STL Distribution makes 30 redundant

STL Distribution makes 30 redundant

Christian book wholesaler STL Distribution is cutting a quarter of its 124-strong workforce following poor sales.

The Carlisle-based company said 30 positions will be affected, with only around 5% of employees opting for voluntary redundancy. The business has now entered into a period of consultation with staff after a year in which the c.e.o. of John Ritchie, Ken Munro, described revenues for 2010 as "less than planned". John Ritchie bought the distribution arm of IBS-STL, which used to own Wesley Owen Bookshops, after it folded in December 2009.

Munro said he wanted the company to restructure and focus on "aligning its business and competencies to a rapidly re-shaping industry landscape". He said: "It has become apparent during 2010 that the trade in which we operate is experiencing a period of very significant transition.

"A combination of a continued decline in overall high street sales, the proliferation of internet traders and the rapid evolution and implementation of new technologies have driven unprecedented change, challenges and opportunities within our sector."

The company will now focus on developing a new structure, which it hopes will provide better customer service and more efficient partnerships with suppliers.

The redundancies were announced in the same week that Christian retailer Living Oasis confirmed five of its 19 bookshops were closing. The doors of Living Oasis stores in Aberdeen, Inverness and Sutton have shut with Bedford and Belfast soon to follow.

The closures equate to around 20 redundancies, with further closures depending on the result of "dialogue" between Living Oasis and church leaders in the coming weeks.  Living Oasis is now concentrating on developing its stores to "phase two", which involves combining the bookshops with a café, a venue for community group meetings and holding late-night openings.

Eddie Olliffe, former managing director of Wesley Owen Bookshops, said that the Christian bookselling trade was facing the same challenges as the wider book market, including competition from Christian online retailer Eden.co.uk, which he said is driving sales away from high street Christian bookshops.

"The damage to publishers is not inconsiderable, but the real impact of the closures is on the morale of Christian booksellers, and the concern that the loss of a Christian bookseller on the high street means the Christian impact will diminish."  

Mark Clifford, chairman of the Christian Booksellers Group of the Booksellers Association, and owner of Sarum Books in Salisbury, said membership of the group was growing and now stood at around 450 members.

Gifford said: "It is hard work at the moment, but that is true of most shops. We are working with the BA's IndieBound initiative, and we are looking at how we can work with concepts like Gardners' Hive website, which would help Christian booksellers tap into the online market. I think Christian bookshops have to find ways to adapt in a changing market."