Home > Uncategorized > Why My Store Isn’t “A Foundation Store”

Why My Store Isn’t “A Foundation Store”

My wife and I can sense it within about 30 seconds of entering. A quick look around and I’ll turn to her and say, “It’s a Foundation store;” meaning a store that is heavily invested in inventory from one particular supplier, and does their various marketing programs.

Sixteen years ago, Foundation Distribution moved into my backyard. Door-to-door from my house to their warehouse is 20 minutes, which means about 25 minutes from my store. Relationally, they might as well be in Siberia. I had hoped that with a wholesale distributor that close, maybe I’d be able to help them with a project or two, as I had with IVP Canada, Mainroads Music Group, and the Canadian Bible Society.

Instead, I often found it was all I could do to keep my relationship with them as a customer intact. Right from the very beginning, they wouldn’t release their 800-number to me to place orders. “We’re very busy;” was how the request was answered. (That was the exact substance of the response.) Odd. Apparently I had been labeled, though I don’t know as what; but some baggage had carried over from the R. G. Mitchell days.

Then there was the warehouse sale a few years back. A Foundation staffer started removing things from my shopping cart. “These are for other customers;” I was told. Other customers. Totally humiliating. (Some of the items were put back after I objected.) I have not been to a warehouse sale since. To be really honest, it has more to do with the luncheon; I can’t really eat their food, especially now knowing the Eastern overtones of sharing a meal. I think it would be hypocritical on both our parts to break bread together. Perhaps some year I’ll go back but grab lunch in town or in my car.

Anyway, here’s my track record with the company:

  • Customer for 16 years
  • Never missed a single payment or bounced a cheque
  • Never returned anything that wasn’t defective (but received no extra discount for doing so)
  • With two exceptions, never burdened the company with the cost of a sales rep visit

My only major transgression in those 16 years has been showing up to pick up orders at times the entire company shuts down for coffee break or lunch. Apparently, they all eat together. I am guilty of this more times than you can possibly imagine, and my response to the daily shutdown has not been well-received.

How to Smell Like GodSo how has my customer loyalty been rewarded?

In 2006, I was given a copy of a book by Steven James called How to Smell Like God. I read a few chapters, but while I still have every review copy I’ve ever received, I don’t know what I did with that one. Even after my other blog took off and review copies of books starting pouring in from other publishers, nothing was forthcoming.

Of course, all stores got a copy of The ESV Study Bible when it released, but I had to really beg for mine, it was a defective copy with the ‘free’ code for the online study option being blank. I do use this Bible regularly however, and we’ve sold enough of them that FDI made back its costs, if there were any.

Oh, and a used copy of The Gospel of John Board Game. We did actually play that as a family for a few hours one night, but it didn’t do well in the store. I think there’s still a copy there.

The two sales visits were a nice gesture, low cost excursions given the short distance from my location to theirs, though I didn’t appreciate leaving my office to help a customer only to find the rep using my computer to make copies. That rep never returned, either; even though I gave him a sizeable order. The second rep visit went far better. 

That’s it, apart from the aforementioned lunches at the annual warehouse buying frenzy, and a one-time, last-minute invitation to a dinner at the Orono Town Hall where I have to assume we got in because someone else couldn’t make it.

Despite all this, when Canadian stores started closing in quick succession in 2014, I redoubled my efforts to support Canadian suppliers. We didn’t use STL as much as the CEO of another company accused us of doing, but we did appreciate the convenience and the fill rate they offered. Around the same time however, STL changed their freight terms and with that and the stores shutting down, it seemed like a good time to channel as much business to my wholesale neighbor as possible. I even went through old catalogues and created backlist orders at times when no restock special was being offered; in fact our store receives the basic trade discount and usually little else. To this day, I read every page of every catalogue, and every single email that my telesales rep sends, usually responding to about 25% of them.

In other words, I’ve never sold my soul to FDI like I think some retailers have, but I’m still a loyal customer, in the same sense that a dog will always return to its master even after it has been constantly beaten.


Rather than curse the darkness, let’s light a candle: Here’s what a store/supplier relationship should look like.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Well i had a good laugh as i read this post – it was either laugh or cry as this has been my experience with Foundation as well. Now i know why no one answers the phone at certain times. I like to order new releases a few months ahead to make sure i have what my customers want as soon as it is released. I know some stores don’t like to do that, but i do. For the last few years i am lucky to get the current month’s releases by mid-month. And then i usually have to ask if they are ready yet. I was told a couple of years ago that they are busy supplying the secular market right now and don’t have time to let me know what new books are releasing. Really? You don’t have time to tell me what is new so that i can pay you for those items? If we need a credit for a damaged item or we were billed incorrectly it can be a couple of weeks before anyone even replies to my request. If i keep checking in every week to see the status of my request i am told they are busy or doing the best they can or they forgot. I wonder what my customers would think if i did the same to them? I’m sure they would find somewhere else to get what they need. So why do i keep going back? Maybe for the same reason you do. 😦

  2. Jared
    May 14, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    I have noticed a lot of your posts over the years have been very negative towards FDI. No company is perfect but I don’t sense the same hostility towards let’s say Harper Collins. Are you sure you don’t need to read a book on spritual freedom and let go of some seemingly wound you are carrying?
    Without Canadian Distribution companies many Christian bookstore would not be doing as well as they are now.

    • May 14, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      I’ll take your last sentence first…

      Without Canadian Distribution companies many Christian bookstore would not be doing as well as they are now.

      …and say that I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I wrote,

      When Canadian stores started closing in quick succession in 2014, I redoubled my efforts to support Canadian suppliers.

      We are far better served having reps and warehouses on Canadian soil than not. I am very sure that for some store owners and managers, the FDI/store relationship helps and encourages their ministry in many ways.

      Am I negative toward FDI? I think one of the basics of human nature is that we tend to like people who like us. There have been so many frustrations in 16 years that have never been mentioned here because they were possibly simply too subjective, or possibly to particular to my own account and my own dealings with the company. With a couple of exceptions — two people in the warehouse — I don’t think that people there are terribly pleased when I visit, or when I email or phone. I’ve learned over the years to basically make as little contact as possible, and to try to approach those situations where I must with a positive attitude to try to overcome the reactions I can’t see on the other end of the computer or telephone. I do my best — this blog post obviously notwithstanding — to keep the relationship from becoming more adversarial or hostile.

      I think it’s important to mention also that none of the three FDI principals have ever set foot in our little shop, despite the great geographic proximity. It’s not much to look at, but our customers love us, and as stated, in 16 years have never returned anything or skipped a payment.

      Do I “need to read a book on spiritual freedom…?” I think it’s easy to judge people in moments like this when you don’t really know what they’re experiencing. On my other blog, we often use the phrase, “Your mileage will vary;” which means in this case Jared, that I think your experience and my experience of FDI are totally opposites. As long as a store is willing the play the game, they will get preferred service and best discounts. Unfortunately, some of those products simply don’t sell in my market. Even so, periodically, I will take another run at something — like the most recent 72 Hour Sale — just to show I’m open-minded. That particular flyer include four large art pieces, and we didn’t have a single bite on any of them. Conferring with my staff afterwards and using that as an example we agreed that the merchandise mix is simply preferable from other sources. But give it a year, and I’d be willing to try again because we really, honestly, sincerely, want to support the existence of the warehouse in Orono. But — and this is important — we’re not going to be that store that aligns with FDI on every promotion, every product launch and every product line. Remember, the article’s title was about why we’re not “A Foundation Store” and the distinction truly exists, I see it, and I don’t think it’s the best use of scarce resources and scarce shelf-space.

      So if if you believe that qualifies me for a spiritual warfare intervention then so be it; but I think that my customers and sales reps who know our ministry and know my heart would disagree with you. However, if you want to pray for us, by all means, go ahead. Bookstores can never get enough prayer.

      Where I will give you points is in correctly identifying that we’ve been wounded. I think I made that very clear in the last sentence:

      I’m still a loyal customer, in the same sense that a dog will always return to its master even after it has been constantly beaten.

      I didn’t just make up that metaphor as a last minute closing sentence. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for quite awhile. Furthermore, the entire article didn’t happen overnight; it was a long, long, long time in coming. It was what I felt needed to be said, and because it has been so long in writing, I did not feel any different after writing it. It solved nothing. But it needed to be stated.

      It was also no accident that this appeared just a few minutes apart from posting this article:
      https://bookshoptalk.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/what-stores-are-looking-for-in-a-supplier-relationship/
      wherein I tried to state in a positive way what I feel is needed in supplier/store relationships. The five qualities listed there are certainly achieved in my other supplier partnerships, but I didn’t go looking for it; rather, those other suppliers taught me and modeled what good service looks like.

      Again, I would argue that you possibly don’t have a clue what it is like to be in our situation. Your relationship with FDI and my relationship with them is totally, 180-degrees different. And that’s fine. You can’t be everybody’s best friend. But you have to admit, one complimentary book in 16 years is a little lame, especially when added to all the other abuse we have to put up with, most of which I kept out of the article.

  3. May 14, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Readers, I invite you to do a check as I just did. There are four pages of articles which reference FDI, and they are for the most part very supportive, with only two or three exceptions. The positive articles were also self-generated; FDI never sends us press releases.
    https://bookshoptalk.wordpress.com/?s=Foundation+Distributing

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