Thursday, March 26, 2009

ArgentVine in administration

I was shocked and saddened the other day to read that ArgentVine, the parent company of Internet based retailer BookRabbit, which showed such potential, and Methvens stores has gone into administration. If a buyer cannot be found, then it will be a very sad day for the book world.

Methvens, who have just two branches in Chertsey and Worthing, are quite possibly the best most self publisher friendly company I have had the pleasure of dealing with. The Managers of both stores have been an absolute joy to work with, always there and willing to talk and not demanding ridiculous terms. When the chips were down for me and I was faced with the threat of a large batch of returns, both stores went out of their way to order extra copies when they didn't need to, in order to help me out. I have not forgotten that.

Reports began to circulate regarding the administration on Monday when Paul Appleton and Henry Lan of David Rubin and Partners were appointed as administrators. A spokesperson for ArgentVive said it had explored various refinancing opportunities over recent months, but having carefully considered the financial position and prospects of the company decided to bring in the administrators.

former employee at the Worthing store James Pearson, writes on the Bookseller that the staff were informed four days before payday that their wages for March would not be paid. It was then explained that they could not start redundancy proceedings or register as unemployed because officially they were still employees of Retail8, as a subsidiary of Argent Vine. The staff were effectively thrown into the street and left in financial limbo. As someone who has been in very similar situations myself, they have my deepest sympathy. This could not have come at a worse time, as James writes that several staff members have young families and one was about to start maternity leave.

While it is true that trouble had been brewing within the company for a while, nevertheless, when something like this happens, there is a sense of almost total disbelief. I cannot speak for Chertsey, but the Worthing branch is a viable business, which has always been profitable. Last year it was voted as number 11 in the Independent's UK Top 50 Bookshops. If a buyer cannot be found, it will be sad loss for the people of Worthing.

The problems seem to have begun because when the company began to concentrate on the Internet arm of the business, determined as James puts it, to become the new Amazon. That was never going to happen. Profits from the stores were diverted to Argent Vine and used to start BookRabbit which sadly was not the success it could have been.

It has since emerged that independent bookshop business Chenwick Ltd is negotiating with the administrators to buy the Worthing store. In the meantime, the former staff at the Worthing store have started a Facebook group "Save Methvens Worthing", which now has more than 202 members.

I wish them well.