Church Times Blog: New Living Oasis Christian bookshops to be ‘three times the size’ of former Wesley Owen shops

Christian Marketplace, March 2010

Christian Marketplace, March 2010

My thanks to Dave Walker for permission to cross-post the following from the Church Times Blog, a superb summary of reportage in this month’s Christian Marketplace. Scroll to the end for my own comments and concluding reflections.

Clem Jackson from Christian Marketplace magazine has been busy talking to everyone involved in the events following the demise of the UK’s largest Christian book distributor IBS-STL (UK) and its associated bookshops (Wesley Owen). In particular he has interviewed representatives of the organisations who have taken over the assets.

You can download the latest issue of Christian Marketplace via this page. There are many interesting nuggets of information to be found, including some in an interview with Ray George of Nationwide Christian Trust, who have taken on half of the shops in the Wesley Owen chain (for background see Living Oasis Christian bookshops). This is a brief extract, which gives some idea of the direction that is planned for the new ‘Living Oasis‘ shops:

We are looking to lead with the coffee shop and not the Christian bookshop and we believe that we will add a further 60% to the turnover; this is the difference between profit and loss.

The bookshops we have acquired are too small, so in most cases we are looking to relocate. We have taken temporary leases on the current bookshop sites for three or six months, but we’re negotiating hard. We’re in a buyer’s market looking to open new shops – and that’s going to happen.

The footprint of our shops will probably be three times the size of the average Wesley Owen shop we have. We want to coffee shop to be prominent, but we don’t want it to seem as if the coffee shop is all we’ve got.

Clem also talks to the Managing Director of Koorong, who have taken over a smaller number of shops, along with the online shop and Authentic publishing. You’ll need to download the magazine to read that.

Available online is a news story, Major casualties revealed in IBS-STL UK collapse, which gives some idea of the size of the losses taken by Christian organisations in the wake of the IBS-STL (UK) collapse:

Two the world’s leading Christian publishers, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, are in line to suffer losses exceeding £280,000 between them as a result of the collapse of IBS-STL UK at the end of 2009, according to information given to Christian Marketplace, by the administrators handling the winding up of the company. However this figure is significantly exceeded by the amount owed to UK publisher Scripture Union, which has submitted a claim for around £360,000 for ‘SU Product’, although this figure has “not yet been agreed by the administrators” according to latest letter to ‘all known creditors’.

Living Oasis: Which Shops?

Clem’s interview with Ray George also brings to light the definitive list of shops that Living Oasis have in their sights:

We now have 20 shops in our portfolio: Aberdeen, Bedford, Belfast, Cheltenham, Chester, Croydon, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Harrow, Inverness, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, South Woodford, Southampton, Sutton, Watford, Weston-Super-Mare and Worthing.

Concluding Reflections

With respect to the debts — also reported by the Bookseller, Trade creditors owed £2.5m after Wesley Owen failure — I find myself wondering how in good conscience Biblica, IBS-STL UK’s parent company, can simply walk away from this and continue their operations in the USA and elsewhere as if nothing untoward has happened? Was it not Biblica’s globalisation strategy that brought IBS-STL UK to its knees? Yet to this day Biblica’s news section has carried not a single report on the UK situation.

No doubt Biblica have acted within the letter of the law — but is this really the way a supposedly Christian organisation should conduct its affairs? Biblica sums up its core values as follows:

We believe that Biblica should be guided by biblical core values that serve as the measuring standard for the work we do, the people we serve and the mission we strive to accomplish. These values also serve as a reflection of the commitment we have to all of the standards set forth in God’s Word.

In Romans 13:8 the Scriptures that Biblica claim to affirm admonish us:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…

Where, O Biblica, is the love in the way we see you conducting your affairs in relation to the UK??

11 thoughts on “Church Times Blog: New Living Oasis Christian bookshops to be ‘three times the size’ of former Wesley Owen shops

  1. Good post, Phil.

    I have found myself wondering a lot about business ethics recently. I have friends caught up in the Readers’ Digest situation -a company abandoned by its US owner because of pension liabilities. And now your report on Biblica.

    I too marvesl at how a company with purportedly Christian ethos can walk away from debts one of its trading arms has incurred by hiding behind insolvency law.

    It’s desperately sad.

  2. Did you notice how much Bajer Tilly sold off the IBS-STL stock for?

    Valued at £1.8 million and sold at under £200k.

    The XYZ Mob that purchased stock for £94k sold it out at at least £500k and in the process flooded the market with lots of cheap sales that will affect the retail market in all of the 26 places and beyond where they were closing WO shops.

    Nice present for those following on and those left still trading eh!

    Thank you Baker Tilly, Mr Danby and the rest of your friends in high positions.

  3. I have to say that, speaking as a selfish ‘Independent Bookshop’, this is an issue that causes me some serious concern- what is going to happen to all this stock? You say, Charles, that XYZ purchased the stock for 94K, then sold it at 500K- any idea who to? And any idea where the person in XYZ that negotiated the deal is spending their bonues this year- Acapulco, perhaps? 5-star hotel in Hawaii??

    I would have thought that anyone purchasing this stock would now be looking to move it on fairly promptly, and the implication of that is our market will be flooded by underpriced stock, making those of us struggling to maintain a realistic working margin look very over-priced.

    I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I wouldn’t mind puttting an Australian dollar or two on the probability of this turning up via the re-launched Wesley Owen website- and would really suit a re-launch for the eight ‘continuing’ Wesley Owen branches.

    Then the Boote will be well and truly on the other foot…. I like to think our customers are pretty loyal, but faced with stock at 25% of it’s real value, I can hear the stampede already.

    • Andrew.

      XYZ Purchased stock in situ at former WO store from Baker Tilley (as did CLC and Koorong i would guess), and the stock was then sold on to the customers at these stores.

      No huge conspiracy or anything so sinister.

      We (as managers of the newly formed Hub in Walsall) attempted to purchase the stock outright from XYZ (SKG at the time) but the valuation was outrageous, so we stayed open as WO (in administration) and sold it till there was enough gone to box up the remainder and send it on to Manchester (who i think donated what of their stock was left to a local church when they closed).

      Don’t get me wrong, I think what happened is completely underhanded and despicable, and definitely saturated the market in the towns with new bookshops taking on the mantle.

      When reordering we have had to be very careful not to get some things we would normally sell by the bucket load… because we did sell loads of them just over a month ago at 60%+ off, and it is unlikely that there will be many customers willing to pay full price for it right now, but whatever damage it caused, has already been done, i wouldn’t expect too much of this stock to make it back into retail stores near you soon. Sure some oppertunists may have filled bags while it was cheap, and will try and flog it on market stalls or on ebay, but anything that XYZ purchased has already made its way into the public domain, and is not sitting in some warehouse waiting to make it’s way into a retail shop (Koorong or otherwise) any time soon.

      That’s not to say Koorong won’t be flooding the market with lower priced goods soon (they have a monopoly in Aus that would make IBS-STL’s pale in comparison) and even with just 8 stores, a lot of publishers will likely be going out of their way to keep them on side, for fear of loosing the aussie market… but whatever they are able to offer is coming straight from the publishers, not through backhanded deals with administrators and “retail specialists”.

      • Luke, thanks for your insight. Appreciate you sharing your ‘inside knowledge’, and (selfishly) am a bit more comforted to hear this.

        However, I think you flag a very significant issue for the ‘industry’ going forward. Customer expectations of ‘value’ have been affected- adversely for us retailers- and the power of the internet allows price comparisons to be done very quickly. So it seems to me you are right in your ‘being very careful’- we are going to be having some diffculty moving stock for some months- perhaps years- to come.

        • Andrew. I certainly don’t think it is at all selfish to be worried about these things. None of us are in this to become millionaires, just wanting to survive and keep the mission alive.

          But it is definitely an issue that we now all operate in a climate where people perceive value very differently.

          I’ve lost count of the amount of customers who have come in post re-opening asking when we’re closing, when everything is going to be reduced again and to how much. When we explain that we have just re-opened, these “customers” take it as their cue to leave. Very disheartening i must confess.

          Added to that, one of the ministers at one of our “church partners” telling one of my customers that “This place is great to come and browse in, but [that bible] is about £3 cheaper on amazon.” IN MY SHOP and it’s certainly not an easy world.

          For us, the key has been communication, and pro-active (rather than reactive) promotion and advertising of what we do.

          In some ways it’s easier for us, being new, but it has certainly made a difference. Our three main “difference makers” have been supplier promotions (CWR, IVP and Lion have been brilliant, and there are definitely more suppliers out there willing to make these kind of offers) rethought “partnership” deals with churches and individuals (the more you spend, the more you save in a nutshell) and copying Unicorn Tree’s “if you find it cheaper on amazon, we’ll try and match it” deal.

          By being a little less precious about margins here and there, (and undoubtedly thanks in no small part to the buzz of being a new shop) we’ve managed to change a few perceptions, and increase our turnover significantly from where it was in the last months of WO.

          We know the new shop thing wont last forever, and our margins are not the same as they were, but i’d still rather be taking 30-40 percent of what we’re taking today than 45% of nearly nothing!

          The maths makes sense to me anyway

  4. Similar sort of situation with the leftovers from the last Engage promotion: lots of Paternoster titles which had been supplied see-safe but which IBS-STL (in Administration) didn’t want back. In the end they offered those of us who were stuck with the stock an 80% credit on the basis that we’d then flog it off cheap.

    It all went like hot cakes here, but has effectively killed those titles off for the foreseeable: they’re all available at full price from the new STL, but having ‘flooded’ the market with them at clearance prices (by which I mean £9.99 books sold off at £2) I’m not going to be restocking at normal prices in a hurry…

    Biblica’s betrayal: 30 silver coins and a final kiss goodbye…

  5. Hi, I used to be a Christian and often visited both the Croydon and Sutton shops when I lived in Croydon.

    Why are you all surprised at the way STL_IBS has treated you? My experience is that “Christian workers” are treated like s**t as you are supposed to be doing the “Lord’s Work”! This generally means, low wages, bad working conditions, no Union representation, only stocking “doctrinally correct” publications.

    Get real guys and get yourselves better jobs
    walk away from the hypocrisy of “Christian” business – you are worth more than that

    • Hi Emma and thanks for stopping by. I feel pretty much the same much of the time, and I hold on as a Christian by the skin of my teeth; or more precisely, it’s like Jesus holds on to me.

      I often wonder what I’m doing in this arena, where it sometimes feels like I’m waging war with lions, with the very people who should my allies. But at the same time, there are at least as many people of integrity involved as there are hypocrites, so I carry on.

      For me, being a Christian has nothing to do with believing the right things: it’s about trying to live the right way… and when I find it impossible to believe in God, somehow holding on to the idea the God believes in me:

      And Jesus? He knows me better than I know myself. He’s known all along. He looks at me, smiles … and offers me a reassuring hug. “All shall be well,” he says, “and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

      Held in that embrace, I am found. Grace abounds. Grace beyond belief as the God in whom I cannot possibly believe looks on and believes in me…

      From: Anniversary Post: An awesome year thanks to my awesome friends

      Crazy, I know. But so too was Jesus 🙂

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