Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Trouble in paradise?

Continuing on from the religious theme, the Bookseller website today carries another tale of woe regarding the troubled Christian book selling chain formerly known and owned by SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge). The chain was taken over by the SSG (St Stephen the Great), a more orthodox Christian charity last year, headed by Mark and Phil Brewer, and the stores subsequently renamed to reflect this change. The changes were apparently made in order to reflect what they term as 'traditional Christian values'. Exactly what this means is not made clear.

Whatever it does mean though, it is clear that the company's staff are far from happy, as an insider claimed in November of this year that since the Brewers had taken control of the chain, more than 100 staff had left. Carole Burrows who managed the Durham shop left at the end of October, and earlier that month 11 staff simultaneously walked from the Exeter store. The latest casualties are Newcastle and Truro, where both Managers are due to leave on Christmas Eve. 4 book sellers have simultaneously announced their own departure from the Truro store on the same date.

Mark Brewer acknowledges that the company has staffing problems, but says this is no more than what one would expect. He states in a typical head in sand stance, that it is important that the company's employees are supportive of the charity's aims and devoted to supporting its work, since this is not just a job, but a mission. He went on to say that the shops are like the talents the Lord spoke of in the parables, and to earn His favour as 'good and faithful servants' we must invest these talents for His glory.

It is clear that these two men just do not get it, as the fact that so many staff have resigned and that church attendance as a whole has fallen in the last decade signifies to me that these so called traditional Christian values just do not work, and are not seen as important in the lives of a) those who work for the company and b) those in mainstream society.

The former Manager of the Leicester branch had the right idea when he bought the store from the Brewers earlier this year, renaming it as Christian Resources - this is one that I shall certainly be contacting myself in the New Year to see if they may be interested in stocking my own book.

Leicester is after all a interfaith and multi cultural city (more Muslim in fact than anything else these days) and the range of books stocked needs to reflect that. Rather than stocking exclusively Christian items and books, the new store then stocks books from a variety of different faiths and belief systems, including Anglican, Methodist and Afro-Caribbean churches. It also sells books direct to churches on a sale or return basis so that they can sell them in church events and stalls etc, which certainly makes sense to me. It is nice to know that someone within the 'faith' movement has some (common sense that is).

On a personal note, I have not had the same amount of time to write this blog since I started back at work. It is only a part time job, but it has still meant a lot of adjustment, since it is more than two years since I had a permanent job like this. The money and the stimulation were desperately needed, but even so, it has not been easy rushing straight home and changing from corporate saleswoman back to book saleswoman in the five minutes it takes me to dump my bag and change out of my uniform.

The fact that the other new person, a full timer who started a week after I did, did one days work and has not turned up since has not helped matters, especially since the man that he was supposed to replace is due to leave at the end of the week. Fortunately he has agreed to stay on for a few more weeks on a part time basis to cover days off, or otherwise they would be really stuck, as all they would have had would be me, the Manager and his new deputy, together with 2 weekend staff. As it is I have to work all day on Monday so that the Manager can have a day off and his deputy will not be on his own in the shop all day.

They have tried everything they can do to get hold of this chap who has left, but to no avail. All they need is for him to simply tell them that he is not coming back, but he won't do that, and under company rules they have to give him three weeks absence before they can even begin advertising for someone else. I think this absolutely stinks myself, but that's the way it is.

I suppose having to possibly work full time over the next week or so will not affect my book promotion plans too much though, since it is getting to the point now where the shops are becoming too busy to call anyway, so I have to look at this philosophically and just think of the extra money, which I must admit will come in handy. I have managed to get the book now into well over 100 Waterstones and although I will continue to call until the end of this week, anyone that I cannot now get through to will have to bookmarked for a call in the New Year after Christmas. Until then, I shall just hold my breath and pray that the books are not all sent back in the New Year - one would hope that they would give them at least 6 months to try and sell, but in the book selling business shelf space is money and anything can happen.


rosamundi said...

Mark Brewer acknowledges that the company has staffing problems, but says this is no more than what one would expect.

This is not strictly true. The staffing problems were caused largely by trying to make the staff sign illegal contracts, expecting the staff of the bookshops to clean other Trust properties (such as churches) without pay, to ignore that Commandment about "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns."

Anonymous said...

Hi June

I did a detailed comment, but your blog ate it.

Briefly, your statement:

>(more Muslim in fact than anything else these days)

is wrong. Leicester has roughly 40k Hindus, 30k Muslims, 130-140k Christians according to the 2001 census.

You can mess around with those figures by speculating on "attendance" rates, but no one has localised data on that.

What was your source?

Matt Wardman

June said...

I stand corrected on both counts, and in fairness the information re SSG would only have been known by an employee (or former) which I can only assume that Rosamundi is.

As the Leicester figures, from the people that I have met in my various jobs and other travels I have just observed that many Muslims seem to have family in Leicester, so that is why I thought the city was predominantly of that faith. I stand corrected though and thank my anonymous reader from pointing it out as always !

Anonymous said...


Staff also walked out from the York shop, and all the replacement staff at Exeter walked out. And no the Brewer's haven't mentioned this as a problem either.