Category Archives: Uncategorized

Waterstone’s and the Christian trade

So what does the improvements in the Waterstone’s stores say to us in the Christian book trade? We can see the improvements they’ve made, if they continue their development they may win the core book buying customer back, and this is one of the main  problem that  Christian retailers have; not enough of the key customers coming and buying regularly enough (footfall & conversion in retail jargon).

Waterstone_383

Waterstone’s operates in a different area of the market with larger, better located and fitted out stores with a commercial approach. The majority of our stores operate in small units, in tertiary locations and with poorer fit outs. So as the enjoyment experience grows in Waterstone’s, it gives our stores more of a problem; that shopping in our stores isn’t fun, stimulating or rewarding. Discovering new titles or authors or finding titles that have been around for a while haven’t been found yet is a critical element in the survival plan for physical bookshops. Which is where the whole of the Christian book trade has to have a pretty open and honest  conversation. We know that when times are tough, retailers tighten their belts and reduce their stock buys to free up cash, then they become more risk-averse choosing to re-order known sellers rather than new or different titles. Which in normal retailing tactics seems sensible, but our context is changing, and the role of the bookshop is changing; if a customer knows what they want, they are increasingly likely to shop around for the best price, which is often perceived to be online more than in their local store, so a self-fulfilling scenario arises as the bookshop then struggles financially unable to match range or prices.

So how about a different approach from bookshops and publishers, and recognise that where the new bookshops excel is in discoverability and person to person contact. So bookshops, instead of playing safe, need to offer product, (in quantity and well displayed) that is new, different and that surprises the customers. So publishers will have to find new financial models that allows retailers to take those risks.

Yes, it will still mean that retailers will say no those books that aren’t what their customers are looking for, and it will still mean that publishers are frustrated by the decreasing volume and proportion of sales through Christian bookshops and look for places where volume and risk-taking are found.

But maybe, we by having that conversation, and trying some new things we may carve out a better future?

Today’s right Royal Hoo-Ha

So today is the day when we all go wild with excitement over the Royal Wedding. With wall to wall TV coverage, Facebook & Twitter are swamped with posts about how giddy with joy we are. The bunting is out, street parties are planned and even the sun is shining.

And good for the couple, may they have long and happy life together.

But I just don’t get this national outpouring of emotion around the monarchy. I understand that the role they play in UK society is historical, and history is important, I can rationalise their symbolic constitutional role as useful, especially for tourism. Even though it leads to anachronisms such as the Commonwealth, which unbelievably has 53 countries in it, and the House of Lords, which consists of ex-politicians and hereditary peers, neither of which should have any role in deciding law.

So why do we go Royalty mad when a wedding like this appears? I suppose you can argue that it is just a good news story, a feel-good event in difficult time, an extra day off in spring. But we are going over the top, this national sentiment that is whipped up feels out of proportion to the importance of the people and the event. Seems strange, and slightly concerning to me. it’s as if we have so little idea about a real national identity, that we have to cling like mad to these sort of events.

So all the best to the couple, I’m sure it will be a great day for them, and a lot of people will get a real buzz about out of it. If you don’t mind I’ll watch it on the 5 minute slot on the late night news tonight, and spend the day enjoying a good book.

Cathedrals….what’s the future?

I’m a real fan of cathedrals. I’ve been going to Carlisle Cathedral for several years, mainly as a chorister parent, but it has become far more than that to me, it’s a refuge and an oasis of peace. Evensong is a beautiful way to end the day, and the Eucharist service is full of depth and meaning. There is a committed community of people who work there, run the services, maintain the music tradition, and keep the civic activities and the building alive.

I was there a week or so ago, and looked around during the service, and looking at the sparse number of people there. I was reflecting that there are two types of people connected with the Cathedral. Those that keep these activities going, and those that attend the services, most evenings for Evensong with a full choir, there are only a handful in the congregation, and those attending are at the older end of the spectrum, and are definitely diminishing in number.

I can see a time in the not so distant future where the Cathedral still has it’s choir, it’s ministers, it’s liturgy, it’s civic role but no-one goes anymore, well maybe they’ll be a few of us there, but you know what I mean.  A cathedral does have a different role to a local church, it has connections and opportunities in cities that other churches don’t, but I think that just its history and civic role can keep it going.

And that will be so sad for so many reasons.

Mind you it’s been there for 900 years so I suppose I’d better not write it off yet.

Maybe you should pop in and visit before it …well who knows.

Ooops…I forgot, I get to choose.

Most of the time, we get carried away by daily life, it’s busyness, the realities of living in current times, and I guess if we’re honest it’s the same for most of us. There are events in life that we just can’t control, that we have to just live through. A close friend has just lost his father unexpectedly, he didn’t want that to happen, in fact it was the last thing he wanted to happen.

The challenge is to choose how to react when living through challenging times.

As humans we do have a God given gift to make choices about ourselves.

Author Stephen Covey says it this way…

“Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose”

I’m going through a fair amount of change and challenge in my own life at present. I feel myself being swept along, and in some ways, I’m letting it define me. It’s time to remember to choose my response.

So I today and each day I choose to…

…believe that God’s plan for my life is better than the one that I can create for myself.
…be more intentional with my time, energy & resources, to not let life and time fritter away.
…believe the best about the people around me.

right it’s time to get moving.

Envy of the simpler life.

There’s a guy that lives opposite me. I see him in from my bedroom window in the morning  when he lets his dogs outside. I see him from my office window as he works. He’s a joiner, a carpenter, and a good one, he’s fixed a lot of things in our home that I wasn’t able to, and he’s built stuff for us, from scratch, that I just wouldn’t know where to start.

He really only works locally, he’s well known, liked and respected. He grew up around here, he has his routines in place, and family and friends around him.

It seems to me that he has got the simpler life down to a tee. I find myself envying that.

I sometimes feel that with my life of corporate business development, sales, people connections, travel with multiple roles and varied projects that I can never really fully deliver, and that my brain is buzzing and my feet never really touch the ground.

My neighbour knows when he’s done a good job; he can see it in front of him, it’s physical, tangible, present and real.

Discovering that same sense of completion in a modern business environment is a whole different ball game. I need to search out the real successes more, and not let my lizard brain tell me that because your work is relational and broader that you aren’t delivering.

I’ve asked myself would I enjoy the simpler life of practical trade? My brain says “you can’t build a flat pack from IKEA, so why would you think you could do a trade?”

I love the idea of a simpler life and role, but I suspect my instincts to always look ahead for the next big idea, the next initiative, the next project would mean I would be always looking around, and not concentrating on the task at hand.

So I’m going to learn from my neighbour, and try and take pleasure, fulfilment and value from the simpler aspects of life. I am going to try and relax and enjoy just doing hands on stuff, as it’s value is as high as anything else in life.

Introverted faith in an extravert church

At church this morning, after a great worship time, we had a speaker called Ray Lowe, who seems to be an itinerant Bible teacher. He’s spending a couple of weeks with the church and is well known to most people…except me, as we’re pretty new to the church.

He was teaching from Acts on how God creates situations for us to communicate our faith, how our task is be aware of the opportunities, to be prepared and give a ready reason for our faith. The sermon was pre-empted by a prophetic word about being passionate and infectious about God.

Ray’s teaching was biblical, engaging, convincing and funny, you could tell people’s hearts were stirred, and this sermon would impact a lot of folk. He told stories of how God had brought people across his path, in fact there were lots of stories, and lots of people whom God had touched through Ray’s life and activities.

As a card carrying introvert, this sermon was a rollercoaster of emotion for me, I bought into the words and the passion, but felt uncomfortable that I should try and be someone I’m not . He was gracious enough to say that not everyone is a extravert, and you don’t have to force yourself, as God leads you into the places where he wants you to connect with people, and our job is to be open to that.

Our Church is part of New Frontiers which is a charismatic church, where outward expressions of faith, such as exuberant worship, speaking in tongues are a regular part of a service. These are very extravert activities, but I enjoy being part of this group.

So how can introverts cope where the values and dna of a church are very extravert?

I think there are several ways….

  1. Don’t worry!…It’s important not to let this become a defining problem about church. It is more important to find a church family you can commit to, and be a part of.
  2. Don’t feel under pressure…you don’t have to be someone you’re not, you don’t have to perform. You just have to be faithful to God, and open to the church.
  3. Get to know a few people….that way you can have easy conversations without having to permanently mingle with the crowd!
  4. Join a home group… a smaller group is easier to connect with, and allows for a different sort of connection to people.
  5. Find a spiritual escape route…use retreats, books, blogs as an additional element to your spiritual life. I was part of Carlisle Cathedral for a number of years, so I go there and a retreat centre called Launde Abbey for my spiritual bolt holes.

I’ve just ordered a copy of “Introverts in the Church” by Adam S McHugh, it’s been well reviewed, and I think could be very helpful.

It is possible to be an introvert in an extravert church, it takes some work, it can be challenging at times, but there are great rewards as well…at least there will be a queue of people ahead of you to volunteer for the up front jobs! That doesn’t mean to say that introverts don’t have a great deal to offer all parts of church life, but that’s another post.

Seth Godin may just be right


I’m reading Seth Godins book Linchpin.

For me it maybe the most important book since 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. It is really a stimulating read and a unique book, it’s not a business book or a self-help book, it goes far deeper than that. It challenges you to look at work very differently.

It describes work as “art” and “emotional labour”, and talks through the resistance, both conscious and unconscious that we put up against all releasing ourselves into achieving all that we want to achieve.

I’ve marked up the book all the way through, and will have to go back and read it again, write a synopsis for my journal, and then implement some of the changes in my life. One of the most powerful points that Seth Godin makes about creativity was the concept of “shipping”, which is being able to, and known to be able to turn ideas into action, and action into delivery.

Time to ship on the blog, hence the first post for 10 months!

That’s the power of books, which is I love being involved in bookselling.

Why stores will win

So you can choose to shop in a store, online or on the phone

On my last blog I said that the service that I got from the 3 telesales team was rubbish, they sent me all over the place to get what I needed…yuk.

So on Saturday I needed to sort out a new dongle (mobile broadband) and I hit the High St, vowing not to go into the 3 store. As a guy I kinda enjoyed doing all the techie shops and ended up thinking that I’m going to have to go into 3, I know they have the largest 3G network, and they’re probably going to be cheaper.

I went in, the guy serving really knew his stuff, he listened to me, asked good questions, gave me the solution I wanted, and I so bought it.

So retail can work, it needs to be a good experience, but the reason why stores will win in the end is the human contact. We are social, tactile, community loving PEOPLE and we love it when others make us feel valued. In a way no computer or phone can do it.

Get it right, and stores have a really good long term future.

and the award for worst customer service ever goes to….

I’m about to move over to an iphone and so need to extract myself from “3”. I’ve been pretty happy with them up till tonight. I sent them an email, and they called me straight back, pretty good I thought, until they put me on hold, for 30 mins!

remember they called me!

Then I got transferred twice, having to give all my details again & again.

The guy at the end of the line obviously had a tick sheet of questions to go through, and boy was it painful. Even when I asked, politely, not to waste any more of my time, he plowed on. Needless to say it wasn’t UK call centre so the line was bad, ( ironic for a phone company) and his accent made conversation difficult.

So I’m leaving 3, not as a satisfied customer ,but a disgruntled one.

And after 18 months of good service, they ruin it in just 38 minutes.

I learnt from this

1. How easy it is to ruin your reputation.
2. How fickle I am.
3. How high our service expectations are.

Tough ol’ world…

Confidence and leadership

I have a confession, I support Carlisle Utd football team. I started going to watch them soon after I moved to Carlisle 7 years ago, and caught the “live sport” bug. Over the last few years they’ve being steadily improving, refinancing the club, bringing in new players etc, and they’ve done pretty well, moving up a couple of divisions, nearly making it into the championship.

But all of a sudden they’re performance have fallen away dramatically, they’ve lost 10 put of the past 11 eleven matches, and are playing really poor football.

Why is this? The bulk of the team are still the same players, against opposition they have beaten. I think the answer is confidence and leadership, or should that be the other way around.

The team have lost all self confidence, unable to play to their potential. They aren’t playing together. How much is leadership a part of this?

I’m starting to read Seth Godin’s Tribes which talks about movements being led not managed, rallying around a cause rather clocking into work. Powerful stuff.

I thinking about how this affects my life, I’m going to send Greg Abbott, the new Carlisle Utd manager a copy, he needs to hear this!