Living Oasis Harrow: Message to Churches: Please pray…

IN MY LAST REPORT I mentioned that local church leaders had been notified of the closure of Living Oasis Harrow by email. This is that message, now also posted on facebook:

We’re Closing

Dear Friends

It is with heartfelt regret that I need to inform you that the Harrow branch of Living Oasis is closing. Our last trading day will be Saturday 2nd April. Please find attached a poster to display on your Church noticeboard.

We believe that the Lord had a purpose and a vision for the shop and we have tried to take this forward but, unfortunately, the number of customers coming through the doors since the closure of Wesley Owen has halved and there is simply not enough trade for us to be able to continue.

I know of at least 13 Christian bookshops that have closed since the beginning of the year. The Harrow branch is the 8th Living Oasis shop to close. Please pray for the future of Christian bookshops and the ministry they provide and, also, for the staff here as we begin to seek the Lord for our futures and try to secure new jobs. Please also remember our loyal volunteers who have given their time and talents to support this work.

We are very thankful for the support you have given us during a difficult time.



Pauline Banks, Manager
Moira Hornik, Senior Sales Assistant

14 thoughts on “Living Oasis Harrow: Message to Churches: Please pray…

  1. I have to say that I can emote with Pauline over the customer base halving since the closure and re-opening – I picked up the mantle from 2 closed Christian Bookshops and despite much contact, networking, communication etc there are still a good percentage of the customers of both these shops that do not use us still and despite communication and outreach to them don’t offer a reason why.

    In my case I appreciate it could be the change of venue that has done it, however this doesn’t apply to LO Harrow.
    I do however think that some use it as justification to themselves for no longer supporting the local shop and going direct or through amazon etc and saving the pennies,(‘well it’s not really the shop I used to support is it, so it doesn’t really matter’ sort of thing).
    A case of shortsightedness in some aspects, especially as it is funny how these ones come in at the last knockings when they have been let down and urgently need something – I am always saddened then by their attitude if you don’t happen to have a spare 25 copies of the marriage service to hand, having perhaps instead the more manageable level of 10 or so, and they seem to think you should have it just in case they need it.

    I do use this as time to explain we can only stock what we can afford and that without churches ‘regularly’ supporting us with their purchases we cannot really afford to carry bulk quantities etc.
    I explain to them that we do offer to match on bulk quantities Amazons price wherever and whenever we can, that we can post goods direct to them, that if they must order online that we have a website that will at least give us a percentage of the sale and that if they could use that each time they make a purchase it would certainly help, I ask them not to tell their congregation from the pulpitt or in their newsletters to buy a book from Amazon (and yes there are many doing that these days) but suggest they can buy from our website or include the names & numbers of local bookshops instead or at least as well on their newsletters.

    The sad thing is that despite all of this I know it is an uphill battle and perhaps only a very small percentage of those I share and communicate this with will actually do it, and that in many cases I will only see them next time they hit a crisis point – of course the crisis point may then be past our crisis point just as it now is with LO Harrow, and then where will we all be.

    However we do what we can to mitigate this, we instead try to build new networks – not just with churches that used to support the old shops but with new churches and fellowships, with community groups and schools, with local meeting centres, with local coffee houses and gathering points, with the joe & jenny blogs in the street, with anyone we can find in the phone books or in the what’s on sections that might be interested in our services ;D
    We reach out further than our comfort zone and perhaps we change us a little too, perhaps we get in new stock, general stock, we sell jigsaws and other family friendly items, some might try secondhand goods too – does this lessen our mission or dilute our message? for me no – instead it grows it, grows it past the narrow confines of our churches and into the streets where it really should be, but I have to admit that it would be rather nice if the churches would support this mission too. Perhaps we need to rebuild the understanding of community, of fellowship, of being part of one group and having in some ways responsibilities to each other beyond the norm, perhaps we need to work on understanding fairtrade is not just a 2 weeks a year thing, is not just about third world countries, but that it’s about living things everyday, about supporting local to go global and that when we work together we overcome, we renew, we replenish, we grow together.

    Okay soapbox half hour over and mea culpe to preaching to the converted or trying to teach me granny to suck eggs, or indeed for spouting off on a common theme again 🙂 – coffee time now I think.

    Prayers and thoughts to those at LO Harrow and to all other Christian Bookshops wherever they are and whoever they are – May God Bless You and Keep You.

  2. Hear, hear, Melanie. My Fb friends are sick of me constantly telling them off for plugging their books on Amazon, but I’ll keep doing it, and as on the Goodbookstall Page on Facebook last week, remind people to support their local shop.

  3. It is an uphill battle, and one which I certainly fell for all of the Living Oasis staff in, knowing that if they cannot generate enough support, they are not long for this world.

    Clearly it can work, as places like Leeds and Liverpool have generated enough support to move into the next phases of their development plan, but it is not easy, and certainly not fair to put blame on this for the team on the ground in the shop.

    One thing we found particularly beneficial was not relying on Church leaders to get the message out.

    Some are fantastic, some not so much, but, in the grand scheme of things, Church purchases are (or should be) only a small part of our turnover. The bulk of it still needs to come from the congregation, and passing trade.

    For that reason, we invite ourselves to as many events as we can. We have run large bookstalls at numerous events, where we know the general public will be. It gives you a chance to, as it were, bypass the church leaders, and network directly with the public, many of whom are very receptive to supporting your work, even if their leaders are not.

    Another thing we have found that has helped us, is we do not ask for donations. At all.

    We did, when it was opening up, and got about £8-9,000. We made a point of NOT using that for stock (it was used for refitting, rebranding, and rent) however, since then we don’t ask for donations, but rather for churches to support us by using us, and it seems more successful.

    Asking for financial support, in the form of donations or even by selling shares, or repayable loans tells a Church you are not financially viable, and gives them an easy out, when it comes to choosing to support you, or amazon.

    They can reason “They will die whether I use them or not, if they don’t get additional funding. We cannot afford to fund them, so we may as well just use amazon.”

    They can also argue that (perhaps somewhat incorrectly) they have ALREADY paid for the stock, through the donation, and you’re then asking them to buy back their own stock, at retail price. No matter how much discount you offer them, they’re still getting a much worse deal than going to amazon

    On the other hand, asking not for donations or loans, but telling them that when they choose amazon over you, that, alone, could be the nail in the coffin for your business, it seems to hit home a lot more.

    If you can explain that, you were just £1000 away from breaking even in last year (as we were) and that, in real terms, that is only 200 books, CDs or DVDs a year, or, about 15 people not going to amazon per month, it suddenly becomes a lot more real to them.

    If an individual, or certainly a single church, can mean the difference between surviving, or not, it’s much harder to go elsewhere.

    I’m not saying we don’t get donations, we certainly do, from churches and individuals, but we don’t solicit them, and our business plan is absolutely not contingent upon them.

    I don’t know, and I could be way off the mark, but we saw about 80% of our regular customer base within the first three months, and 100% of our key and regular church partners returned to us, in some form, within our first year trading.

    We were in a similar situation to Harrow, and managed to retain many of our customers.

    It is certainly not to toot our own horns here, we’ve made our fair share of mistakes along the way, and could have just as easily found ourselves in the throws of a closing down sale this month too, had we made just a few different choices, but I wonder if our customer retention has something to do with our focus on self-sufficiancy, rather than the projecting a picture of a company perpetually in financial crisis?

    I know their focus was not to do so, and, as I’ve said, some of the LO Shops are doing much better than we are, so there is no “one-size-fit’s-all” solution, but it’s a thought.

    • Hi Luke,

      Like you we have never asked for donations, indeed we have never recieved any dontations other than secondhand books, Oh yes and we have a donation tin for our nominated charities, so I guess we have had a lot more donations than I thought! The money from the sale of those donated secondhand religious books goes to our nominated charities –
      I look on this giving as a form of alms, a type of charitable act, part of my shops tithe, and as Tzedakah – in other words it’s just the right thing to do regardless of what my current financial position might be. I don’t say this to brag or tout my horn but to raise the issue that what would be so nice was if perhaps people would consider their use of us (us meaning my shop and all other christian bookshops and even indies/local shops of all types!) in such a way – that the little extra they might pay to us was part of their ‘righteousness’ acts and ‘just’ giving, in the same way as buying the fairtrade item even when it might be a couple of pennies more tends to be seen!

      We regularly tell people only their support will keep us afloat and we are blessed with some wonderful supporters, however I am not as positive as you on the fact that telling people this really changes their hearts and actions in a majority of cases such as the ones I made previous mention of in my last post.

      I am also not convinced that it is the self sufficiency aspect that makes the difference in retaining customers, if it was then I think I might have a few more of the old Advance & SPCK accounts than I do! Though I do again concede that my situation is different in that I was in effect a ‘new start in a new space’ and not just a re-opened shop.
      I do honestly believe that people will use any excuse to justify not using somewhere regardless of whether donations are asked for or not and regardless of whether it’s a legitimate argument or not – this sadly is the nature of the human psyche, we’ve been doing it since we shared a bit of fruit and realised we shouldn’t have and didn’t really have a good excuse for it!
      We are incredibly good at justifying our actions to ourselves – and I fully beat myself with that stick and tar myself liberally with that brush 😉

      I do though believe you are right and that we must not continually offer the perception of being on the cusp of doom, either financially or theologically!
      Even if we are there and feeling that (and believe me there have been and are still times when it has felt this way to me) I think it is very important that we still try to show a postive aspect, keep a smile and a grin, maintain our faith as it were, because if we don’t then what are we saying to those who look to us to be a witness, what do we say about our God to those who question him in light of bad things happening?
      This is not to deny or hide the struggle, it is not to say just accept the situation as God’s will (because it probably isn’t!) but it is to say be honest, yes if it hurts – tell others, if we need help we should ask for it! but we must look for answers, try new things too, be honest and open but above all we should indeed stand as a witness, perhaps even a stronger witness when what is befalling us is the same as that befalling others and yet we maintain in some way our cheerfulness, we carry still a welcome and a smile for the others, we continue to put their needs before ours – what stronger witness is this!

      I do wholeheartedly agree with you that we cannot be reliant solely on Church business, ie hymn book & resupply re-orders and the like to carry the business or to the formal church structures to necessarily get the word out for us – the truth is, as you have said, that though some are excellent at this others just aren’t good at it and so we do have to push forward and outreach outside of the churches almost.

      This is where I have found that great inroads to be made, where new friends, allies and customers are to be found and where great witness can sometimes be had and minor miracle like things occur – like lost sheep returning to the fold and prodigals showing up at the doorstep – not because of what we have done as such but because of what someone else has done!

      It is also in these things that we can witness how local community can really benefit each other when it works properly too, local networks really can be incredible things, especially when we realise that going local really does have a national and global reach – after all it’s only a matter of a few degree’s that seperate us from each other anyway 🙂

      In the end though it is, as you have said, an uphill battle and certainly not a one size fits all issue – however in the end I do believe that there is still hope and I still pray for a refreshing to come and reach the barren deserts of our cities which once supported flourishing oases, to provide much needed moisture to the roots of all of the Christian Bookshops still here and to help them reach deeper into the ground and fertile soils and be blessed by the living waters of faith that will flow towards them, that other small hidden seeds of independence may sprout and grow into new bookshops in new area’s and area’s thought dead! This is my prayer and I live to see the day of God’s grace in action on this one.

  4. I don’t wish to go against the grain on this and it’s only my opinion – but I believe that we cannot (and should not) expect people to use Christian bookshops (as opposed to on-line sellers such as Amazon) in order to keep them alive. They should use Christian bookshops because they offer a top notch level of service and provide a truly enjoyable shopping experience that simply cannot be replicated on-line.

    I feel (again only my opinion) that it’s a bit like the “buy British” campaign of the 70s. The public should not be expected to pay for inferior or more expensive products or service out of a sense of loyalty. Long term it just won’t happen. Bookshops need to adapt to a changing world, not expect the world to halt it’s change in order to keep them in business. The tide of change is coming in whether we like it or not and those who wish to keep their feet dry will adapt quickly and not, Canute like, demand the tide change it’s ways.

    Most bookshop owners are not ludites and those who can change with the changing world will flourish and deservedly so. Coffee shops, on-line services, wi-fi, links to churches, visiting authors, study areas, friendly welcoming staff are all areas that Amazon cannot compete with. Many will wince at some of these suggestions and argue that is not the business they have chosen to be in. I would argue those that think like will not be in business much longer.

    I realise this ia a very sensative subject and I do not wish to offend anyone. I love bookshops and fondly remember the sense of wonder they instilled me in as a child – and still do. Nostalgia won’t help though. Whether we like it or not people want to read books on iPads (God help us) and other such devices. People ARE still reading books – we just need to move with moving times.

    In my opinion….

      • Phil,
        Having had a chance to play with an ipad now I shall not be getting one – not nearly all that at all and I’ll stick with my samsung galaxy s for doing most of what the ipad does anyway but is much more portable indeed 😉

    • Jason,
      On one level I agree with you wholeheartedly and that’s why I advocate that we must change as well.

      It’s why I have a table in the middle of my shop that we craft at, hold groups like lent group at, that I have authors use on a regular basis, tht we use to put other business information on or events and church information on etc.
      That’s why I have an online site they can order from amazon etc through and still help support the local shop and mission without cost or hardship to them, that’s why I offer the affilliate links to ebooks through that site – so they can shop online for digital media and still help support a local community shop.

      This is not just to keep the christian message there on the highstreet for those that can’t/don’t use online or visit churches, but it also keeps local jobs in the community and that also keeps money going into the local and national economy etc.
      That’s why I think we do need to think more about what we are doing as individuals in the choices we make – the same way we think about fairtrade products – because the same ethics and idea’s are running through the core of it.
      Is it a guilt thing? No. Is it an ethics thing? Yes.

      However the truth is that even with all this the amount of people that come in and make use of the shops services such as the fact that the books are on the shelves and can be browsed, compared and checked for paper feel and colour of binding in real terms etc, that they can ask us for guidance and advice that we are happy to share etc and that then cheerfully and openly tell you thanks for that but that they are going to buy it from Amazon etc is increasing!

      Indeed Dixons who went off highstreet and online only even had a tv advert campaign that told people to go in the shops, look at the goods, get the advice and then go to them for the cheaper price – people are doing this more and more and that’s a big issue.

      You are right they should use us because we offer a service amazon etc don’t, the thing is that they are using us – they just aren’t buying from us! and at the end of the day that purchase is what enables us to be here to offer the extra’s they like and/or need in cases of amazon/online delivery fail.

      It’s not about nostalgia, or just moaning because I don’t want to change, it’s about the simple fact of the matter being that due to things like publishers discounts to the mighty A and others, due to the overheads and costs and market share forces there are things that we can’t match. Truth is there always have been but in the last few years prices on some items is becoming a main one – and at the end of the day in this current time that is where the final line is being drawn by many and though I can understand, this after all my money also doesnt do what it used to, for me that is where the sadness lies.

      Because the truth is it’s only when people start to really consider if they want local community shops to still be around, if they want the diversity of choice on their highstreets, the ability to spend a day out shopping with friends in person, to be able to go in and browse a range, to make an impulse purchase then and there and leave with it, to get a last minute gift a bit different than the norm perhaps – and that’s not just Christian bookshops or even just bookshops but all of them – all smaller local shops, that we might see an understanding of what it really means when we shop online.

      Is our situation different really than the fairtrade situation of third world growers? yes in really big and important ways and no in really big ways too.
      These are things we need to start thinking about – if we support our local communities we support our global community too – this isn’t just a christian bookshop or a bookshop thing in my mind, this is a fair trade and local community thing, it’s the difference between a thriving economy and a struggling one.
      It’s about making the right choice because it’s the right thing to do and nothing more than that – it’s certainly not about guilt and if it leaves us feeling guilty then I’ve always been taught that perhaps the question we need to each ask ourselves is what’s that saying to us then in the end? 😉

    • In a sense, I agree—If the bookshop doesn’t provide a service that people value, then I agree, people shouldn’t be expected to subsidise an inferior product and service.

      The issue, of course, is that people DO expect us to be there, when they need us, as a lending library or viewing platform.

      The issue we face is that people DO want us on the high-street for the advise, service and information we provide, but then take that (free) service, walk out of the shop, and make the final transaction online—and then complain that we do not have in stock what they want to browse through.

      We’re certainly not saying that you should use us simply because we are here, but that, if you value the service and information that we offer, then you have to assign a monetary value to that!

      We simply cannot start charging people to browse, so we HAVE to ask people not to go online, if they want us to remain here.

      In the main we are not crying about the fact that people shop online, but what does annoy us is when people want, or need us here, because they want the face to face service we offer. They want our advise on translations, they want to hold a Bible, open up the cellowrap, smell the leather, take a look at the text, and see how opaque the pages are before they make their purchase, because they can’t do that online. They then “go away to think about it” and complete the sale at amazon, because it’s 10% cheaper than our TRADE PRICE.

      We’re appealing to Churches who sign up to our Church Partnership scheme to get discount on short discounted items like Communion Wine, Daily Readings and Sunday School Material, Certificates etc which they CAN’T get cheaper elsewhere, while simultaneously extolling their congregation to buy the newest Max Lucado book from Amazon, even though if they had brought them in bulk from us, we could have matched or beaten their prices.

      We’re appealing to Church Leaders who know the value of what we do for themselves, and use is regularly, but don’t feel the need to encourage their congregation to do the same thing.

      As to the “Buy British” campaign, I do see similarities, but I don’t think they are negative ones at all.

      We all complain about the unemployment rates, “outsourcing” of british jobs etc. If we keep putting price ahead of all else, that’s fine, but we also need to stop complaining that there aren’t enough jobs available, that retail shops don’t exist any more, and can’t afford to stock the items they want to see in person, that welfare is costing the state more than we can afford.

      We need to not complain when our jobs are made redundant because the company has found cheaper labour in eastern Europe and south east Asia.

      In my opinion…

  5. As someone who is now outside of Christian publishing looking in, it seems to me Christian bookshops have two options. Either get more customers. Or sell more product to their existing customers. The first is clearly extremely difficult, but it seems like this is where all the focus goes and discussion goes.

    So why not increase the offering for the loyal customers, beyond just Christian books? After all, I don’t know of anyone who buys only Christian books. If you have a customer base who is willing to buy Christian books from you rather than from Amazon, why shouldn’t you also give them the opportunity to buy other books from you?

    I’m not suggesting getting in an entire range – but maybe specialising in a few areas like cookery, parenting, and local interest, that could not easily be contrary to the shop’s Christian ethos.

    You never know, doing so might even attract some new customers who otherwise wouldn’t come across Christian books…

    • Hey Sam,
      Many of us now do that – in my own shop we sell general and religious books, jigsaws and arts & crafts.
      I know of other christian bookshops that have branched into selling secondhand clothes and goods, a lovely one in chester that sells home decor accessories and furniture etc.
      All these things certainly help carry the mission, especially given the current climate and the fact that bookshops are just becoming a hard struggle all round – and thats without adding in the niche aspect of Christian Bookselling at that.
      Still with faith, hope and a smattering of pixie dust, prayer, charity?! (oops too much disney going on there, hey ho, hey ho it’s off to work we go – now where’s that pick to dig myself out of this disneyesque surrealist theological nightmare!)
      erm sorry I meant of course hard work and prayerful creative insight then I remain convinved that there will come a time when we are again appreciated and people will, as Luke says so well, begin to assign a value to what we do – and it will be this value that will enable us to continue the work of providing religious books and church supplies from and on the high street.

  6. With hindsight this may have been the wrong moment to voice my opinion on the subject as in the wake of the sad loss of Living Oasis Harrow it seems a little crass. I will continue to support my local highstreet bookshop, not because I want them to survive (although I do) but because they offer a service unmatchable by anyone on-line. I would never dream of examining a product in a shop then going away to order on-line – in my mind that is clearly immoral and I’m sorry some people can’t see this. I wish every bookshop the very best of fortune in difficult trading conditions and hope I didn’t imply otherwise.

    Phil – I’m sure you’ll love your iPad. The only downside (and I’m afraid this is a deal breaker as far as I’m concerned) is that you can’t use it to read while in the bath.

    • I certainly wasn’t suggesting that you do this, only that some people do.

      All i’m saying is that when we ask people to support us, which we should, we’re not saying “Support us because we’re here”. We’re not saying “We’ve stepped out in faith, so don’t turn God into a liar” or anything like that, even.

      What we are saying is, if you can see that what we do has value, which it does, then please assign a monetary value to that too (IE, If you want good advice, and a place to browse in person, then be prepared to pay a little bit for that). Any yet too often, people don’t see it that way, which is a real shame.

      I, in the main, agree with you, and think that some times we seal our own fate when we do ask for financial support aside from what we turn over through the tills. We need to ensure that we are viable, as a business as well as a ministry. But I also feel that, to say that we shouldn’t ask for support, in any way, would also be wrong. So we do ask people to support us, by way of actually using us for what we’re here for… to sell books, music, cards and gifts.

      As an aside…

      Why would you possibly assume that the bath is off limits for an iPad?

    • Jason,
      it wasn’t crass it was a valid comment – and no one faults or blames you for it at all.
      You can’t be expected to know how often we all have people coming in using the shops just to then turn around and say they are going to, or indeed have, purchased it online – it’s ahrd to appreciate the level of this unless you are on the ground floor dealing with it, especially if you are someone to whom doing such a thing is anethema as in your case.
      We value honest comments and criticisms and views from outside because it is very easy to become blinded and blinkered to things, by the same token we raise issues here in the hopes that others will similarly be enlightened to the things they may not be aware or thought of.
      for each and every action there is an equal and opposite reaction -something well worth remembering I always think and not just in scientific thought 🙂
      So Jason, thanks for your insight and comment and always feel free to share your views here, it is valued.

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