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Archive for September, 2008

STL Distributing Offers Consolidated Shipping and Brokerage

STL Distributing of Atlanta, GA reports seeing “a flurry of new inquiries from Canada” in the wake of the R. G. Mitchell situation.  STL is an independent distributor like Spring Arbor and Ingram which carries titles from other publishers.   U.S. customers — and increasingly, Canadian — can use the service to mix and match products from different publishers.   Like Ingram, STL takes care of customs — including duties if any we’re assuming — and brokerage charges.   Stores are charged GST.

Rick Regenfuss, Vice President of Sales for North America writes:

“We have a heart for Christian retailers and want to assist Canadian stores as they grapple with the issues surrounding the recent demise of RG Mitchell. STL carries all the publishers RG Mitchell had, plus 100’s more: over 122,000 products, including music, books, Bibles, DVD’s, church supplies, gifts, and home school resources. We ship to Canada every day.Our deal for Canadian accounts is 40%, net 60, paid free freight to the store. [Note: This means invoices will show a freight charge, which can be deducted IF the invoice is paid within terms. If payment is late, freight will be charged.]

“Our toll free # is 800 289-2772. Our Canadian customer service desk is staffed by Montana Price, extension 263.  Stores can order 24/7 on our web site: www.STL-distribution.com. Staff can also check stock, track invoices, and conduct many other helpful business applications.

“BookManager customers can send orders to use via EDI. Contact David Stallard, ext. 202.”

STL also operates a discount book company called Great Value Books. Canadian stores currently purchasing from Ingram are already familiar with receiving orders with customs and duties already brokered, however Ingram has had longstanding restrictions on which products could be exported.   This situation moderated somewhat when the company decided to get out of giftware and church supplies entirely, though up to last year, certain DVD product was embargoed, even though companion CDs of the same title were allowed to ship.   Canadian stores are charged a flat-rate shipping charge usually varying between 6% and 9% depending where a store is located in Canada.   By contrast, Anchor Distributing requires customers to have their own customs broker and has no plans to offer a streamlined service.  The initial announcement from STL was unclear as to whether non-book items had any restrictions.   [We’ll update this post if we get more information.]

STL is a trade name well known to British Christians, and is an acronym for Send the Light, a ministry with roots in the UK operations of Operation Mobilization, which later acquired Paternoster Press.   The North American company took over Great Value Books and OM Lit from Operation Mobilization and acquired Appalachian Distributors in 2005.  In 2007 the company merged with the International Bible Society (originators of the NIV translation) to form one of the largest non-profit book publishing and distribution companies in the world.

Sorry we’re late getting this up.   Oddly enough, I was tied up at my own store today.

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Foundation Confirms Distribution for NavPress and Gospel Light

In a communication sent out on Thursday (25th), Foundation Distribution of Orono, Ontario announced it had signed long-term, exclusive distribution contracts with NavPress and Gospel Light/Regal.

Foundation will be filling much-needed orders for Gospel Light Fall ’08 quarter curriculum.

Two of Foundation’s three partners left R. G. Mitchell several years ago and began an unlikely distribution company in an unknown location, just over 30 minutes east of Toronto.   Since then they’ve undergone several expansions in their current location, including purchasing the building itself.    Foundation currently distributes Standard, Multnomah, Waterbrook, Christian Art, Barbour, AMG, and is the producer of the popular “72-Hour” flyer format.

This announcement stands in contrast to one made earlier in the week by Baker Books; which announced an “open market” policy through year end, allowing both other distributors and retailers to purchase product directly from its U.S. base.

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Trying to Reach Suppliers by Telephone

September 25, 2008 7 comments

Is it just me, or is it impossible to get through to David C. Cook by telephone?   Who’s your best and worst for telephone response, especially when you need to know something right away?  I’ll start it off in the comments section…

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Baker Books Declares Open Market in Canada

September 24, 2008 2 comments

In an e-mail received by Canadian stores on Wednesday (24th), David Lewis, Executive VP for marketing at Baker Books, which includes Chosen, Bethany House, Spire and other imprints, declared the Canadian market to be open to any distributor who wishes to purchase product and also to individual stores who wish to order direct.   This situation applies until at least December 31st.

He also left a lot of the future open to discussion and input from stores; including the possibility of keeping Baker Book distribution open moving forward.   This idea has been kicked around since I got into the business over 30 years ago, and when I did some contract work at a company that some of you will remember — Triwel Publishing — there was a strong push towards non-exclusive distribution.   Such an arrangement would also benefit stores on the west coast if a prairie distributor was chosen, and still allow stores in Ontario and the maritime provinces, which struggle more financially, to keep their costs down by buying from an Ontario distributor.

One of the distributors suggested in today’s letter is Harper Collins.   While Harper’s general market division distributes for publishers outside the Harper family, this hasn’t been done on the Christian market side.   With rising gas prices, Harper’s free freight policy for dealers has some distinct advantages.

This makes Baker Books the first of the former RGM’s major distributors to contact us with a game plan.  Their openness, and their consideration of “outside the box” models is certainly exciting and encouraging.

Contact us if you did not receive the e-mail from Baker Books.   (Use the comments section, we’ll delete your comment; put spaces in the address or use [at] instead of @ so your address isn’t compromised by webcrawling.)

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The Results Are In: Where Book Buyers are Buying

September 21, 2008 3 comments

WARNING TO BOOKSTORE OWNERS:  This story is enough to make you cry.

Several months ago, Christian Retailing did an article called “40 Leaders Under 40.”   The article focused on younger leaders, most of whom were American.   A big exception was Canadian author and blogger Tim Challies.    His website, www.challies.com is considered one of the most active Christian websites, especially among people with a Christian Reformed perspective.

So I was a little intrigued when Jack Huisman at Family Christian Bookstore in Burlington (Ontario) suggested I check out a poll that Tim is currently running on the blog, called “Where Do You Buy Your Books.”

We’ll track this more when the poll closes, but already, the results are a runaway grand slam for Amazon.   And remember Tim’s readership is almost entirely Christian readers.   In the voting below (7:30 PM, Sunday)  Amazon is tracking TEN TIMES the number of responses of CBD and FIVE TIMES the votes for “local retailer.”    If you want to know why our Canadian industry is in the mess it’s in right now (Blessings, Christian Publications, CMC, R. G. Mitchell) here’s your answer in living colour:


Be sure to read the additional comments made by voters.   (Approx. 60 as of Sunday mid-evening.)    They, also, are enough to make you cry.   It’s our whole industry being wiped out by online buying before our eyes, in a way that’s NOT hitting the fashion stores, NOT hitting sporting goods stores, NOT hitting the housewares stores.   No, it’s the book and music retailers that are taking the hardest direct hit.

Comments, anyone?

UPDATE:   Here’s the stats from the poll as of 9 AM EST, Thursday, September 25th (just 90 days to Christmas and we don’t know who our key Canadian book suppliers are.  Ho Ho Ho!)

The R. G. Mitchell Situation Re-Visited at Week’s End

While we’re all a bit shocked at the events of the week, the overall response, both in the comments section on this blog and in the direct e-mails I’ve shared with a few people is that life will go on.   Many are adopting a “business as usual” attitude, and it’s probably not good to share any of this at the customer level unless those customers have heard about it already.

BTW, we should also remember to PRAY for the RGM staff that were laid off, in the retail stores, in the warehouse, in marketing and sales, at order entry, in accounting, in purchasing and in management.

At the RGM retail level, the major hit is to Kingston and the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area where RGM had stores in Willowdale (but right on the Scarborough border), Ajax/Pickering, and Whitby/Oshawa.    Oshawa does have a large Seventh Day Adventist store, but it carries different items and isn’t known to many in the community.    Sadly, in those communities, the threat of online ordering may now become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people who weren’t online buyers quickly learn the ropes to get things they need.

At the RGM wholesale level, many of you have listed some of the key issues including:

  • overall uncertainty as to the the long term picture
  • big concerns for other distributors who were vendors to the RGM retail stores and are taking yet another hit
  • short term higher prices because of Ingram lower discounts and (for some accounts) higher shipping
  • confusion over prepub orders for new titles; your system shows you’ve ordered the title and that’s how you remember it, when in fact, you don’t have any on order at all; you must reassemble your key title strategy, but for how far into the future?
  • no simple access to Sunday School curriculum without going direct to U.S. publishers; shipping costs on that would wipe out any possible margin
  • no way to check RGM website to determine what orders were in the system; need to verify each and every customer special order to see if it was impacted by this; some items promised to customers at a certain price may have to be slightly higher
  • no economically feasible way of continuing to carry Lifeway product without radically increasing prices; but refusing forces customers to do mail and online ordering; a no-win situation
  • short term loss of international trade paper editions
  • for MAPP and Libris stores, a loss of support for the fall MAPP flyer and no Christmas flyer available
  • for stores that do returns, many had returns pending that are currently in limbo pending new distributor announcements; could leave stores overstocked
  • for stores that had already returned items, some credit notes may be in limbo
  • for stores that unresolved customer service issues, they will now have to try to deal with the receiver/trustee on these issues
  • for stores that were pickup customers, items were invoiced but not shipped; for all stores, possibly some other items were billed but never left the RGM warehouse

Are there any other things we’ve missed?

Limit comments on this section to this particular issue; use the other article (below) to post comments relating to updates or corrections in information on this ongoing story.

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R. G. Mitchell Books in Receivership

September 16, 2008 13 comments

This post is being constantly updated.

We now have confirmed information received early Tuesday (16th) morning that Monday (15th) afternoon the doors to R. G. Mitchell operations in Willowdale were locked and staff were sent home and told ‘it’s all over.’  The firm of Deloitte and Touche has been called in as receiver.   The wholesale website is down and phones are currently not being answered.

Re. Discussion forum on this story:  If you wish to comment on this, go ahead; if you wish to add any information, please try to make sure that what you are stating as fact is factual.

2:00 PM UPDATE – An expanded story on this appears on my personal blog for non-industry readers in various parts of the world.

10:00 AM WEDNESDAY UPDATE — Most of you received an e-mail yesterday that Augsburg Fortress Canada picked up Abingdon Press, and this morning we’re hearing an unconfirmed report that they’ve also picked up Westerminster John Knox Press.   Both of these are good fits for Augsburg.   Apparently there was already a relationship on the sales rep. side with Abingdon and Augsburg in the U.S.    But is all this happening too fast?

5:00 PM WEDNESDAY — An e-mail for the Canadian authors’ anthology Hot Apple Cider became the first actual product solicitation for a former RGM title.   If everything else rebuilds and reshapes at this speed we could see an industry returned to relative normalcy in a very short period of time, though it will never be the same.

5:00 PM THURSDAY — NEW UPDATE — Just got off the phone with the receiver, but will put this report in the comment section so it doesn’t appear on the web crawl. Probably comment # 11.

6:30 PM THURSDAY — The RGM situation is the top story today on Christian E-tailing.   It cities the possibility that the parent company of Christian Retailing Magazine, Strang Communications, is already into talks with Word Alive of Winnipeg, MB, its former distributor.  For those of you who aren’t subscribed to Christian E-tailing, this link should work: http://www.christianretailing.com/a.php?ArticleID=17919 Just had to backspace because I accidentally typed “E-ailing” …ain’t that the truth.  But the full issue of today’s Christian E-tailing isn’t all bad news; Britney Spears’ mother was on the Today show promoting her new Thomas Nelson book.   Doesn’t that make us all feel better about our industry?

COMMENTS:  After you read the linked article on my personal blog; come back to THIS one to comment!   You’re confusing my other blog readers!   (Sort of.)

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Serving the Community

September 15, 2008 2 comments

Of all the things we’ve done in our community, this Christian commununity events website — also done on a WordPress blog — is probably one of the most useful things we’ve accomplished.   The site is promoted to churches and people on our e-mail list once a month; churches also receive a suggested bulletin announcement several times a year.   It’s on a poster in our store, and it is highlighted on every customer receipt.    Check it out at www.searchlightevents.wordpress.com and feel free to steal this idea for the community where your store is located.

________

So what community participation initiatives have worked well in your store?

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Consignments: Good Public Relations or Not Worth the Trouble?

Alan Connor was a retired missionary who visited my store regularly.  He wrote a book about his work on the mission field, and when it was printed decided he didn’t want to do any direct sales to his friends and fellow churchgoers.   Instead, he would have all sales route through our store.   Because of the type of church he attended, many of the people he sent had never set foot in our store before.   They entered like scared puppies with their figurative tails between their legs, not looking at anything else, but simply walking up to the counter, with eyes straight ahead, requesting Alan’s book.   He had hoped it would introduce new people to our store, but in the end, only one or two even looked at anything else.

However, his willingness to make us his “exclusive sales agent” meant that we sold 26 copies in one week.   To some of you, that’s not much, but after many years of doing it wrong, we suddenly realized how consignments are supposed to work.

Mrs. C. was a different case last week.   She has never foot in our store herself.   Nonetheless, she is a person I have admired in our community for 20 years now, because of the depth and strength of her faith; wanting her to visit meant a lot to me.   I met her at a childrens ministry event in our town about ten years ago, and I told her, “I don’t want you to buy anything, I just want your blessing; I just want you to drop in and look around and know that we exist.”   To the best of my knowledge, she never did.

Last week she came in bearing boxes of books and a poster to announce her daughter-in-law had written a book that she wanted to place in the store.   I wasn’t there, but I told the staff member just to say, “We don’t do consignments anymore.”   After a dozen or more years she had decided she needed the store after all, but not to buy anything but to sell things.   I had long since concluded that when it came to consignments, I’d had enough.

We’ve done about consignments with about 30 key players in the last dozen plus years.   Over half of them never came back to check on sales or pick up their goods.   A few others admitted their projects were ill-conceived and told us just to keep the product and any money we’d collected.

Our general rule has been that if you consign merchandise to our store, it’s up to YOU to create the paper trail.   Tell us how many items you’re leaving, and what our cost price is; and then come back in 3-4 months with a similar form that says, “WAS / IS / SOLD / NET / EXT.    I know this works because I WAS the person consigning merchandise to other stores for many years.   In fact, we were the music (CD/cassette) department for Eastern Pentecostal Bible College bookstore and Tyndale College bookstore for many years; not to mention placing product in about 30 other stores over the years.   All the stores expected me to do the paperwork myself; they would then do spot-counts and check my work.   We sometimes had as many as 40 price points in a single store.

I’m not sure that consignments are a good idea in today’s economy.   They take up shelf space that could be used for goods you’ve already got an investment in.   But they can build good customer relationships with people in your local area.   And if the person consigning the goods is prepared to “create the demand,” then it’s probably worth the trouble.   Most of our consignment history however, involved people from out of town.

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What Kind of Scene Greets Your January Customers?

September 7, 2008 2 comments

Each of us in retail is guided by different store ethics which are shaped by our location, our history, and most importantly, our beliefs about what it means to provide good service to our customers.

In my store, one of the guiding principles is not going to sit well with those of you who have done business courses, manage cash flow well, or just hate counting lots of stuff on New Years Day; but I’m going to share it with you anyway:  We believe that the January customer deserves as good a selection as the December customer. In other words, if you carry X number of product lines pre-Christmas, then your store is defined by carrying those items and you better have X number of product-lines post-Christmas.  You may not have the same 6 or 7 copies per title, but you’ve still got the same basic stock.   Not a lot of empty shelves.

Now remember, these posts are here as fodder for discussion.   I’m not saying my idea doesn’t pose some problems, especially being in a small(er) town market, but I think that the January customer doesn’t want to arrive thinking they’ve just missed a big party.   Or that “the good stuff is all gone.”

We spent Labour Day weekend at a Christian resort not far from our house.   Though we were charged “on season” rates, the lifeguards were all being sent home the day we arrived.   We had ONE HOUR to swim in the pool.   The next night we went to their “Snackery” for ice cream only to find they were completely sold out of everything; they let their inventory run to nil; even though they still have retreats booked, and staff and contractors working on the property.   I am so glad we don’t run our store that way.

So what greets people in your shop in January?   A healthy product selection, or a scene that sends the “going out of business” message?

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Hours: Setting Them and Keeping Them

September 3, 2008 2 comments

With so many people ‘cutting back’ in different ways, and so much talk about ‘doing more with less;’ are you still open during the same hours as you were a few years ago?   Some store owners feel they need to scale back, while others figure, “I’m paying the rent, the utilities and the insurance anyway; why not pay staff a few extra hours and leave the lights on?”

Are your hours the same every day?   Do they change seasonally?   Do you feel you get good return for staying open late on a Friday night?   Do you ever do special evenings, like church shopping nights?  How do you determine when to “double up” on staff.  How much do your hours change at Christmas?   Have you noticed that the bulk of business is shifting to earlier in the day?  Later in the day?

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