Posts Tagged ‘Foundation Distributing’

Foundation Folds Distribution into Anchor Distributors

October 22, 2019 2 comments

Canadian stores will consolidate ordering through Anchor/Word Alive

This is major news for Christian booksellers in Canada. Earlier this week we heard rumours of this, but today we received the official announcement. Rather than comment further, I want to run the press release exactly as it was sent to industry news outlets. I’m sure the finer details will play out over the next few weeks.

Bob Wood, Bob Whitaker, Pat Chown, (back) Jeremy Braun, Karen Fulton, Director of Operations Anchor Distributors

Foundation Distributing Inc. and Anchor Word Alive Inc. combine to improve efficiency and strengthen the Christian product supply chain

New agreement moves distribution of Foundation vendors to Anchor Distributors

ORONO, ON – October 22, 2019 – Pat Chown, Claire Prodger and Bob Wood, owners of Foundation Distributing Inc. (FDI) are pleased to announce an agreement moving all distribution and operations to Anchor Distributors in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, effective December 1st.

“We see this agreement as one that will aid current and new retailers in Canada in being more competitive against the growing online giants.  It allows for more cohesive marketing opportunities.” — Bob Whitaker, president of Anchor Distributors 

“Sourcing more product from a single location can provide better fill rates, save time, reduce freight costs and simplify day to day business. This agreement will strengthen the Christian Product supply chain and provide efficiencies that will benefit retailers in Canada.” — Pat Chown, partner, Foundation Distributing Inc.

“Anchor Distributors’ mission is to serve retailers by providing Christian and Inspirational resources to the market.  Anchor Word Alive and FDI share this mission and we’re working for a seamless transition. The 72 Hour Sale, 2 Day Sale and other sales and marketing programs will continue uninterrupted.” — Claire Prodger, partner, Foundation Distributing Inc.

“Bob Whitaker is a straightforward, forward-thinking person of integrity. There’s a common mission and purpose shared by the entire Whitaker, Anchor Word Alive team that made us confident this was the right path forward. This agreement is a progressive step for the Canadian market.” — Bob Wood, partner, Foundation Distributing Inc.

“Our customers in Canada are vital to the lifeline of our mission and business and this exciting change will allow us to continually improve to serve them better.” — Jeremy Braun, managing director for Canadian operations – Word Alive.

Anchor Word Alive Inc. is a Canadian subsidiary of Anchor Distributors (“Anchor”), which is a division of Whitaker Corporation established in 1970.

Store in Former Salem Location in Ottawa Staying Until Christmas

Last week we had an opportunity to visit Inspirational Value Centre, the store which Foundation placed in the former location of Salem Storehouse in Ottawa. In addition to books distributed by the company — albeit it nowhere near an exhaustive stocking of the entire catalogue — there was product from David C. Cook, HarperCollins and Book Depot. We took a few pictures for you…

View from the front desk looking at the video display.

View from the front desk looking at the video display. In the background are the upper and lower levels.

Because the Salem fixtures were sold off, displays were constructed from scratch for the pop-up store.

Because the Salem fixtures were sold off, displays were constructed from scratch for the pop-up, now semi-permanent store.

This is not a full-service bookstore, but features key products in mass displays

This is not a full-service bookstore, but features key products in mass displays. The CD and DVD selection is quite limited.

The upstairs section features books and Bibles but is dominated by fiction titles at 7.99

The upstairs section features books and Bibles but is dominated by fiction titles at 7.99

In the background is another card display similar to the one in the foreground. The picture is a bit blurry, guess I was shaking because I'd never seen so many cards in a single retail store!

In the background is another card display similar to the one in the foreground. The picture is a bit blurry; guess I was shaking because I’d never seen so much boxed card inventory in a single retail store!

I had another picture of the store as seen as you walk in but it didn’t work out. The store is a backsplit, the lower level is now all Children’s products, which I didn’t photograph. As stated in the video caption, for serious book buyers the inventory is extremely limited. With few other options, the Chapters locations in the National Capital Region currently fill the gap. Because it’s not a full service outlet and everything is mostly cash-and-carry, the wholesale division doesn’t benefit from the customer feedback you get in a normal retail environment, as Scripture Press did when it owned the chain of EP Bookshops in Toronto, in terms of the type of content customers are seeking. For me, that type of data would be a major win for a wholesale distributor. (Clarification: The store is now accepting custom orders; see the comments section.)

Generally however, given the constraints of the history and uncertainty as to long-term sustainability, I think this concept works, but I don’t know the sales numbers or the overhead costs. At what point have you exhausted customer interest in a limited number of SKUs? The front facings on shelves are very much the antithesis of my own store, which is all about having depth of material on various subjects.

I’ll be the first to admit the balance is probably found somewhere in the middle.



Foundation Opens Temporary, Pop-Up Store in Ottawa

December 1, 2015 2 comments
If you're a wholesale dealer wondering why your ITPEs of Agents of Babylon are on backorder, they're all in Ottawa.

If you’re a wholesale account of FDI wondering why your ITPEs of Agents of Babylon are on backorder, they’re all in Ottawa.

On November 7th, Inspirational Value Centre opened in the former Salem Storehouse location in Ottawa (Merivale Road near Meadowlands Dr.) The store is believed to be a venture of wholesale distributor Foundation Distributing of Orono, Ontario but may involve other partners.

Many Ottawans learned of the new store when the former Salem Facebook page was reactivated after being dormant since mid-February. Originally, word leaked out that this was a Christmas venture, but now we’re learning the store may stay until Easter. We were unable to find any online local media from Ottawa announcing the new venture.

Inspirational is not a full-service store however; there is no inventory control and there are no special orders. This is the “Stack ’em High” philosophy of retail in practice.

The Facebook page includes links to the Christmas catalogue (which would include merchandise from David C. Cook and HarperCollins) store pictures and sale announcements; along with a daily reading from Our Daily Bread.



October 10, 2014 1 comment

If any store doing the Christmas Joy catalogue is interested in an extra 500 unimprinted catalogues, please let me know as our staff are debating dropping the catalogue in view of the price changes.   

This is one of the ridiculous situations that emerges when Canada’s book prices are indexed to the U.S. dollar. Decades ago, literary agents (i.e. lawyers) forced this situation where Canada is a extension of the U.S. book market.

However, Canada is distinct where they choose not to give us U.S. SuperSaver items, while at the same time allowing us to have the foreign ITPE editions of key bestsellers, which to this writer, represents an admission that we are indeed a foreign market. 

Still, the production of an advertising flyer or catalogue creates an implied contract to provide the items to the dealer at the specified price. I think that would stand up in court. No judge would accept, “The U.S. dollar changed by one cent since we printed the catalogue and we can’t absorb the difference.” 

And why do the dealers take the hit? Should not the U.S. publishers be propping up the distributor in light of the benefit of being in the catalogue in the first place?

Furthermore, my order didn’t get placed until after the price change, but before the extra 1% discount was granted. And what’s with that? They upped the prices by 5% but only changed the discount by 1%.

When our staff finalizes a decision on Tuesday morning, I’ll be pushing for tossing the catalogues into recycling.


Foundation Distributing to Provide Thomas Nelson Fulfillment in Canada



As it turns out, the reference to a product discount on Thomas Nelson (TNI) product in the Foundation Distributing (FDI) restock offer for the new year, is not just referring to the handful of titles left over from the last 72-Hour flyer.  It’s referring to the entire Thomas Nelson line.

As many as 12,000 ISBNs.

The plan is that Canada Direct Group (CDG) will continue to do all the sales, marketing, promotion and publicity; but with Foundation shipping the goods from their expanded warehouse a half-hour east of Toronto.   Stores that wish to pursue direct-shipping from Nashville will also retain that option.

Being able to consolidate Nelson product with the rest of FDI’s lines — including Standard, Gospel Light, NavPress, Harvest House, etc. — is a win for stores.  Having the product in the country “on the ground” ready to ship is a win for TNI, after over two years of offering a couple of different direct-ship plans that tended to result in higher shipping costs to dealers.

A quick check at CBD confirmed about 6,100 TNI titles — even that will be a big step for FDI, but the company is fairly level-headed about expectations and tends to stock titles conservatively.  If they’re out of stock, turnaround times should not be much different than the current wait for international shipping.

It’s easy to understand why TNI didn’t elect to go this route two years ago following the bankruptcy of R. G. Mitchell; Nelson was the largest creditor with over $1M in receivables.  With those numbers, any publisher would have wanted to adopt a “once bitten, twice shy” attitude toward foreign distribution.

But Foundation, “the little distributor that could,” has stayed a steady course over the years and has certainly proven itself up to the task.  Its purchasing and expediting of orders is an efficient distribution model and once the web issues are resolved, you can expect much positive feedback from independent bookstores.

STL’s Position re Canada Raises Questions

January 10, 2011 1 comment


While STL has given Canadian stores a 30 day reprieve on its decision to short discount two very popular publisher lines, the necessity of the action raises a number of questions.  If their hands are tied by the publisher’s decision to place market restrictions — in this case discount restrictions — in place, the first consideration that must be addressed is:  Are Tyndale and Baker doing this on their own, or is there pressure from Foundation (FDI) and David C. Cook in Canada?

I have been in this business for 36 years, and I cannot imagine any reason why a distributor would go along with this bookkeeping nightmare.  Consider that STL receives a case of books from either Tyndale Publishing House or Baker Book Group.  As a distributor, it gets those books for 65% to 70% off.  (Independent publishers I spoke with confirmed STL drives a much harder bargain than Ingram.)  The books then enter the warehouse and STL’s profit is the difference between the cost price, and the wholesale price to retailers.  There are not separate books for domestic customers versus international customers.  There are not separate discounts for the books being sold to Canada or beyond versus those sold to stores within the United States.   It doesn’t work that way.

But the whole language of the explanation from STL’s VP is filled with language that makes no sense.   He says that the publishers in question — or at least the ones that have been mentioned so far; there may be others — would “no longer support our deeper discount to Canadian customers.”

What “deeper” discount is he talking about?  Canadian customers have had the same trade discount as U.S. customers.  The only “deeper” discounts have been on STL Publisher Services lines; discounts which made sense in terms of Authentic Media, since STL was both publisher and distributor; discounts that have been appreciated, but were never requested; discounts which applied to a very small number of titles actually purchased by Canadian stores.

He says, “We held out for as long as we could with little or no margin.”  Again, is the STL VP saying that its gross margin on books is adjusted for those copies it sells internationally?  How is this accomplished?  Do Tyndale and Baker do invoice adjustments based on STL’s declaration of shipping destinations? If there are separate product streams, why doesn’t STL stock ITP editions for the foreign market?

If the margin is too small; it’s too small domestically as well.   There’s one invoice price for each title, right?   Or is he saying there are several different invoice prices for each title? Wouldn’t that require different ISBNs, similar to how grocery stores have different UPCs for the same item sold in different chains?

And in light of all this, a last question:  What does it mean to say that  “all the rest of our vendors from which you have been receiving the 40% are continuing to support our Canadian efforts“?  Are NavPress or Broadman kicking in extra subsidies to STL each time they ship a book north of The 49th Parallel?  That would invoke the ire of FDI and Cook more than anything I can imagine.

And if this is not specifically about Canada; if STL is merely getting a lesser discount from Baker and Tyndale and feel it can’t do that in combination with other offers to Canadian stores; then change the Canadian free freight offer by all means; from 15 units ordered to 15 units shippable; or 20 units ordered; or 25.

Personally, I doubt that either Tyndale or Baker cared about the small quantities of individual titles that were shipping to Canada.  Despite the fact that Canada’s population is 10% of the U.S., Christian book titles — with a couple of notable exceptions — tend to do between 3% to 6% of their total volume here.  In a box of 36 trade paperbacks, we’re talking one or two copies per carton.

No, there’s something simply too fishy about all this.   Christian retailers are partners with distributors in getting books into homes, schools, workplaces and to extended families and institutions.  It’s time for the distributor to come clean and explain exactly how this incredibly complex accounting process works.

The above opinions are those of the author.

When Not To Exercise Your ‘Rights’ To A Particular Opportunity

This particular item has been 48 hours in coming.   Or maybe a couple of years.   I simply cannot not write this.

This article contains several challenges because the responses are going to include (a) ‘sounds like sour grapes,’ (b) ‘you seem to have a thing about that particular supplier,’ and (c) ‘you think the opportunity should have fallen to your business.’

Let me respond to (a) and (c) by saying that in the event the story had played out differently, I still have no reason to believe that our store would have been chosen; and respond to (b) by saying I think the story loses everything without some specifics.

At issue is a principle. The principle is this:  There are some things that other stores can do better than my store can do them.       In other words, there are opportunities I am prepared to pass on when I believe that the client — not to mention the Kingdom of God — would be better served if I simply passed the opportunity on to someone else.

We do this all the time with VBS.   We’re not a strong VBS store.   I no longer bother to track the suppliers and the various themes.   But 20 minutes to the west of us is a store that has proven itself worthy of handling this particular category.   So unless the customer has something very specific in mind, I simply refer everybody to Durham Christian Books in Bowmanville.

But there are some things I think we do well.   And that’s why it bothers me when stores an hour away take out yellow pages ads in our territory.

Here’s the story. One of our stores is located in the same town as the district office and summer camp location of this area’s branch of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC).   For the last two or three years, the opportunity of being the supplier for their camp bookstore has fallen to our nearest wholesale supplier, Foundation Distributing (FDI).

I am sure that this was one of those “somebody knew somebody” networking kind of things.    We’ve worked really hard over the last twenty years to build a relationship with the camp and the district office; and we’re there for them 12 months a year, not just the summer.   But you don’t always win every spin of the wheel, and they often go out of their way not to build relationships with local suppliers.

That’s not the issue.

The issue is based on the aforementioned principle:  Who can do the best job of supplying books, Bibles and music that Pentecostals want to read and listen to?

The answer is clear:  Not FDI.

For starters, their Bible sources are all ESV and NLT.   Pentecostals much prefer NKJV and NIV.     And the large metal easel highlighting the John Calvin commentary — not that Charismatics would never read Calvin — was just absolutely hilarious.

There’s a smattering of Karen Kingsbury fiction, but absent is FDI’s own best selling fiction title, the new Francine Rivers’ hardcover.   Actually, FDI has a handful of titles on the Christian Retailing top 100; all conspicuous by their absence.    But the rest of that top 100 is an impossibility for a wholesaler, though for an individual store it would be no problem.

More important however is that, irrespective of the top 100, you have to breathe in PAOC or Assemblies of God culture and know the things that such people want to read.   There were about 2,000 people at a concert there on Saturday and with exaggeration — and totally factoring in the concert artists’ sales would dominate transactions — I could easily do about $7 – $8,000 with a group that size and the right product.    I suspect that they actually did about 5% of that.

You just have to reach a point where you say; “Hey, we’d love to help you out but we can’t do the job as well as ____ or ____ can do it.”   You admit that the publishers you represent don’t represent Charismatic or Pentecostal interests.   You concede that you won’t be “on site” to replenish items as needed.  You confess that your system can’t make allowances for new titles releasing after the camp session has commenced.

Or you can try to own all the marbles.   (A compromise would be to farm out the contract to a retailer with the proviso that there is good representation of FDI merchandise.)

This year, a large one-day conference happened in our city for which we were offered the exclusive book sales rights.   Looking at the conference topic, and talking to people who registered, we realized that there was very little we could offer that would connect with the people who were scheduled to attend.

Instead, another retailer took the opportunity.   Frankly, they probably did no better than we would have, but they are from a small town and probably were grateful for every book they did sell.    We had the staff, we had the product, and we were close enough to incur no other expenses.    But it did not impress us that we should own this particular event.

We put principle over profit and allowed someone else to have the experience.   So I’m willing to allow that this works both ways.

My strongest, personal conviction is that the selection of merchandise available for sale at the Pentecostal Camp on Saturday represented everything you should not do if asked to provide sales at an event for Charismatic or PAOC people.  The wrong titles in the wrong place.  Trust me, if your store got this opportunity, the books and Bibles on display this weekend represent all the titles you would not choose.

It was, as my kids would say, an epic fail.

It’s not just that we could have done a better job.   It’s that our most junior employees could have done a better job with their hands tied behind their backs.

Just because somebody “knows somebody” is no reason to allow them to be the starting quarterback.   You recognize your strengths and limitations and place each opportunity into the hands of those capable of rising to the occasion.

If you are a wholesale publishers’ representative having only about 12% of the available products; then that’s a limitation that precludes any possibility of doing a decent job.

Canada’s Status as “International” Bookselling Territory Declines

I’m sure that for many a Canadian Christian bookstore, there have been times when the difference between a good day and a bad day hinged on the availability of International Trade Paperback Editions from Thomas Nelson, Zondervan and other Christian publishers.

Conversely, while I’m not given to physical violence, if I ever meet the first literary agent who changed the words “United States” to “United States and Canada” in contracts related to prices and royalties, I’m not sure that for my part, that meeting will be altogether peaceful.

In the former case, Canada is considered a “foreign” territory and is entitled to international paperbacks in lieu of the first edition hardbacks sold in the U.S.  Purpose Driven Life has always been a paperback here, as The Me I Want To Be and 66 Love Letters currently are as well.

But in the much more predominant — as in 95% of the time — second case, all Canadian pricing is in converted U.S. dollars, which means that in the past few weeks, prices on newly-arriving stock have been in flux daily.    Technically, even ITPEs from Thomas Nelson arrive priced in U.S. dollars which must then be converted.   We live in the constant tension between two currencies, and staff have to be conversant with both, and aware which one they are quoting to customers at any given moment.

This past weekend, I happened on the website for Australia’s large Christian retailer, Koorong, and did a number of category sorts by popularity.   On one, the number one title was the new Francine Rivers title, Her Mother’s Hope, clearly indicated as “Intl. Trade Paper.” Wait — What the fiction is going on?

Last night, after receiving confirmation that the Canadian distributor for Tyndale was aware of this situation, I went back to Koorong and tried Son of Hamas. Same deal.   I tried Heaven by Randy Alcorn which was ITPE here until a few months ago.    Still available as ITPE at Koorong.

So the question is, ‘Is this just a Tyndale thing, or is this the shape of things to come?’    If it’s the latter, I don’t think our Canadian Christian book industry can take another hit. I’ll prefer to think at this point that Foundation Distribution fought on behalf of us all and lost, because I can’t imagine a different scenario.

And to the geniuses at Tyndale who think this is a good idea, I’d like to remind you again that the Rivers title was showing at as number one title in the sort I did at Koorong; you’re not polling those kind of numbers of Canada.   Not in hardcover.

This is a very price-conscious market which is part of a retail culture that lies in an economic DMZ halfway between the British and the American book marketing models.   Publishers can help the industry here succeed, or they can do what Tyndale is doing and shoot the wounded.

Price Differential is Actually a “Subsidy” According to Globe & Mail

As a follower of the publishing industry, the Globe and Mail is about as good a source as you can get, but this editorial is phrased somewhat awkwardly to the point of misinformation.

The premise of the opinion piece is that the difference between retail prices in Canada and the U.S. not accounted for by currency fluctuation is actually the retail book consumer “subsidizing” the Canadian industry.

The writers then go on to say that if you remove the provision in the copyright act granting exclusive distribution to contracted rights-holders, you eliminate the subsidy and prices will get closer to the actual exchange rate.

Wrong.   While the distributors are free to use the difference to support the proliferation of their Canadian authored titles, some of it just boils down to additional shipping contingencies and the paper burden imposed on importers by Revenue Canada and Statistics Canada for items which are otherwise duty free.

Take away the Canadian distributors, and allow stores to buy direct — even as many “buy around” currently — and those individual stores would face the same, if not higher costs of importation.

Perhaps what they are terming “subsidy” has more to do with “profit” or even “opportunism.”

But there are limits to the Copyright Act’s authority as the article points out:

The Canadian-based publisher can charge up to 10 per cent more than the American price; if they charge more, then what the Copyright Act calls “parallel importation” is permitted – the same is true if a specific book is simply not being distributed.

In other words if the book says $14.99 US / $18.99 CAN above the bar code, and the Canadian distributor isn’t putting a sticker on top of that price with something closer to [Exchange Rate + 10%] then you can treat that title the same as one for which there is no Canadian distributor.

In our industry, some companies, like Thomas Nelson hold proprietary rights for Canada, but service orders from a U.S. base.   A letter from Baker Books originating shortly after the 2008 R. G. Mitchell receivership, clearly offered a choice between direct service and using the Canadian distributor and almost expressed a “we don’t care where you buy our books from, as long as you carry them” kind of attitude.

The two large Canadian Christian distributors, Foundation and David C. Cook, are quick to adjust pricing across the board when exchange rates move significantly, though this writer preferred the approach of R. G. Mitchell the last time around, where 50% became the normative trade discount.   Unfortunately, that generosity combined with already lower pricing (and, to be fair, many other factors) to contribute to their demise.

(And one distributor, Augsburg Fortress, applies the exchange rate conversion formula to its church supplies and giftware, a rarity in an industry where giftware prices are often locked in for years at a time.)

The article in the Globe also rightly points out that the Copyright Act is in place to protect the “cultural sovereignty” of Canada’s publishing industry, and therefore, with the recent Amazon decision, which is seen by some as an “overturning” of cultural protection, almost everything is now subject to renegotiation.

To read the Globe piece, link here.

The Cats Are All Away

It’s a quiet day online today, as a good many Canadian retailers are experiencing the Foundation Distributing (FDI) annual warehouse event.

With the exception of this year, I’ve been invited to these events annually — they are actually a continuation of the annual warehouse sales at R. G. Mitchell, where the FDI founders worked previously — but as a dealer set us straight this week, I’ve just realized I didn’t fully understand how this event works.

Basically, buyers from FDI’s major accounts are flown in from various places across the country and given accommodation and are presented with an opportunity to roam the warehouse and place a stock order.

But one of the main draws is that all year long FDI collects publisher overstock, remainders and hurt books which store buyers physically remove from displays and fill up shopping carts with everything from giftware to books to Bibles.    (For weeks now, FDI staffers have been separating some nice leather Bibles from their boxes for this event, but that’s another story.)

At the same time, not-so-major-account Ontario stores within driving distance also are invited to the event which fills out the numbers a bit more, and creates more of a buying frenzy.

It’s well organized; you get to meet dealers from other stores; and they serve a nice lunch.

At least, that’s how I thought it worked.

This week a dealer set us straight.

The one-day event that we know as “A Day in the Country” is actually a two-day event which presumably operates under another name for the chosen few.   It actually started yesterday.   I have absolutely no idea what happens the first day.   We’re told that no one has prior access to the large collection of remainders and overstock, though in the past, by the time we’ve arrived — as early as 8:30 AM on the Wednesday — there are already huge boxes of product which have been pre-selected by those major accounts.

So it’s really a two-tiered event.

Not exactly.

Last year, we attended the second day — the only one we’re invited to — when presumably we were picking through what was left of the bargain product, only to have a FDI staffer tell us that we were “not eligible” to purchase the three dozen NLT Bibles we’d selected.   He then removed them from our shopping cart.

Suddenly it was appearing to be a three-tiered event, and we were on the lowest tier.   Sigh!

An hour later, I happened to meet one of the principals of FDI and mentioned that this was rather humiliating, and he walked me back to that area and told me there was no such restriction.

There were still about twelve of the Bibles left, we did in fact get them, and months later customers started returning them.   They have serious binding issues.   (I’m looking for a source for the glue used by book binders, if anyone knows.)

Bottom line:  We attended this event for many years and really enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the company of other dealers, got some good bargains for our store and had a nice lunch.    But last year, we decided to leave before the lunch began.   We were made very conscious of the fact we were in the bottom tier of accounts shopping the sale.

But that doesn’t mean that anyone should assume that this is an industry that will ever stop giving the big guys a break.   The bargain inventory at Book Depot for example, has already been pre-shopped by some key accounts who are tipped off about “sorting days” for key publisher product  before the leftover product is posted online.   Others receive advance lists of product before it is announced online.

One Christian book dealer described it to me this way, “The owners are Dutch and we’re Dutch and we work together.”   Guess I was born in the wrong country.

No one likes to attend a party they weren’t invited to, and no Christian bookstore owner should ever be made to feel second rate. And nobody should ever have to suffer the humiliation of having merchandise removed from a cart (physical or online) because they don’t meet eligibility requirements.

Frankly, I honestly believe it takes more “smarts” to operate a Christian bookstore in a smaller market than it does in a major metropolis, where the sheer volume of people passing through helps to cover all your mistakes.

To those of you who were flown in for the event, I’m sure you got some deals and had a good time.   Much has been given to you.  Enjoy it.  Be grateful.  It is not so for some of us.

One Year Anniversary of R. G. Mitchell Bankruptcy

September 15, 2009 4 comments

R. G. MitchellIt didn’t shake the world like September 11th, 2001; but September 15th, 2008 left some Canadian Christian retailers remembering where they were when they heard the news.

Following the bankruptcy of Blessings — the largest chain in the country — and the closure of CMC — the largest Christian music distributor in Canada — came the sudden closing of both R. G. Mitchell wholesale and the eight stores of Mitchell Family Books.   Around the same time came word the largest individual store in the country, Christian Publications in Calgary, would close its doors and those of two of its three satellite locations.

mitchell logoThe Mitchell situation sent U.S. publishers scrambling to find new distribution arrangements while at the same time reeling from losses that would never be recovered, many of them six-figure losses and one which was seven figures; and at the same time dealing with a domestic economy that was in deep recession.    It also left many people who had lived and breathed the Christian book industry out of work, only a handful of whom found employment in other facets of Christian book retail and distribution.

The liquidation process took about eighteen weeks and while some retailers were able to take advantage of the situation, others either could not or chose not to.    In addition to publishers, all types of companies and individuals contracted to do business with RGM also took a loss; though oddly, many of the smaller suppliers to the Canadian industry were not on the receiver’s list because RGM’s retail stores didn’t do business with them.

Only one of the former Mitchell Family Books retail stores performs the same function today, re-christened as Michael’s Family Books in Pickering.   But many feel the new Faith Family Books in Scarborough is a resurrection of the MFB flagship store in Willowdale, albeit with an entirely different retail philosophy.    The western part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been the hardest hit, as events took place in an economic climate that wasn’t conducive to retail startup.

This writer was offered the Kingston store by the receiver, but the facility was just too large to maintain business viability in shifting times.   Currently, the entire city of Kingston is served by a small outlet with a history of sales to the liturgical church market.

The publishers who struck new arrangements tended to do so along doctrinal lines.   It wasn’t surprising to see Baker/Bethany go to David C. Cook where Bethany had been before, along with doctrinally conservative Moody, Kregel and Broadman.   Westminster JohnKnox Press and Abingdon are a good fit for historically Lutheran Augsburg-Fortress Canada who traded Concordia with Foundation’s Multnomah/Waterbrook.    Foundation picked up Harvest House, NavPress, Tyndale and Gospel Light; but both they and Cook jettisoned smaller lines in order to take on these larger ones.

HarperCollins Canada appeared to sit on the sidelines watching the whole thing unfold from a distance, even though they have a history of negotiating beyond the U.S. Collins family, and have what sometimes appears to be infinite warehouse capacity.

Thomas Nelson decided to go it alone, servicing the Canadian market the way STL and Ingram do, with direct shipping from Nashville.   TNI took the greatest hit on the RGM closure and probably once so bitten, is now twice shy.

Some say that the division of the old RGM product lines leaves us with a healthier, more balanced wholesale market in Canada.   Others miss the streamlining of one-stop shopping that existed before — forgetting of course that Foundation and Cook and Augsburg already had other important lines.

There is no doubt however that the current situation leaves Cook as the dominant player in the Canadian market, but that was fairly well decided on September 1st, 2008 with the CMC acquisition.

Canadian retailers:  What are your thoughts one year later?