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Monday, 22 December 2008

Why SAP and why now??

Why SAP? Why Now?

I realise that there is a lot of confusion in the Christian trade as to why STL has implemented a new computer system and why we have done it now. Here I have tried to answer both these questions and a few others that you might be thinking…

Why SAP?

SAP is the system STL has chosen to replace its old computer system. The decision to change systems was not taken lightly but our old system, which was 20 years old, was beginning to show distinct signs of age and we feared that it would become unstable. Indeed we had a system failure with Informix last December for an entire day. We had already found immense problems in trying to upgrade the system to provide functions required by today’s market. It was pre-EPOS, pre-internet and pre-ONIX feeds. We therefore had to take the decision to switch to a new modern system that was capable of doing all the things our customers needed it to do.

Why Now?

We originally planned to implement the new system in August. However as the date approached, it became apparent that further testing of the new system was necessary before we could commence training people in how to use the system. We were faced with a choice of going live in late October or waiting until January 2009. Unfortunately, we would have faced immense difficulties in standing down our external project team of consultants for three months while we prepared to go live and then to re-assemble that team in January. After extensive testing of the system we were confident we could start with, at most, minor disruption. So we took the decision to go live in October.

What happened at Go-Live?

During the go-live period we were closed for four days as data was migrated from the old system into the new one. The system went live as planned and worked reasonably well for the first few days. The problems that we encountered in the second week of go-live were principally around automatic shelf replenishment and the way we bring different parts of an order together before despatch. Although we carried out extensive pre go-live testing, the specific nature of these problems, which are not common, would not have manifested themselves in anything other than a live situation with significant volumes.

Having pinpointed these issues we implemented semi-manual work arounds which began to take effect from the latter part of the second week. In addition we were faced with intermittent system speed problems, making the effective processing of orders at times very difficult. These have now largely been eliminated, but were by nature complex and difficult to pinpoint. The combined effect of these two factors on our ability to reduce the backlog was significant and we estimate impacted our backlog by 7-10 days.

What did we do address the Backlog?

We did a number of things to address the backlog, principally the following:

- Increased our day shift from 8 hours to 9 and subsequently 10 hours per day over the 12.5 hour period that we are normally open.
- Put a full shift on Saturdays.
- Brought in more than 20 additional temporary staff to supplement our normal workforce at this time of year.
- Brought on an additional picking shift overnight in addition to our normal replenishment team.

Where are we up to?

SAP is now running all of our Customer Service and warehouse operations. The majority of the system is now running correctly but there are still some bedding down issues.

As of today Monday 22nd Dec, we are picking and expect to despatch a number of trade orders placed today. We do still have bedding down issues with the system which cause a number of orders to be delayed. We are working hard to resolve these problems in order to return to our normal same day despatch service.

Are we giving priority to Wesley Owen?

Wesley Owen is by no means given priority in terms of getting their orders first. Mark Hurley approached Wesley Owen post go live to ask that no stock orders were placed by their stores for approximately 7-10 days post go-live to allow STL Distribution to focus on independent orders.

Going Forward…

All the management team at STL Distribution want to apologise for the problems that have occurred during the implementation of this system and their focus is to ensure a same day despatch with minimal picking errors and good availability is achieved as soon as possible.

18 comments:

Geoff said...

This is probably not the place to post this but can I raise the subject of price rises.
In the last few days we are receiving copies of pre-priced books at greatly increased prices.
E.G. Purpose Driven Church priced at £8.99 now £10.49
Girlz Rock priced at £4.99 now £6.99
Jesus I never knew priced at £8.99 now £10.49.
While I agree that the publisher can set the price I also think the publisher has a responsibility to permanently obscure the old price so that customers do not fee that the shop is over charging them.
I do have a copy of Purpose driven Church where a new barcode label has been permanently stuck over the existing code and prices. This is so much better.

When we have complained to customer services all we get is a tiny peelable label sent to us with 'publishers price' on it. As soon as a customer peels this off they see a cheaper price underneath.
Could you raise this situation.

Thanks
Geoff (Maranatha)

Andrew Lacey said...

Geoff, I have discussed this on a number of occasions with Ian Matthews, the Zondervan UK rep, as it is the Zondervan books that are presenting the main problem. My understanding of the UK price marking legislation is that the practise of 'overpricing' in this way is illegal, and even if it isn't, the practise presents our whole trade in a very bad light. My policy here has always been to sell the books at 'marked price' unless it has the permanent sticker over it. The peelable stickers sent from STL are worse than useless, as they shout 'Peel me! Peel me!' at the customer, and I've seen several curious customers peeling the things, actually on the shop floor, to see what lies beneath.......As a result of these discussions, we have had a helpful agreement that we should contact Customer Services at STL when we identify a problem, and they have then refunded the difference by creditting & recharging at the marked price. My understanding from Ian Matthews from several months ago was that Zondervan were going to discontinue the practise of UK pricemarking. However, it doesn't sem to be happening yet!

Geoff, Maranatha said...

Hi Andrew
Thanks for this.

Any comments from the Zondervan contact at STL?

cathy said...

Why oh, why won't STL listen to their customers!
I emailed Crown Support yesterday to say that we didn't want to receive any orders today, Christmas Eve. That's because we are only open for half a day, and we need to get the shop ready for stock taking straight after Christmas.
Did they read my email? I don't know. Did they take any notice of it? No.
Today we have received a big order for the January Crown promotion which it is too late to deal with properly, but is taking up a lot of time checking in - time that we need for stock taking preparations. When will STL understand that they make life much more difficult for small retailers than it needs to be.

Paul L said...

thanks Andrew for your comments especially about contacting STL customer services. I have raised this point several times espeially about the book "pearls of great price" which first of all went up from £8.99 to £9.49 (we kept selling it at the original price as it was only 50p) but then they have gone up to £10.49. all I get quoted from STL is there is nothing they can do about it. Well obviuosly there is if they have come to an agreement with you.
Fortunately most customers have been ok about things once explained but it always gives the impression we arn't very proffesional.

christianbookshopsblog said...

Geoff, Andrew: I'll fire up a thread to discuss the repricing question over on the UKCBD blog after Christmas and will invite Ian Matthews to contribute.

As for SAP: Sorry, STL guys, but I couldn't resist it. Definitions from WordNet:

Noun
S: (n) sap (a watery solution of sugars, salts, and minerals that circulates through the vascular system of a plant)
S: (n) fool, sap, saphead, muggins, tomfool (a person who lacks good judgment)
S: (n) blackjack, cosh, sap (a piece of metal covered by leather with a flexible handle; used for hitting people)

Verb
S: (v) run down, exhaust, play out, sap, tire (deplete) "exhaust one's savings"; "We quickly played out our strength"
S: (v) sap (excavate the earth beneath)

Delete as appropriate...

STL Blog Team said...

Thank you Christianblogshop for your very helpful definitions of SAP there :)

As for the issue with US pricing, I shall raise the issue with Ian Matthews in particular, as well as our other American publishers to see if we can come up with a solution to the problem.

Cathy, apologese for the inconvenience caused by the delivery on Christmas Eve. If the parcel had been dispatched to the courier before you email was read we may not have been able to stop the package. I will pick the issue up with customer services.

christianbookshopsblog said...

"Christianblogshop"?? There's an interesting idea...

Paul L said...

I see that the up pricing of books has spread with to monarch books as "Walking Taylor Home" (an excellent book by the way and highly recomended) is now coming through at £8.99 rather than the pre-printed £7.99. So it seems as if this does not only need raising with Ian Matthews at Zondervan but with other publishers as well.
Is this practice legal? and if not whose responsibility is it.
It would also have been interesting to see what price Marston are charging.
It would be good to hear what others think and if there has been any negitive comeback from customers who after all are the ones who keep the food on our tables and keep us in jobs

GLO Bookshop said...

To confirm that Marston price on the Walking Taylor Home book is currently £7.99. Watch this space!

christianbookshopsblog said...

With apologies for the delay, as promised I've now fired up a discussion thread on the re-pricing issue:
Zondervan, STL and Price Stickers: and the price is…?

All welcome...

GLO Bookshop said...

As posted on UK CBS Blog

Phil, thanks for picking up the information from the BA Code of Practice. Very interesting!

http://christianbookshopsblog.org.uk/2009/01/14/and-the-price-is

On the ‘legal’ side, I’ve found it diffcult to find any definitive answer to this issue. The practice did seem to be specifically forbidden under the Price Code provisions of the 70’s. However, I think this has all been replaced by the Price Marking Order 2004. But this comment is maybe relevant-

‘The Order requires that prices must be “unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible” but it is not prescriptive about the way in which those requirements are met. It does, however, require that consumers should not have to ask for assistance in order to be able to see a price.’ Birmingham City Council and a number of other Trading Standards websites refers. It seems to me that £8.99 price printed on a book with a semi-transparent, peelable sticker for £10.49 plonked over the top hardly fulfils the spirit of the law!

If it is commercially neccesary to reprice the stock-then it must be done with permanent ‘Proper Publisher Price’ stickers at point of distribution- not relying on the shop staff to put on these rediculous labels that the customers hugely enjoy peeling off.

Now, what’s that I hear Zondervan et al & STL saying? That’s a huge extra expense in terms of staff time in the warehouse? (But presumably it’s OK for shop staff in various parts of the country to have to spend time to identify offending items from the invoices, make the phone calls, ask for the labels, put the stock to one side in the shop until such time as the labels are posted……) OK, how about this as a simple solution for the trade? Why not honour the price printed until such time as the books clear through, and save us all (warehouses & shops) the hassle?

We await your response with interest, Ian & Mark!

cathy said...

Andrew Lacey said:-
"we have had a helpful agreement that we should contact Customer Services at STL when we identify a problem, and they have then refunded the difference by creditting & recharging at the marked price."

This isn't my experience. When we are charged a higher price on the invoice for a book that has a lower price printed on it, Crown Support tell us that there's nothing they can do about it, that's what they've been charged by the publisher, and we should put a price sticker over it showing the new price. Different rules for different shops?
I think we need consistency here.

I'm amazed and surprised to hear that it's legally dubious to put a higher price sticker over a printed price on a book.
That's what STL have always told us to do, even offering to send us a sticker!

STL Blog Team said...

Hi All

Sorry about the delay in replying to this stream of comments. Please be assured that we have taken this issue to the highest level and are treating it with the utmost seriousness. We have been in contact with Ian Matthews and he has responded as follows:

“With the fluctuations of the pound against the dollar over the last eighteen months Zondervan, after consultation with STL Distribution, have decided to remove UK prices from their books. As Zondervan sell all their product at the dollar price, this enables STL Distribution to respond to the fluctuating currency exchange rate accordingly in setting the UK sterling price. All new books released from Autumn 2008 onwards have not had prices on the books and a programme is in place to ensure that all books have the UK price removed at reprint. In the meantime, Zondervan and STL Distribution are committed to stickering all books with UK prices on. In some cases, however, this may be missed, and STL Distribution have committed to crediting retailers.

Both Zondervan and STL Distribution apologise for any inconvenience caused by this, and want to assure all of our customers that this is a temporary transition.” Ian Matthews, Zondervan

cathy said...

This is good news. Not printing UK prices on the books is a great idea. We would just price them at whatever the current price is.
It's very good news to know that STL are now committed to reimbursing us if this system causes us to lose out.
Thank you for following this one up.

GLO Bookshop said...

Further to Cathy's comment about different rules for different shops, then I think the concern is fair.

The GLO Bookshop have had this arrangement for a number of years, but it is also relevant to point out I've previously worked in clothing, supermarket, CTN, and filling stations. And in any of these, overpricing would in this way would have been totally unacceptable. I think it would have been a disciplinary offence leading to dismissal if my Area Managers had discovered the practise in my shop..... And I can assure you that some these guys (and girls) were pretty unscrupulous in other ways! So I have always felt pretty strongly about the whole issue since joing the trade. I have been in the Christian book trade for five years, and have constantly badgered Zondervan & various other people at STL about this issue. The arrangement was that we would put the books out at 'Marked Price', but log the dates, invoice numbers & price differences etc, and then claim them on an occasional basis.

If it is any consolation, in the last month or so, Customer Services have also stopped creditting me the differences in 'marked price' claims we have made.

But now we have this assurance from Ian- 'In the meantime, Zondervan and STL Distribution are committed to stickering all books with UK prices on. In some cases, however, this may be missed, and STL Distribution have committed to crediting retailers.' And I think we are all grateful for that. So I will certainly be contacting to claim the credit that has been refused over the last few weeks. On the point of principle, we have continued to put the stock out at marked price. I think I would rather lose a few quid here or there, rather than losing the goodwill of my customers.

However, the statement does raise this question. I can only recall seeing several (more like a very few) Zondervan titles with 'permanent stickers' attached coming through in recent weeks. To say 'a few may be missed' surely does't reflect the position bookshops are seeing as they process their deliveries. If this is what Ian is being told, then I can assure him that the situation needs to be urgently reviewed. The real position is more like 'there's an odd one or two that have been properly done but there are an awful lot still to sort out....'

christianbookshopsblog said...

STL Blog Team: wondering whether this is really the right place to have posted your/Zondervan's response to the re-pricing issue? Yes, this is where the conversation started but it's an important issue which is causing no small amount of friction between booksellers and customers as well as between booksellers and yourselves — I think that it really ought to be addressed directly, not simply tacked on to the comments thread on an unrelated post.

Thanks to Ian Matthew's for his response; but this is more than simply a Zondervan problem: if STL as a distributor were operating in accordance with the BA's Code of Practice on Price Stickers then the problem would never have arisen! Please forgive me if this comes over as rather brusque, but could you confirm, please, that STL is aware of the BA's Code of Practice and will be training staff as necessary and making every effort to comply with it in future?

Thank you.

christianbookshopsblog said...

And my apologies to Ian Matthews for sticking an apostrophe in his name. Aaargh! Quietly kicking myself...