By Neil Alexander, Special Contributor…
Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” A colleague reminded me that one can either change and grow and adapt or change and die; but either way we are going to change. At Cokesbury we have embarked on a path of major and promising changes that we hope will serve more people in more places for years to come.
We at United Methodist Publishing House are closing our local Cokesbury stores and redirecting our resources so we can better meet customers in the ways they prefer to shop. We are immediately tripling the size of or Cokesbury Sales Representatives team—folks who meet with church leaders in their own churches and offices. We will partner with annual conferences and local churches to sponsor events for volunteers and church staffs so they can see resources up close and learn about new programs and products. We are using the Google search engine and other advanced tools to enhance our online store at cokesbury.com. And the Cokesbury Call Center (1-800-672-1789) will have more product specialists and longer hours of operation to provide help and assure that books, study materials and other ministry tools are delivered when and where people need them.
Many United Methodist Reporter readers know that we are also closing the 57 local Cokesbury stores over the next six months. I love the mission, the look and the service of our local stores. I have high admiration for the staff teams at stores whose dedication and skills amaze and delight so many. Having the stores shut their doors and jobs end is a wrenching experience. But as painful as it is, it is also financially and practically necessary. The stores currently serve less than 40 percent of Cokesbury’s 200,000-plus customers, and 85 percent of those customers also shop using the other Cokesbury channels. While local store sales decline, the cost of the operation steadily increases, leading to a larger and larger subsidy to sustain the store operations each year.
Transition times are bittersweet, and that’s certainly the case now as we expand and continuously improve the other ways that Cokesbury offers products. Our responsibility for the UMC’s publishing/retailing ministry—an enterprise that receives no general church funds whatsoever—is to ensure that Cokesbury is an essential and effective ministry partner to thousands of church leaders and members. That requires and compels us to eagerly embrace doing “business” the ways our constituents prefer and expect to shop.
The dedication to Christian ministry and customer service demonstrated by the Cokesbury store teams has been stellar. The factors that have affected the decision to close the local stores are driven by dramatic changes in the marketplace that have consequences not only for UMPH—but for the entire bookselling and publishing industries.
We are deeply grateful for the service given by all our staff and will work to make the best transition possible in a difficult situation. Cokesbury is taking steps to help ensure the well-being of store personnel following the closing of the local stores. UMPH will assist them in the transition, providing both severance packages and job search services.
As we reluctantly say good-bye to the local brick-and-mortar stores, we are making the best use of up-to-date technologies and methods to say, “Hello, we’re from Cokesbury and ready to serve you.” Our aspiration is to assure that you have access to resources you will choose, use and value for your ministries. We cherish our many long-standing relationships with churches and leaders, and we are confident that these changes will make it possible to build on that strong foundation. If you have any questions, please visit www.CokesburyNext.com. We look forward to serving you long into the future as a strong and vibrant Cokesbury: Resources for the Christian Journey.
Mr. Alexander is president of the United Methodist Publishing House, a self-sustaining part of the UMC that includes Cokesbury and Abingdon Press.