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From Dream to Nightmare to – where do we go from here? November 19, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in News.
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It seems only a short while ago that I posted about daring to dream. But sometimes dreams turn to nightmares and the whole world comes crashing in.

It’s not my dream I’m talking about this time: it’s the hopes and dreams of my friends and colleagues in the Christian book trade, particularly those working for STL, Wesley Owen and Authentic Media. Because everything fell apart around their ears this week as their parent company, Biblica, decided to pull the plug on their UK operations.

The announcement was made on Monday and you can read it in full over on the UKCBD blog as well as a whole host of other places including Christian Marketplace, the Church Times blog and STL’s own blog. It’s a sad story of incompetence in high places as some buffoons — they called them “IT consultants” — took STL UK on a one-way journey into a new software system called SAP back in October last year. Unfortunately it didn’t work and everything went pear-shaped in the warehouses, shops weren’t being supplied with goods, customers walked away and cash flow trickled down to … well, not quite zilch, but to the point where they couldn’t pay their suppliers so their suppliers stopped supplying which meant more bookshops weren’t being supplied … and I think you can see where this is going. Very, very sad: add a downturn in the economy and crunch, down comes the entire edifice.

The plan  is to find a buyer “within the next few weeks”, otherwise things start closing down. Unpleasant for all concerned, to put it mildly.

I’m spearheading a blog campaign to stage a trade/community buyout which has generated a certain amount of interest, but whether or not the level of interest will be sufficient remains to be seen. At the moment I’m waiting for the latest accounts and financial reports from the company, which I requested on Tuesday. No response yet from either Biblica or Baker Tilly, the company contracted to handle negotiations.

So time will tell. We watch and wait. Please pray, please take a look at the discussions so far, throw in your own ideas, pray some more, think about whether or not you’d like to become part of a buyers’ consortium — let me know as soon as possible if so, please — then pray some more.

Some interesting ideas over at Clayboy’s place: head across and throw in your own thoughts there too, please; and watch this space…


1. Valiant for Truth - November 19, 2009

I think that some idea of possibilities will arise when you get those financial details as I fear we are talking about colossal costs beyond the dreams of us mere mortals. So come on, let Phil have the costs so we can all see whether the tunnel has any light at the end of it.

2. Noah Flood - November 19, 2009

No doubt Phil means well, but the reality of STL’s liabilities will dwarf any amount a consortium will be able to put together. And even if a significant amount could be raised, who will run the show? How will it be maintained? What could possibly draw back those publishing companies who, even now, are emptying STL’s warehouse of their stock.

Sad to say, but for STL the end is truly nigh.

Phil Groom - November 23, 2009

All good questions, Noah: thank you.

My vision would be for it to be run by a democratic board drawn from amongst the investors and answerable to their fellow investors: a genuine shared ownership company operated by Christian publishers and retailers working together.

As for the publishers pulling their stock: if you have a list of who those are (I know about Kingsway and one other for certain) that would be very helpful, please. My hope would be that they would be drawn back in as co-owners of the operation.

Impossible? I think that’s exactly what people would have said to your namesake when he was trying to get all those animals into his ark…

3. jimbo - November 21, 2009

Theres always the option for Biblica (a Colorado-registered company) to cherry pick remnants of IBS-STL (a UK registered company) if it goes into administration. They might not be able to rescue the retail division, but the distribution division is profitable. They’d not have to take on the bank debts and shop leases that IBS-STL UK can no longer service but keep the bits that make up the ‘sustainable business’.

Phil Groom - November 23, 2009

Thanks jimbo – it does look as though that might be part of what Biblica has in mind. I guess you’ve seen David Young’s comment in the Civil Society report:

Young said that if buyers are not found for all parts of the business, Biblica may step in and buy the rest, but “ultimately IBS-STL UK will be wound up”


4. STL UK Crisis: Reports roundup and further reflections « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog - November 22, 2009

[…] From Dream to Nightmare to – where do we go from here? Phil’s Boring Blog, 19/11/2009 […]

5. C Parks - November 23, 2009

Hi Phil. I have read your clear and insightful comments on this and other blogs. You have conducted yourself with grace and your intentions are clearly good. As an ex-STL employee I have huge sympathy with the people at STL for this failure which follows what must be the hardest year’s work they have ever done in their lives struggling to make a failing system keep up.

Some of the management within STL were narrow minded, bigoted and operated the company on what felt like Stalinist principles. It is not suprising to see that in part this is what as caught up with them. It was an extremely unpleasent place to work. To this end I do hope that some scheme (like yours) can be found to continue the operations in Carlisle and further afield with a changed management team. I believe there is much more to this story than a failed IT system.

Phil Groom - November 23, 2009

Sadly, C, I think you’re right: there’s much more to the story than that IT system — but it gives them somewhere to peg the blame…

What you say about management — and I guess it’s senior management you have in mind — doesn’t surprise me. I know blog commenting is frowned upon, which doesn’t exactly encourage freedom of speech in the workforce.

Whether or not a trade/community buyout (or series of buyouts, breaking the megalith up) will even be considered by the powers-that-be remains to be seen. I am still awaiting a reply from Keith Danby and Baker & Tilly to my initial enquiry…

C Parks - November 23, 2009

Phil I think if someone with your tennacity, commitment and warmth of spirit had been involved earlier (sepcifically 18 months earlier) it would not have come to this. Reading my own message just now it read like sour grapes even to me! Thank you for responding in your usual civil manner.

Phil Groom - November 23, 2009

C, sometimes the best thing to do with sour grapes is to spit them out; well, either that or make vinegar…

Somehow, I think even Jesus himself might have found things at STL tad challenging recently so whether or not anyone else could have made a difference remains a matter of speculation: people like me are but voices crying out in the blogosphere. Appreciate the vote of confidence, though!

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