“… the weak link(s) in our industry is (and has always been) in the supply chain.”

SO WRITES PAUL IN CANADA at Christian Book Shop Talk, discussing the criteria by which retailers select their suppliers — but is he right? Paul is, of course, addressing Canada’s situation — but how similar is that to ours here in the UK?

Personally I am reluctant to place so much weight on supplier incompetence, although we have seen plenty of that, arrogance too, in recent years: I’ve seen far too much incompetence in terms of ill-informed or over-enthusiastic staff (both extremes are best avoided, methinks) in Christian bookshops themselves to be able to sit comfortably alongside Paul on this one.

Arguing that “we should all reconsider our priorities when deciding where to do our wholesale shopping”, Paul suggests that an important question being missed is:

  • Do they have good people?

In other words, are their staff intelligent, insightful people? Are they compassionate and understanding?

Often times the answer is “no,” although it often takes many months to find this out. Many of our suppliers simply did not do well in the hiring process. Many others don’t offer ongoing training.

…I believe in our industry we’re dealing with a number of “bests”

  • We have the greatest products by the finest authors and artists
  • We have great staff at the retail level in many of our stores
  • Our customers — a lot of them good ‘church people’ — represent the nicest people in our communities

No, the weak link(s) in our industry is (and has always been) in the supply chain.

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4 thoughts on ““… the weak link(s) in our industry is (and has always been) in the supply chain.”

  1. I couldn’t agree with paul more.

    I think if they don’t have the right people, both at the top, and at every level beneath them, then everything else sort of falls apart.

    I think a shining example of this is Huw and his team at Gates of Praise.

    Their discount is not the highest, their delivery and invoicing are not the best, and they don’t have trade websites, and aren’t integrated with pubeasy, but without fail, he is my first port of call when it comes to Charismatic books.

    Although most are available elsewhere, often with better discount, you just can’t beat someone who really knows their stuff, and genuinely wants to see you succeed, not fail. Huw is one of the friendliest, most knowledgable people in the industry, and 9 times out of 10, that more than makes up for the few percent extra discount we could get elsewhere.

    In real life, I am happier to pay a little more, or drive a little further for a “nicer” experience. I buy Apple computers, even though they cost more, because i think they are better, and offer a better service. We drive to John Lewis nearly 45 minutes down the motorway for us, because their staff are more knowledgable, and helpful, and avoid shops, no matter how cheap they are, if their customer services fall, it is unlikely I would return.

    And yet, in our businesses, it doesn’t seem to matter at all to some people, which strikes me as odd.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but to me, i still believe that the best, and probably only, way we can see our industry survive is by being better. By offering better customer services than the internet, by being more knowledgable on our chosen specialist subject than Waterstones, and by being more helpful than we would have thought possible than anyone else on the high street, and that has to start at the suppliers. We can’t hope to do well if our suppliers are constantly letting us down, and while, in the main, we are blessed with amazing people in our industry, and, one thing I have always felt about our biggest wholesaler, STL, is that their people are exemplary, when I am choosing suppliers, it certainly helps no end to know that your supplier isn’t going to make you look stupid, or force you to break promised to your customer.

  2. lol – weakest link in our supply chain is definitely the couriers or delivery method service, though this can be exacerbated by the suppliers/distributors if they fail to actaully send the items out, or are tardy doing so.

    Certainly there is a solid arguement for the fact that supply is always a weak link in any industry because it is the supply of product that enables the sale of product, so when that falls down the chain does – we have seen the impact of this in great detail in the last few years indeed, and indeed are still experiencing it to greater and lesser extents.

    However is it fair to say that suppliers/distributors are the weaker link than we ourselves in the shop?
    No, not at all.

    Wether we like to admit it or not we ourselves probably have an overwhelming fail rate and it’s not better or worse than the suppliers/distributors because the truth is we all have off days, we all have fraught days, we all have customers we can’t please no matter what we do, how good we do it, or how splendid we are – that’s down to them not us though ;0)

    The truth is we do have to reconsider our priorities when looking at our wholesalers, that’s for a number of reasons and some of that is perhaps down to ‘staff & people’ issues, some of it certainly should be down to ethical consideration issues etc. However we have to reconsider our priorities just as much in relation to our shops and ourselves, we need to refocus on what we are here for, what we are looking to achieve, what we can do to succeed, and we need to look at are we doing the best we can, where we can, how we can?

    But in all of this we need first to remember that change begins with us and sometimes we are as much part of the problem as the ‘team’ at the supplier – if they haven’t got the stock we want or need is it because we forgot to really let them know they were missing the mark?
    If we think their customer service isn’t as we would like it have we actaully discussed it with the people they distribute for or with them?
    If we don’t think they know what their on about are we sure we really do?

    I’m minded of this by interactions I have with my customers because I am to them what the supplier/distributor is to me – and I know that some of these are all instances we experience in our retail careers on a really regular basis, now there’s food for thought!

    • To an extent I agree.

      We do all make mistakes, and we do all let our customers down.

      The problem is, if I let my customer down, then i rightly deserve the consequences however, if my customer is let down because my suppliers drop the ball, that is an entirely different matter.

      If a supplier, let’s call them “Christian Books Inc.” is the supplier of books by “Christian Publisher Inc”. and they fail to ship 500 copies of their bestseller “Christian Book A” in time for my customer it affects me infinitely more than it affects them.

      If we fail any customer, we risk loosing them, their church, friends and family forever, because there are so many alternatives, such as amazon, Eden, other Christian bookshops nearby or high street bookshops like Waterstones.

      There is often few or no alternatives in the wholesale / distribution market however, so we will be forced to return to them… Which is why when we do have the choice it is so important that we make the right ones.

      I believe that it is so important that wholesalers / distributors live up to a high standard because they do not normally deal with the end user of the products, WE do, and their mistakes are far more far-reaching than our own.

      • Luke,
        I’m not arguing that point, I totally agree with you that when they fail we fail.

        I am arguing the point that it is unfair to tar them with a big brush that can fairly be levelled at us by our customers – because we are the end point for the customers.

        Yes there are other choices for the customer, the truth is there are other choices for us – they may not be comfortable ones because it may mean supporting a mode of commerce we don’t want to support, it may mean taking smaller margins, it may mean buying abroad or opening secular accounts, it may even be not dealing with a certain supplier etc etc but the truth is that there are choices as the article said.

        What isn’t fair is to believe we have it right as opposed to them when to our end user it may not seem so.

        Yes it is well out of order when our supplier lets us down – it is when we let the customers down, for the customer the experience is the same.
        I’m not saying it’s an acceptable practice etc but I am saying we do have to ask the question how involved are we in the problem/solution?
        How often do we stay quiet and not help the supplier by letting them know of the problems, our wants, needs, discontent etc?
        Part of our duty as Christians is to let others know when there is a problem and how things can be improved, to buoy them up not weigh them down and sometimes we don’t buoy them up because we think they know how to swim and are just waving at us, or think we would be weighing them down when in truth we would be building them a raft.
        In turn this works to our betterment too.

        The thing to remember, certainly at wholesaler/distributor level is that they are often as much at the mercy of their suppliers as us, I think of STL amongst others currently and their levels of stock holding/fulfillment of certain companies, talking to them provides some very interesting insights indeed and you soon realise that our problems often are their problems too!

        That’s the real point here, the weakest link in our chain isn’t any one part of it, it’s an action we all fail at – communication and do we do it as well as we could and by the same token do they? It’s when this fails that the problems actaully start.

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