are well underway: at this stage it appears that a consortium such as I have suggested may not be needed.

Nonetheless, in response to several queries, here is a rough guide to how I would envisage a new business taking shape under a trade/community shared ownership model. This is emphatically not a business plan: it is very much preliminary thinking and all input, for, against or otherwise, is very welcome.

  • Freedom of speech, including the use of blogs and social media, will be actively encouraged at all levels.
  • SAP will be subjected to intense scrutiny and, given the experience to date, most likely scrapped, to be replaced by a tried and tested system licensed from another wholesaler.

Looking at the three divisions…

1. Wesley Owen
The chain itself would cease to exist. The shops would be rebranded and refocused on their local communities, with consortia of local churches and/or other Christian groups each taking responsibility for their own local branch, with an emphasis upon developing the shop as a social/community hub. Branch managers and staff would be responsible for stock selection with each shop aiming to become self-sufficient within a pre-agreed period.

  • Please see Matt Wardman’s post New Ways of Being Bookshop and the appendix of related discussions for some ideas on how this might be taken forward.

2. STL Distribution
The distribution division would be owned and operated by its employees, retailers, publishers and other investors working together. My vision would be for it to be run by a democratic board drawn from amongst the investors and answerable to their fellow investors: a genuine shared ownership company operated by the very people for whom it exists.

  • To help tackle the debts, I invite publishers to consider writing off some or all of the amounts owed to them in exchange for part ownership.
  • Retailers investing in the operation would be offered preferential trade terms.

3. Authentic Media and Paternoster Press
The publishing division would be offered for sale to other Christian publishing houses, possibly splitting into three segments: music, popular books and academic books. I do not expect, however, this to be an issue as I would be surprised if Biblica have not already found a buyer (or buyers) for this division.

Wrapping Up
Thank you to all those who have contributed to the discussions so far: please keep your comments and suggestions coming. As previously stated, this is not a business plan, although I hope that it might form the foundation for one. At present the ball remains in Biblica’s court…

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5 thoughts on “Saving STL UK: Towards a sustainable business model?

  1. Starting off on what I hope will be a good, lively and productive discussion (and a little nervous that what I say will be superseded by something more sensible): I agree with some of what you say and hope things work out well. I don’t know if I’d lose the Wesley Owen brand though. I would like to see regional flavours, tastes and histories taken into account and I would like each manager to have the option of what to stock (although I dare say we’re all wrong about what the public will respond to on occasion) and personally I find it disheartening when I walk into a chain of shops and find that each looks the same as the last, no matter where I am…

    But branding is also important and a name as known as WO would be worth keeping as the basis of the shops (imo). I’d change some things, the colour scheme is gentle to the point of invisibility and the logo isn’t, really… But it’s a good basis to start from and I’d far rather see, on a visit to a new town, a Wesley Owen with the hope of finding something new rather than miss a Christian book shop which was named in such a way that I missed it. (Hope that makes sense 🙂 )

    Hope Authentic and Patenoster can keep their names and identities but, in this case I can see the sense in sticking with distribution and shops…

    Good luck and God bless with al enquiries (and with all who enquire).

  2. Re distribution: the basic strength of the pre-merger STL was its globalized approach, what with India, Appalachian and Carlisle, as well as (somewhere in the DNA) the OM ships. It is surprising to me that Biblica would want to hive off the UK bit on its own.

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  4. Change the name of Wesley Owen? May I suggest Newman Meyer, which would cover more bases than the current name does (as would Beckford Williams). Kercal makes a good point – the name is a strong branding, many people have an affinity with Wesley Owen. But, of course, many also see the name and think that they are something much more narrowly focussed than is really the case. And there are some who think they are a furniture shop.

  5. Taking in a minute here (as not sure whwere else to put it) but I want to acknowledge and commend the email that Eden.co.uk sent out to their customers the other night.
    It basically alerted customers to the current issues and warned them this may have the potential to cause some stock issues so advised them to order for christmas early – and to encourage others to buy christian books etc.
    It exhorted them to pray for those effected by this situation and also for the Christian Book trade in the UK, and then it encouraged them again to buy more christian books – but my heartfelt thanks and commendation goes to Gareth Mulholland who included in his encouragement that they buy more christian books was the inclusion that they could also support the 600 christian bookshops across the UK too and put a link in to UKCBD.
    For this I cannot praise Gareth and Eden enough.

    The email was spot on in it’s tone and to be so generous as to make mention of the high street shops as well is indeed a praise worthy thing, so my thanks Gareth and Eden for showing the way in this and truly demonstrating a sound christian model of inclusion and community.

    Gareth if you are reading this, I still think there is much we bricks n mortars and yourself can do to work together much more practically.
    A-shops are a cheap way into internet selling for smaller indies, any chance of some Eden-shops for christian indies?

    Again Gareth and Eden – thank you.

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