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Wesley Owen and the Mystery of the Missing Bookshop December 22, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Bookshop Ramblings, Knockabout.
Tags: , ,

Yesterday evening I decided I’d better get on with updating UKCBD with details of the new shop ownerships that have emerged over the last few days. It proved a tad more complicated than I’d expected because, despite counting and re-counting, I couldn’t get the list of branches to tally.

Here’s where I’ve got to:

Branches in Administration
(or status uncertain)
South Woodford
Branches Taken Over
by CLC

Branches Taken Over
by Koorong


Looks fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Until you start counting … and discover not 40 but 41 branches, not 26 but 27 either in administration or status uncertain (I say ‘status uncertain’ advisedly because one, presumably, isn’t in administration).

I went back to the press releases, to November and yesterday: definitely 40 branches, 14 sold and 26 remaining — evidently, I’d miscounted: Biblica’s senior management surely know how many branches of Wesley Owen they’ve been trying to dispose of.

I checked my copy of the Booksellers Association Directory of Members: 41 branches there too. Must be out of date, even though the online version concurs (screenshot of search result). Where better to check, then, than Wesley Owen’s own shop finder? Alas, too late: they’d beat me to it and removed all the non-Koorang acquired branches. No worries, mate: Google cache to the rescue – as cached 11th Dec 2009 (pdf, 258kb):

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

Wesley Owen Store Finder, as at 11 Dec 2009

With apologies to the good folks from Oz, but tie me kangaroo down, sport — would you look at that: 41 branches!

So if there’s anyone out there who can tell me which of the 27 remaining branches has somehow quietly disappeared during the last couple of weeks, please, I’d be most grateful so that I can update my records…

Now, what was that someone said about getting the facts right?? In all seriousness: is it any wonder that an organisation that can’t keep track of its own shops can’t manage its finances?

Of course, I could be wrong: maybe a branch really did close down and we all managed to miss it, in which case I apologise to the branch staff concerned for not updating UKCBD at the time… but in the meantime: don’t tell the administrators: someone might be about to acquire a shop free of charge!


1. Spoiler of Mysteries - December 22, 2009

Simple answer: The Woking branch is (was) a franchise – thus it is neither sold, nor in administration. It will (presumably) remain an independant business.
See here:

Phil Groom - December 22, 2009

Hmmm… I wonder if anyone from Biblica/IBS-STL has had the decency to let them know they’re not a Wesley Owen franchise anymore?

Thanks: I’ll amend my records accordingly … later today, hopefully…

2. Mark - December 22, 2009


Much as I appreciate your blogging on this subject, this is starting to get a bit tedious.

Surely there are enough genuine issues at STL deserving of your constructive criticism without resorting to making things up? And to then use your own inability to get the facts right as an excuse for another sideswipe in the comments just makes you look silly.

I’m as affected by the STL/WO saga as anyone (we started talking to Baker Tilly this morning with a view to recovering a debt that may or may not see me get paid this month), and your blogs have provided both information and valuable food for thought over the last couple of months. Please don’t clutter them up with this kind of non-story!

Phil Groom - December 22, 2009

Thanks Mark. Unfortunately, this isn’t a non-story: it’s a question of getting the facts right, a question of real people’s livelihoods on the line; and there’s certainly nothing I’ve posted here that’s been made up.

The facts are: Wesley Owen listed 41 branches; there was nothing on their website to indicate that one had a completely different business relationship with Biblica/STL than any other; and that information — information I need to keep UKCBD up to date — had never been communicated to me.

Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has a list of the abandoned branches been published elsewhere. Instead, they’ve simply been wiped off the map — and that, putting it bluntly, stinks to high heaven. That alone makes this a real story and a story worth telling.

Mark - December 23, 2009

Hi Phil,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I hear what you’re saying and share your sentiments (not as eloquently though, which is why you blog and I merely comment!) I also admit that the franchise status of WO Woking isn’t obvious to anyone who doesn’t deal with the shop directly.

There’s just something about the way your original post is written that makes me uneasy. If it’s just a request for information for UKCBD, why is is so heavily laced with sarcasm and questionable Australianisms? And was it really necessary to bang the same old drum when you knew full well that in this instance there was almost certainly a simple explanation? Maybe it’s a style thing, maybe it’s me not getting your sense of humour, but it just reads as though you’ve given up contructive criticism and are now scrabbling around for opportunities to mock. Say it ain’t so…?

Phil Groom - December 23, 2009

Thanks for coming back, Mark. I guess I need to clarify that this is my personal blog: I do take liberties here that I wouldn’t on the UKCBD blog, and this was deliberately written as a semi-humourous aside (you may not have noticed it’s posted under Knockabout, a category that we’ve used more than a few times over on the SPCK/SSG blog).

So, if you’ll forgive me continuing with the dubious Australianisms, no worries: I’m not “scrabbling around for opportunities to mock” but was attempting (and evidently failing) to inject a bit of humour into the situation in an attempt to highlight a serious issue.

And on that serious note, I am truly sorry for any offence this post may have caused to those such as yourself who are paying the price for this debacle. My target, however, was your former lords and masters at Biblica: I remain extremely angry with them for the way they have treated you and your colleagues, and I think it would be remiss of me not to give voice to that…

3. Paul - December 22, 2009

Just popped into the Woking branch to offer support (and a big box of chocs) and they mentioned the franchise nature of their relationship and that they were looking to possibly change names and rebrand. We’ll see but I do hope things work out well for them and for all of the stores and staff.

Personally I’m grateful for the fact that Phil (and Dave) have put so much effort into chasing down all of the ins and outs of this and the SPCK scenario. Both need the light of truth shone in, both need to be fully accountable to the church and both need to be encouraged to re-reach for the highest of standards.

4. Mel - December 22, 2009

Thanks for that Phil, I too was wondering about the missing 1.

I note the WO website has an announcement from Koorong – it looks like its 10% off anglican resources, but actually thats a different link altogether, so it might be as well if they removed the hyphen!

I wish Koorong all the best and welcome them to the field of retail and mission we all serve, I am particularly grateful for the jobs they have saved, especially as a number of those jobs belong to people I count as friends.

I am at the same time personally saddened as a number of the jobs not saved also belong to people I count as friends. So I did find it interesting that given 26 branches of WO are now in administration and the livelihoods of those staff in serious question that in the announcement from Koorong they say (capitalisations are mine)…
‘The next few months will be busy as we settle into our new role in the UK and join with the staff and management to CONTINUE AND EXPAND THIS HIGH STREET CHRISTIAN MINISTRY and web store wesleyowen.com.’

Don’t get me wrong I am sure we all want to continue and expand our high street christian ministry – indeed I know I do, and I know I want others to rise up in cities and area’s where there is no local presence (though to be fair I do prefer the idea of small collectives or indie shops – chains these days just don’t seem to work so well and I thoroughly espouse the idea of Go Local to Go Global for healthier local and global communities and economies), so maybe I am just being a little fussy here, but there’s just something to my mind a little off about this statement in light of 26 shops across the country being put into administration and potentially closed down.

I guess being honest that probably for me it is because they are retaining the WO name and branding that this feels a little more insensitive than it is meant.

5. To all this blog’s friends and supporters, with best wishes for Christmas and the coming year « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog - December 24, 2009

[…] our trade over the past year or so … the future remains uncertain, especially for those 26 (0r 27?) shops and their staff for whom there was no room at the Biblica inn and now unceremoniously wiped […]

6. To all this blog’s friends and supporters, with best wishes for Christmas and the coming year (cross posted) « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info - December 24, 2009

[…] our trade over the past year or so … the future remains uncertain, especially for those 26 (0r 27?) shops and their staff for whom there was no room at the Biblica inn and now unceremoniously wiped […]

7. Wesley Owen: 27 Christian Bookshops Wiped Off the Map « UKCBD: The Christian Bookshops Blog - December 27, 2009

[…] December 27, 2009 Wesley Owen: 27 Christian Bookshops Wiped Off the Map Posted by Phil Groom under Bookshop Ramblings, Christian Bookshops | Tags: Biblica, Christian Bookshops, IBS-STL UK, Koorong, Wesley Owen | Leave a Comment  Now you see them, now you don’t: Christmas is over and 27 Christian bookshops have been unceremoniously wiped off the map. Officially only 26 shops have vanished: Biblica/IBS-STL UK operated 40 branches of Wesley Owen, of which 14 have been saved by Koorong and CLC. The figure of 27 derives from the 41 branches previously listed by Wesley Owen, of which the odd one out was Woking, run as a franchise (h/t ‘Spoiler of Mysteries’). […]

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