A decision by STL Distribution’s six-member management team to buy out the company from its parent Biblica is a lot about mission as much as commercial success. President Glenn Bailey announced the decision during STL’s re-started Fall Invitational in Tennessee last weekend and several retailers voiced support for the action and ministry purpose.
Bailey said after 14 months of STL’s being up for sale and after an anticipated sale fell through recently at the last minute, Biblica leaders listened to the employee buy-out idea and asked for a proposal.
Bailey said nothing is set in stone at this point and there are no assurances the buy-out would be finalized, but an agreement is being crafted that could close by the end of the year.
“We have few illusions about operating profitably in the supply chain,” Bailey told some 50 independent retailers from about 30 companies. He said the leadership team is not naive about the difficult challenges that lay ahead for retailing, but indicated with a combined 150 years experience in the Christian supply chain the team is willing to move forward.
He pointed out an aviation adage that says you never fly with a pilot who doesn’t fear what could happen, because the fear drives preparation and protective measures.
“The management team has a healthy fear” about taking on the responsibility, Bailey said.
“We believe a healthy, competitive STL is good for the Christian supply chain,” he said. “We don’t think people want to live a world with only one large wholesale distributor.”
STL would not be a non-profit business with the change, but Bailey said the change would enable the wholesaler to be more aggressive in competition. However, he said mission is a powerful motivator and remains the company’s purpose.
“The STL management team and I believe STL has a role to help you succeed … to help you fulfill the Great Commission,” he told the retailers. He said STL started as Send the Light in the United Kingdom as an offshoot of Operation Mobilisation under George Verwer. The ministry got its name from its tradition of giving a book to people who accepted Christ as part of outreach to help bring the light to new Christians.
STL caused concern among retailers in 2005 when it first came to the U.S. and located in Georgia. At the time STL also owned a chain of Christian stores, which has since spun off and many stores were closed. The company purchased Appalachian Distributors that year. In 2007, the company merged with the International Bible Society and two years later the named was changed to Biblica.
Over the past couple of years, STL has been upgrading distribution systems and moved into a new nearly 100,000 square-foot warehouse in Elizabethton, TN. It maintains a second warehouse in Sparks, NV, to keep it competitive with shipping times, offering next-day and two-service to most of the U.S.
In partnership with Snowfall Press and Dickinson Press, STL operates a state-of-the-art print-on-demand operation that is helping optimize long-tail sales with less or no inventory, same-day fulfillment of more than 200 foreign- and obscure-language Bible translations, and also provide custom printing services for publishers, authors, and others.
Retailers at the meeting generally were supportive and agreed with Lisa Phillips of Dalton’s Christian Store, who said, “We’re behind you.”
As part of the announcement, STL presented a new “Loyalty Plus” program with various incentives ranging from waived surcharges, improved terms and discounts, rebates, and other benefits.
The Fall Invitational was postponed for a few years but re-started this year. The event brings top independent-retail customers to Tennessee for training, product viewing, and a recreation day.