Closing Cokesbury stores is wrenching but necessary

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.

Neil Alexander

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.

Dramatic changes

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.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
kevin@circuitwritermedia.com
.

Join the conversation....

  1. I appreciate the fact that you have to make money. That's part of running a business, and I totally sympathise. But you will have to improve your website a good deal to compete with Amazon, and most people I know that order books online use it. There is also Amazon's Student Prime program to contend with, with free second day shipping, something that many of us in seminary count on when needing a book at the last minute.
    I hope, for all our sakes, it works out for you. But you have a ways to go to make that happen.

    • wessanders says:

      I agree – as much as I'd love to support UMPH and Cokesbury.com, the shipping is always very expensive, and even with the 20% off retail found at Cokesbury.com, Amazon is almost always far cheaper and gets to me much more quickly. Even official United Methodist resources can often be found cheaper on Amazon and with free shipping.

  2. throughthestorm says:

    Amazon is light years ahead of the Cokesbury online experience and often less expensive. Relying on the Google search engine is quickly becoming out of date. Every online store has been using Google for years and Live Chat is nice but falling by the wayside. Product placement, SEO and semantic indexing will only get a company so far. Even the search engine is recommending that companies build a meaningful reliable social media presence.

    Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Pinterest are what companies are using to communicate with customers. How many staff members will be devoted to social media? If you're closing the stores, then Cokesbury needs to come up to speed on the online marketing trends and needs to do it fast. Building an adequate social media presence can take several months to a year.

    It's not right to deny customers the convenience of brick and mortar stores. It's even worse when Cokesbury is behind in so many areas. I pray that the company can catch up in time. Otherwise my fear is that closing the brick-and-mortar stores isn't the only part of Cokesbury that will close.

  3. bernikids1 says:

    Finding religious materials is always tricky since there are so many different lines of thought. Cokesbury has always excelled in delivering books and supportive materials that are closer in-line with my beliefs and those held by my pastor husband. This is why we make a special trip to a neighboring city containing a Cokesbury store, rather than shop at the handful of Christian stores within our own city limits.

    Flipping through the physical books and glancing through pages of titles that catch are eyes allows us to confirm that the beliefs expressed, or lines of thought pursued, are ones we are willing to put our money into. When we buy a book on-line it is because it is part of a series we have experience with, or an author we have read before and enjoyed. We are almost never going to take that chance with a new series or author through an on-line site. In a brick-and-mortar store, however, we're likely to go in with one book in mind, and leave with half a dozen that we don't have room for at home. In fact, I'm typing this just after returning from a trip to Barnes & Nobles where I bought several books I wouldn't have thought to look for, and one that was actually on my Christmas shopping list. Once my husband decides he likes an approach to lectionary material, he is going to stick with that series. The brick-and-mortar store hooked him with the first book in several series. I hope you'll consider that in your calculations of physical value.

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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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