Breaking News – Cokesbury bookstores to close

The United Methodist Publishing House will be closing all its Cokesbury retail stores, and investing in enhancing its online store and the Cokesbury Toll-free Call Center, Neil Alexander, UMPH president, confirmed this afternoon.

A press release below gives some details. Below that is another UMPH release, anticipating questions about the move.

UNITED METHODIST PUBLISHING HOUSE LAUNCHES COKESBURY TRANSITION

NASHVILLE, Tenn., (Nov. 5, 2012) – The Board of Directors of the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) has announced the launch of a transition initiative, CokesburyNext, for its retail division. CokesburyNext will redirect focus and resources toward expanding and enhancing products and services at Cokesbury.com, the Cokesbury Call Center (1-800-672-1789), and through a team of Cokesbury Sales Representatives. As part of this transition, Cokesbury will be closing its 38 full-line stores and 19 seminary stores.

Cokesbury, which offers resources for congregations, seminaries, church leaders, study groups, and individuals has seen a steady increase in sales through Cokesbury.com and its Cokesbury Call Center operation over the past 10 years. At the same time, the number of Cokesbury customers relying solely on store locations has steadily declined. In the most recent customer survey, only 15 percent of Cokesbury’s customers reported shopping exclusively in stores. As a result of changes in the industry and the consumer shift to digital shopping and purchasing, the local stores are no longer financially viable.

“Cokesbury has been serving for more than 200 years, and during that time has continuously adapted to the changing landscape affecting congregations and their leaders,” said UMPH President and Publisher Neil Alexander. “A shift toward all things digital and the convenience of placing orders at any time is the reality of Cokesbury today. It is difficult to see the closure of Cokesbury local stores, but doing so will allow us to make a greater investment in the ways of shopping with Cokesbury that customers increasingly prefer.”

CokesburyNext involves the enhancement of four distinct purchasing channels. The Cokesbury Call Center (1-800-672-1789) will be extending its hours to 10 p.m. Eastern Time and increasing staffing to better suit busy customer schedules. Cokesbury.com will be continuously improved to serve customers and will regularly feature special offers and products. The scale and frequency of Cokesbury’s presence at local conferences and meetings will increase, and Cokesbury will work with church partners to host many of its most popular events. To better serve customers who require personal attention, we will deploy more than 40 Cokesbury Sales Representatives who will bring information about a full complement of products directly to customers at their churches and other ministry settings.

Cokesbury is taking steps to help ensure the well-being of store personnel following the closure of the local stores. The ministry will assist them in the transition, providing both severance packages and job search services.

CokesburyNext will be rolled out throughout 2013, and the last Cokesbury local store is expected to close by April 30, 2013. More information on CokesburyNext is available at www.CokesburyNext.com.

 

What is happening at Cokesbury?

CokesburyNext is an initiative to expand the ways we serve customers and meet their needs. Many of our customers prefer making purchases at Cokesbury.com and through our 1-800-672-1789CokesburyCallCenter, so we are increasing our focus and enhancing these sales channels to better serve them. In order to invest in these channels, we will close all Cokesbury brick and mortar stores where customer demand is decreasing as costs steadily grow.

Why are Cokesbury stores closing?

Increasingly, customers prefer the convenience and speed of purchasing on the web or over the phone. The cost of maintaining buildings, inventory and staff in dozens of brick and mortar stores has exponentially increased at the same time that customers show that they prefer other ways to preview and buy resources for their ministries.  To assure that we are meeting customers in the ways they tell us they want most, we are enhancing the online shopping experience at Cokesbury.com, extending Cokesbury Call Center hours, adding new local Cokesbury Sales Representatives across the U.S. who will meet locally with church staff, lay volunteers  and pastors at their own churches and increasing the frequency and scale of Cokesbury’s presence at special events such as the annual Christian Education Showcase. Closing the local stores allows us to make even larger investments in other already popular Cokesbury sales channels.

How will I be able to purchase books and other resources and supplies for my church? Will I still have my Cokesbury charge account?

Cokesbury will continue to offer a full array of products, which you can view and select at Cokesbury.com, by calling 1-800-672-1789 or contacting the Cokesbury Sales Representative in your area. Cokesbury charge accounts will continue just as they do now and customers may use their charge privileges online, over the phone or in person at events. In the coming months, we will be announcing even more special events at churches and other locations across theU.S.where you can review materials and talk with Cokesbury staff about your needs.

Is Cokesbury closing both full line and seminary stores?

Yes, Cokesbury will be closing all 38 full line stores and 19 seminary stores.

Is Cokesbury going out of business?

Cokesbury is not going out of business.  There are multiple ways our customers order and receive the resources they need.  Our sales data and customer research show that most already prefer making purchases at Cokesbury.com and through ourCokesburyCallCenter at 1-800-672-1789. We are increasing our focus on these sales channels, as well as expanding our Cokesbury Sales Representatives  and enhancing Cokesbury Events to ensure that we better meet our customers’ needs.

I have great memories of visiting Cokesbury stores. Why are you eliminating something with such a deep history?

We love that Cokesbury brick and mortar stores have played such endearing roles in the lives and ministries of so many for decades.  Maintaining brick and mortar stores as one kind of outlet among our several retail channels worked best in a different era when costs were not as great and access to other channels like Cokesbury.com wasn’t possible.  As we’ve seen with bookstores and independent shops all over theU.S., economic realities make maintaining brick and mortar stores less and less viable. Customers are choosing other ways to get the information they need, make choices and handle purchases.  We are committed to serving not only the church as it was but as it is becoming, and now is the time to make the change and concentrate on delivering resources to customers in the ways they prefer.

When will my local Cokesbury store close?

Cokesbury stores will close based on local circumstances, lease expirations, etc., with all current locations ending business no later than April 30, 2013. You can check plans for each store at CokesburyNext.com where ongoing updates will be provided including the anticipated dates for specific store site closings.

What will happen to Cokesbury store employees?

Cokesbury store employees have served thousands of individuals and churches in wonderful ways. We honor their ministry and will make concerted efforts to assist them in the transition to new work and to help ensure their well-being.  Spiritual and other counseling will be available and we will provide outplacement services and severance packages for employees.

If you are an employee looking for more information, please visit the UMPHNet intranet site.

I don’t like making purchases online, but I work during the day. How can I place my order?

As part of CokesburyNext, we will be extending theCokesburyCallCenter hours to better suit your schedule. With these changes, you will be able to speak to a knowledgeable member of our team and place your order as late as 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time through the end of this year.  Early in 2013 we will expand our hours to serve customers 24 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Can I use Cokesbury gift cards online?

Yes, Cokesbury gift cards can be used online at Cokesbury.com and through the Cokesbury Call Center at 1-800-672-1789.”

Will I have to pay shipping now that I can’t make purchases in a store?

While some of your purchases through Cokesbury will require that you pay shipping, it is our plan to frequently extend special offers of free or reduced cost shipping. You will also find that sale pricing at Cokesbury.com, as well as special offers through our catalogs, will offset the cost of shipping in many cases.  We invite you to sign up for our email and catalog lists so that you never miss an opportunity to make your purchases during special campaigns. Overall, customers will find that the convenience of shopping with Cokesbury from the comfort of home or office, as well as savings in time and fuel will offset any modest shipping charges.

What will I be able to buy through Cokesbury.com, the Cokesbury Call Center, local events and directly through my Cokesbury Sales Representative?

Many of the products currently available at Cokesbury stores, as well as additional items including church furnishings, altarware and apparel for clergy and choirs can be purchased through Cokesbury.com, by contacting Cokesbury at 1-800-672-1789 or through local Cokesbury Sales Representatives.

Will the new Cokesbury Sales Representative positions be filled by current Cokesbury employees?

There will be approximately 40 Sales Representative positions, and we expect that many will be filled by current employees.

How do I contact one of the new sales representatives?

As representatives are hired their contact information will be available on both websites.

You had great events at your store. Will you be holding those elsewhere?

Yes. We will partner with local churches and others in the future to ensure that events like Christmas Open House and VBS Showcase and other events are offered across theU.S.

Will you be liquidating the books and other products in the stores?

Most of the products in our stores will be held at our Nashvillewarehouse and available for customers as they place their orders. Some items will be sold by the stores before closing, and other products may be donated to local ministries.

Author FAQs

What does CokesburyNext mean for my book or resources?

Abingdon Press and Cokesbury authors have long benefited from our strong direct relationships with churches and church leaders, and this will continue to be the case. All Abingdon Press and Cokesbury publications will continue to be available through Cokesbury.com, highlighted in catalogs and sold from theCokesburyCallCenterat 1-800-672-1789. With the growing number of Cokesbury Sales Representatives and special events where products can be seen first-hand, the materials we publish will continue to be highly visible and readily available both through Cokesbury sales channels as well as through other booksellers.

Will the promotion of my works change? 

Promotional activities will change but not decrease. We will follow our customers’ habits in promotion just as we are in our retail presence. As we expand our online capabilities, we will meet people where they are with online promotions, enhanced e-mail, smart ads and more. The Cokesbury catalogs and direct mail will continue but with new ways to connect the customer with the call center and the website. Our growing number of Cokesbury Sales Representatives will meet customers face-to-face through sales calls and events leveraging opportunities to share samples and videos and to lead them through books and resources. Sales and promotional activity to our wholesale accounts are not part of this change.

How will I know that Cokesbury Sales Representatives are promoting my work?

There are several ways to see the sales work in action. The Cokesbury Sales Representatives will be using Cokesbury catalogs and mail promotions as a basis for their presentations. You’ll be able to see how your products are presented in these important print promotions. The Cokesbury.com site will also be a mobile tool for representatives to use to present books and programs to congregations with access to excerpts, videos, and special price offers.  These visible selling tools will assure you that your work has presence.

Will you be reducing your inventory and will this reduce sales?

Our inventory levels will not affect your sales in a negative way. We will in fact have greater control over and access to your book stock in our centralized warehouse than we had across the chain of store locations.

How will you host author signing events now?

We will have many of the same opportunities in place. In-store book signings have dwindled in success while signings after speaking events and conferences continue to be good ways to meet your readers. Our Cokesbury Sales Representatives will be in locations around the country to help with special events and arrangements.

Will you change the types of things that you sell?

Cokesbury continues to serve congregations, their leaders, Christian readers, and seekers. We expect the majority of our product selection to remain the same.

Who can I contact with more questions?

Your editor and your associate publisher will be available to talk with you in greater detail about your book, publicity, and promotion plans and sales channels.

 

Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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Join the conversation....

  1. I am not surprised by this development, but I am grieved for my friends in this industry. I know a lot of clergy that made their way to ministry through working at these stories, as imperfect as they were.

    I would say that this is the result of an epic decade-long failure of UMPH to decentralize authority from an error-prone central authority, a lack of empowering confidence in their local store managers, and a lack of competency in dealing with an increasingly online world. From my armchair, that is.

  2. kathysides says:

    I cannot begin to tell you how appalling I find this. Part of it is a personal concern, as my husband will now be losing his job. But it is also that I have spent 25 years being able to walk into my local Cokesbury store, (or my seminary Cokesbury store when I was in seminary) and have a real person help me purchase a real product I could touch and evaluate before buying. To me, going to a web-site or talking to a person on the phone is a completely unacceptable alternative to having a store I can walk into and browse the products available. When did the church become as impersonal and profit-oriented as the rest of the world?

    I agree completely with UMJeremy's comment regarding UMPH's failure to decentralize. Not only have they failed to decentralize and empower their local store managers, in recent years they have increasingly taken more and more authority away from the local store managers and employees, treating them as though they cannot be trusted with even the simplest decisions and tasks such as staffing, store hours, and even placing orders or making decisions about what products to carry. In my opinion, "epic failure" is exactly right!

  3. joni raymond says:

    I too am very sorry to witness this happening! I spent many hours (to say nothing of the many Dollars) at several local seminary stores. The information obtained in discussions over the counter as I viewed a possible purchase was invaluable! It is just not the same when you can't browse to see if the book is really what you are looking for!

    Don't get me wrong, I too enjoy the speed of ordering on-line, but this expense is very costly. I hope Cokesbury does an excellent job with it's 40 sales representatives (I notice that is LESS than one for an entire state!) in helping them to know all of their product intimately, be able to converse with pastors, seminarians, teachers AND laity, and all within a system that allows for the personal relationships and encouragement that go with regularly going to that old fashioned brick and mortar building.

    Praying heart and soul, that Cokesbury has some better ideas for online shopping then are currently being offered. Willing to try, but waiting to be convinced!

  4. sarahmcgiverin says:

    This is appalling. As a pastor, I relied on the Cokesbury store when I needed items at the last minute. As a Sunday school teacher, the store was invaluable for browsing for curriculum. It was not enough for me to see just one sample lesson – I wanted to see the whole book before sharing it with a class.
    Cokesbury provides the only option for a Christian bookstore that did not have a heavily evangelical bias – and so provides a valuable witness of other ways of being Christian than the church and country conflation that dominates in media coverage – and the bookstore landscape.
    Particularly short-sighted is the decision to close not just the regular retail stores, but the seminary stores. The seminaries are not going to go without bookstores. Instead, someone else will run them – someone who is not cutting annual checks towards missions and the care of retired pastors, etc. Like any other seminarian, I spent hundreds of dollars every semester in the Cokesbury store on campus – not just on books for my classes, but on many other books that caught my eye while I was there. I continue to make trips in to campus to browse, see what the students and professors are reading, and pick up a book or two. The internet is no substitute for this experience!
    But finally — the people who work at Cokesbury are professionals, friends on the journey. Where else are they going to find a living wage job in retail? With generally patient and loving customers who are interested in them as people and pray for them and so on?
    The only part of this entire press release that I can applaud is the promise to make improvements to the Cokesbury website. More often than not, I have been unable to find what I was searching for, or (worse) have begun a transaction only to be mired in so many difficulties that I have ended by throwing up my hands and ordering from Amazon instead. I just wish that this one overdue action were not being paid for with the jobs of hundreds of wonderful people.
    Mr. Alexander, UMPH is not your average American business, needing to constantly demonstrate an uptick in quarterly revenues. Cokesbury is not a business, but a ministry. The best Cokesbury has to do is break even. I hope you and the board will carefully reconsider.

  5. I am tremendously disappointed, as are a large number of my classmates. The Cokesbury at Duke Divinity has been a great help to me over the last two years, and the salesfolks (especially the manager!) have done a lot for the students here. Then, to add insult to injury, we find that the store will close before graduation in the spring.
    I'm sorry, but I find it difficult to believe that this was thought out properly.

  6. kathysides says:

    Also concerning is that this general news release was sent out only a few hours after employees at the stores were notified of the news, resulting in me being notified of my husband's impending job loss through a mass email in my inbox. It would have been considerate of UMPH to allow Cokesbury employees the chance to get home to talk with their spouses before the news was released to the public. What a way to honor their ministry and show how much they have been appreciated!

  7. denthomas says:

    Some of you need to realize that the brick and mortar stores only serve the larger metro areas. Many of us cannot easily go to a Cokesbury store because of location. For years the Call Center or the website have been the only way to shop Cokesbury except at Annual Conference and other events. So this will not mean anything but possibly better service. We have been seeing improves service at the Call Center for the last couple of years anyway.
    Losing the seminary stores will probably be the biggest issue for them to work on. The closing of the stores is much like the closing of a church. Nobody wants it to happen but sometimes it is the best solution. If in-store sales are losing ground to on-line and call center sales, then this is being proactive to the inevitable. Eventually these will cause a drain on the financial resources of the publishing house. We applaud progress until it takes away something we hold dear.

  8. lthornton says:

    This concerns me greatly. If we are forced to rely on the website I fear that Cokesbury will loose business. For years many of us have expressed frustration with the inability to successfully search and navigate the website. As it is now it is very difficult to use. I always call my local store for guidance and help. This is not a good move for me and many other clergy I know. My prayers are with the staff that will be displaced.

  9. dljohnston says:

    I hate to see this happening. I have almost always bought my books from the physical store or ordered direct from one, since it ships faster. I like encountering books physically, looking through them, looking at the other stuff Cokesbury has on hand. It saddens me that Cokesbury won't be around physically to provide a well rounded offering of Christian books compared to all the other so-called Christin bookstores out there.

    The Cokesbury website has always been a poor online shopping experience. I have a hard time imagining it compete with Amazon.

  10. NO, NO, NO! UMPH, please don't go through with this. Closing the stores is a really bad, short-sighted solution. We need the physical stores, especially in the seminaries. Do you really think Cokesbury.com can compete with Amazon.com and Christian Book Distributors. Don't do this!

  11. dncpastor says:

    Closing those 19 seminary stores seems a poor decision for a variety of reasons:
    (1) Surely "brick and mortar" costs are not the same due to campus locations;
    (2) Cultivating a good relationship with pastors-in-training is a long-term goal;
    (3) When students change classes, they need the textbooks available on-site;
    (4) Building a theological library is essential but expensive for a young pastor;
    (5) Time in the intimate CB bookstore serves to build and sustain community;
    (6) Theologically astute, part-time, seminary managers could be Sales Reps;
    (7) Seminary managers easily coordinate special exhibits and book signings;
    Please revise your decision with true "b&m" costs plus short and long term goals.

  12. Shame on you, Cokesbury. First, your website is a nightmare to navigate. If given the option between Amazon, Border's, Barnes & Noble and Cokesbury I feel certain Cokesbury will not be option number one. Second, you have now eliminated the only oasis many of us have in a vast desert dominated by LifeWay and Family Christian Bookstores. As a pastor I spend too much time undoing theology learned by parishioners who shop at LifeWay and Family Christian Bookstores. Lastly, this is a ministry. Your failure to engage ministry just made ministry within the UMC even harder.

  13. pauldanielseay says:

    Highly questionable decision. UMPH needs to take these comments seriously (read especially sarahmcgiverin's thoughts).

  14. This is an outrage!

    Does Cokesbury as an organization really believe that they can increase the quality and service their website and phone service provides to such a degree as to compete with the very low prices of Amazon and the occasional rock bottom prices of a CBD? I do not see this happening at all anywhere in the future.

    The main attraction to Cokesbury, and specifically those on Seminary Campuses was that the employees knew you personally, they took the time and effort to minister to you and make sure that all of your needs were met before you left the store. To close the seminary stores especially is an egregious error and one that will turn to bite the heels of the Cokesbury corporation as they lose business to impersonal websites that are mainly without glitches and have a reputation for fast and affordable service.

  15. auntnoenoe says:

    This is so depressing.

    I love our local seminary Cokesbury store. It was wonderful when I was a student to go in and browse the books being used for various classes. As a minister, I appreciate being able to go in hold and preview actual books and curriculum pieces before committing to buy them.

    I love that the store employees know me by name and will have conversations with me about the ministry and work being done in our city. They have materials waiting for me the way a local barista would have my coffee order ready as I walk in the door. You can't replicate that kind of environment on the web.

    The only time I order from Cokesbury online is when an item is not available anywhere else (like web based curriculum). That will not change. Cokesbury will see less of my business.

    I hope another company will consider finding a way to support and keep open seminary bookstores.

  16. I wish to protest the closing of the seminary bookstores particularly. They are a resource that cannot be replaced by any number of online services. The personnel in particular have been of great assistance to ministerial students and there have often been items I saw in the store that I did not realize I needed until I saw and handled them. I have made many purchases of items that would not have occurred through an online service.

  17. bettyboopwynne says:

    I agree with everything said, and I do feel badly for those who are not fortunate enough to have a local Cokesbury – but this is just like not having a certain grocery store or large department store. The Cokesbury site is completely un-navigable. The few times I have found something I thought I wanted it, (when searches were usually poor), I went to my local store, had it ordered and picked it up in just a few days. This fall, when I was interested in some literature from Group, if I had not gone to Cokesbury and actually perused it, I would have purchased something I did not like. Instead, I found a different more suitable Group item and I ORDERED IT FROM THE STORE!
    I am a Cooperative Baptist, and we need more theologically sound Christian bookstores like Cokesbury, not the fluff found at Lifeway and Family Christian Bookstores.
    Now, if I CAN find it cheaper, I will be ordering from Amazon or other entities, especially if I get free shipping. So, Cokesbury, you are not only losing your stores, but you will probably be losing me as a customer bc of needing to save money if I am going to have to buy it cheaper and without shipping charges.
    Plus, I don't expect to be a any Methodist conventions with a Cokesbury set-up.
    Honestly, I think this is one of the worst moves for those of us who really need a good source for our professional needs.
    What on this earth are you REALLY thinking? Do you honestly believe I can get better service talking to a STRANGER online, who has no knowledge of my church, or its needs or my professional background than I can get from the excellent and caring employees of my local Cokesbury.
    Boy, somebody sure has UMPH hornswoggled with this move.

    Good luck, UMPH.
    Bye bye from one sad customer

  18. throughthestorm says:

    Over 300 people signed this petition so far. http://chn.ge/YOrC9L Let's hope the UMPH reverses this decision. I love my local Cokesbury store. The staff usually makes sure I get most of the VBS supplies that my church needs in one trip. I usually make another trip or two for unrelated items that caught my eye the first time. Websites don't do that.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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