Bookseller Report: All but one Wesley Owen Bookshop likely to close

Update, 13/3/2012
Wesley Owen Bromley ceased trading on Sat 10/3/2012; official announcement here:
wesleyowen.com/info/pdfs/bromley.pdf


Update, 7/3/2012
Wesley Owen Derby ceased trading on Sat 3/3/2012; official announcement here:
wesleyowen.com/info/pdfs/derby.pdf
The Bookseller, 31/1/2012: Bulk of Wesley Owen bookshops to close

The Bookseller, 31/1/2012: Bulk of Wesley Owen bookshops to close

ACCORDING TO A BOOKSELLER REPORT published this morning, all but one of the Wesley Owen bookshops now look set to close as the company focuses on its online trading rather than the bricks & mortar stores:

Bulk of Wesley Owen bookshops to close
31.01.12 | Lisa Campbell

Wesley Owen has announced it may close all but one of its chain of Christian bookshops, saying the bricks and mortar business has been overtaken by digital and online growth.

The chain closed its Bath and Bristol branches at the weekend, resulting in 18 job losses, and has told staff and suppliers it intends to “significantly reduce its high street presence.”

Currently 15 employees are in consultations about the future of their jobs and the company’s retail director, Steve Mitchell, told The Bookseller: “We think there will be one – but maybe two or three stores left.”

The report goes on to quote Steve as saying,

Making the decision to do this has been as hard as decisions get. It is partly to do with the economic position, but even if we had waited until the economy got better it is a brave man to bet against the online business which is so rapidly growing. We have seen our online business growing significantly – 3-400% in the last two years – and we recently started selling e-books and that has taken off rapidly too.

and concludes with the observation that “it is our view that the charity or independent model is now the best option to maintain physical Christian stores.”

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12 thoughts on “Bookseller Report: All but one Wesley Owen Bookshop likely to close

  1. Tough times indeed.

    I understand that times are tough, but as many of us are discovering, well run bookshops can survive in this climate, and pulling out sometimes seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Online sales are the future, so we will close our stores, and… amazingly, online sales go up”.

    Considering Wesley Owen went from 40 stores, and a minimal online presence, to 8 stores and a tightly integrated online model, it is hardly surprising that online sales went up, but is that model sustainable without the brand recognition that your high-street stores give you?

    Now, by removing your high-street presence, you are putting yourself right in the crosshairs of Amazon, and while Eden, Christian Bits and others have proved that it is possible, I suspect all would tell you that it’s an uphill battle.

    WO’s distinctive was the face-to-face aspect of their brand. Yes you had online sales, but when things went pear shaped, you still had a local store to turn to. Need the book today? No problems, the site tells me that the Birmingham store has 8 copies in stock.

    I’m not saying WO.com cannot survive without the stores, and certainly wish Steve and the team every success, but I do worry that without the brand recognition a high street presence brings, WO may fade into insignificance. I can still shop at old high-street favourite woolworths online, but I don’t, because I forget about it, and default to the big boys of online retailing instead.

  2. Luke, we will see whether or not they will survive in the near future? I fully understand your statement on Branding and this is something WO will have to take into consideration including multichanneling of their business model.
    I feel sorry for the colleagues who will be loosing their jobs, but our business model needs to change for us to survive.

    I said the follwing statement to a friend;
    “It is not about segregation, but integration. It’s not about forgetting your roots and identity, but working holistically and seamlessly, embracing the new technology that the secular retail giants are using and the different ways of doing retail i.e. multi-channeling. Christian retail is not just about the selling of books, music and religious paraphernalia. It is a life style that we are selling to the world; good wholesome living with ethics and values. After all isn’t this what our big department stores are trying to sell to the public, but without it being wholesome, ethical or having any values to life itself”.

  3. Yes, Luke, I think you make some excellent points. I am also wondering how Wesley Owen intend to support their online business since, as I understand the current model, the bulk of the stock for such orders is sourced from the stores. Do they intend to set up a central warehouse – and will they really be able to compete with Amazon, Eden and the like?
    I hope Steve’s comments that they are “in talks to sell some of the shops to individuals” will result in some positive news, but it’s a really tough time for all those waiting for the axe to fall! I presume such possibilities were explored in Bristol and Bath, but it has been a big shock to many in these cities – especially as the closures happened without any prior warning to customers.
    I know there’s little room in business for sentiment, but their forerunner: ECL had a heritage that goes back over 150 years to George Muller.
    (Follow this link – very informative if, sadly, now out of date:
    http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=10595 )

    • Wesley Owen do currently source a lot of the stock for web-orders from their stores, however, they do also have a warehouse in Milton Keynes. How big it is, and whether it could support a large online store remain to be seen—perhaps drop-ship agreements with distributors will be the future. Wesley Owen still have a pretty good relationship with TMD, who distribute their Authentic books and multimedia, so perhaps the bulk of their web orders will be shipped that way. However I do believe that their growth into the online space is linked to the integration with their physical stores.

      If you’re going to use WesleyOwen.com, then you need to either be more recognisable, cheap or “Christian”—to capitalise on the desire which still exists amongst a lot of people to support the christian trade—than your competitors. Amazon is certainly cheaper, while eden and christian bits are both equally as “christian”, and have better search engine placement and optimisation. Both Eden and Christian Bits have brands which speak much more strongly of their Christian heritage than Wesley Owen—which I never stopped having to explain to people while I worked there.

      People used wesleyowen.com because they walked past it it on their high street, saw it printed on carrier bags, or know someone who works there, that was their distinctive.That made them recognisable. I worry that they will lose that.

      You can’t ignore online sales, and if you are positioned to make the most of them, then all the better, but to do so at the expense of high street retail may also be an issue… again, when did you last shop at woolworths? I hazard a guess that for the majority of us, it was when there stores closed down, and few of us have shopped online at woolworths.co.uk since the closure.

      “Click and Collect” is real positive for many online retailers—Argos apparently complete more online transactions that way than through home delivery, and at one point Amazon were reportedly looking at buying up or establishing some B&M bookshops so they could offer a similar click-and-collect service—I know a lot of bookshops are having success with hive.co.uk too, because of it’s click and collect nature.

      Without that, growing wesleyowen.com from it’s current format to a sustainable, stand alone, online retailer will be an uphill task i fear—after all, however bad things have been on the high street, things are much, much worse for upstart online retailers, with companies folding daily—though they do not get the media attention that big high street chains get.

  4. Another factor, I suspect, is that many of the people using wesleyowen.com have likely been doing so out of a sense of loyalty: Koorong stepped in to the rescue when Biblica failed (and let’s not mince words here: it was an abysmal failure on Biblica’s part, if not an outright betrayal). Koorong salvaged what had become an important part of high street Christian bookselling here in the UK — for many, Wesley Owen was the face of British Christian bookselling. But no longer: they’re set to become just another online retailer, discarding the booksellers who enabled their success and their link to the local communities. The question I ask myself is why would I shop with an overseas company when I can shop with a British online retailer such as Eden?

    • The reality is, I suspect an awful lot of the general public simply have no idea of what went on behind the scenes… Certainly the bulk of my customers were not aware that anything changed until I told them, and customers still regularly come in telling me that they saw something in our “Birmingham branch”.

      However, I do think that many of the people who lost their local Wesley Owen stores continued to use the website after their local branch closed. If it becomes apparent that Koorong have effectively abandoned those stores, I do worry that people simply won’t bother to continue to offer them the support.

      How many people will actually realise that, I’m not sure… perhaps they’ll just keep using wo.com anyway, but if online is your only outlet, then I certainly think continuing such healthy growth is a real problem.

      Purely as an aside, for anyone interested, I highly recommend Phil Vischer’s “Me, Myself and Bob” for an insiders look at how mega-growth and big plans can go awry. It covers the growth of Big Idea Productions from two guys in a bedroom to their first motion-picture launch, and ultimately, through to bankruptcy.

      Some really interesting perspectives on how and why good things can fall apart, probably particularly pertinent since you have brought up the whole IBS-STL mess again, and it seems to have repeated with Living Oasis, and now, to a lesser extent, Koorong.

  5. Pingback: After the Tsunami: Regaining perspective on the UK Christian book trade « The Christian Bookshops Blog

  6. It is better that organisations like Koorong who brought stores from WO Administrators try to make a success of them and fail rather than not to try at all. If it hadn’t been for Koorong who knows where the individual stores would be now. Would they be another empty unit in their towns or cities who knows.. The point is that Koorong tried to turn Wesley Owen around and unfortunately the current economic climate has deteriorated and people prefer to sit at home and get it delivered to their doors as oppose to visiting a book shop. I also believe that Wesley Owen will succeed even if all of their operations are run from Milton Keynes.

    • For sure. Far better to have tried and failed than to have not tried at all; but even so, I grieve for the livelihoods now lost — and it’s not just the booksellers rendered jobless, it’s also the landlords who now have a sudden loss of income to contend with.

      I hope that WO can succeed as a primarily online or online only business, I really do, but it’s no less a challenging marketplace online than offline…

      • Indeed Phil I am sure everyone internally was very saddened to hear of the loss of Bath and Bristol stores. Let’s just pray that WO will survive and new jobs found for those who have recently been made redundant.

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