Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Christian values - what values?

I see from The Bookseller that troubled Christian book seller SSPK (St Stephen the Great) has closed two of its branches - in Canterbury and Cambridge, albiet temporarily. Chairman Mark Brewer told The Bookseller that the company has had to carry out “cost cutting” in order to safeguard the rest of the chain. “As we move into the second month of 2008, some of the SSG bookshops have experienced the same reduced footfall and sales as most every other bookseller and high street retailer,” he said. “In some of our locations for the good of the overall chain, we have had to take the decision of cost-cutting. We have temporarily closed Canterbury and Cambridge and intend to reopen both after re-fitting and re-stocking these shops. We have other locations slated either for reduced operating hours, temporary closure or permanent closure.” Rumour has it that Worcester and Bradford may be next in line, although Brewer was unable to confirm that.

As previously reported on this blog, and no doubt countless other sites, brothers Phil and Mark Brewer took control of the business in 2006, changing the chain's identify from a more liberal agenda to a decidedly orthordox one, and managing to antagonise most of their staff in the process. Since then they have faced resignations from many of their branches - in some cases with the entire staff walking out, and from what I understand, people are not exactly queuing up to fill these vacancies. I wonder why that could be? Could it be something to do with the fact that these orthordox Christian values have been largely rejected by the general populace as not relevant to every day life, and what I ask myself, can the two brothers learn from this tale of woe - to use the carrot perhaps instead of the stick? Until they learn this, then I fear that nothing will change, and I for one would not be surprised if we are reading about the chain's demise before too long.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A quiet weekend

There does' nt seem to be much happening in the book world at the moment. I guess like other types of retailers, book stores hit a bit of a lull at this time of year as people get their post Christmas credit card statements. Thankfully mine was not too large, although next month I have to pay the balance on my summer trip to Lundy.

The only thing worth mentioning of any note (and even that is doubtful) is the fact that Waterstones are introducing a new uniform policy for all staff (in stores of course and not Head Office) in order to encourage them to 'get selling'. Staff, who it has to be said do not seem enamoured with the proposal, will be offered a choice of black T shirt, button down shirt, fleece or sweatshirt, with the Waterstones branding on the front and back.

Personally I don't see what all the fuss is about - after all, all other retailers make their staff wear a uniform, so why should Waterstones be any different? It makes sense to me as it helps potential buyers know who works there and who does not, so that they know who to approach when and if they need help - that to me is what retail is all about. No one in retail particularly likes having to wear a uniform, not because it is uniform, but nine times out of ten, because it is impractical, uncomfortable and unflattering. My uniform is not too bad, even though a size 10 blouse is more like a size 6, and a size 14 like a 10 .... but thankfully we provide our own trousers and skirts. Otherwise it would be a nightmare for short (or for that matter tall) people like me who just would not be able to get their uniform to look good. Waterstones staff don't realise how lucky they are to be given a choice of four different styles of top that they can wear, most retail staff would love to have this opportunity and this level of choice.

Talking of Waterstones, a conversation with the Manager of Truro on Thursday was interesting, as he explained to me the difference between what they term model and core stock. Model stock (which is what he has placed my book on) is when the book is automatically re-ordered in a a given branch when stock levels become depleted, or fall below a certain number set by that store. Core stock on the other hand is stock which is supplied by Head Office, and has I believe around 7 different tiers ranging from a-g. A level a book would have to be stocked by 100 percent of stores, a level b by 90 percent and so on. Level g whatever that is, would be very nice indeed for my book, and is definately something to aim for. Mind you, my book is already available in at least a third of their stores anyway, the difference being of course tha they have chosen to stock it, and can also reject it if sales do not go well.

As time goes on however - it is almost 6 months now since it was placed on sale or return, and now I know how to find out which stores have stock and which do not, it would be fair to assume that the stores that do continue to hold stock must be the ones that it is selling well in. The numbers in stock continue to fall - they are down again from 121 on Thursday to 117 tonight, so it must be selling somewhere. Two of those copies will have gone to Truro, but the other 2 must be re-orders from stores which have sold copies, so that means at least 2 more through the tills in 3 days, which can't be bad. It is then only a matter of time before this book does become core stock and starts to get noticed.

Sadly though I will not have much time for making calls this week, as on Thursday I am off to my beloved Lundy for another blissful week of long and exhilerating walks in the blustery winter conditions that I love so much. Although it will be cold, I find that this is one of the best times to visit the island, since it is gloriously quiet, the days are just beginning to lengthen and the light is just perfect for trying out my new digital camera.

I am going across on the helicopter then on Friday morning, but driving down as usual the night before. This time I am staying at the Travelodge in Tiverton, which is a 3 1/2 hour drive away form home, and so not too bad. This means that I can afford to leave a little later in the day and so it will hopefully give me the opportunity to make a few calls first thing on Thursday before hitting the gym and then the motorway.