Online retailers and bricks-and-mortar stores generally get along like oil and water. In the UK, however, a Christian retail store chain and an online seller have cooperated in what may be the first collaboration of its kind in Christian retailing, resulting in a move that will save both companies time and money, and increase the reach of both their ministries.
According to David Almack, national director and publisher for CLC USA, CLC (formerly Christian Literature Crusade) is a national (UK) Christian retail organization that has bookstores the world over. It’s a ministry mission charity dedicated to literature projects and literature ministry in more than 50 countries worldwide.
“We’re a not-for-profit organization, and probably second only to Family Christian Stores in the total number of stores we have around the world, including three in the U.S.,” Almack said.
Recently, CLC UK moved its warehouse from Alresford, south of London, to Sandycroft in Wales, near Chester. This was a strategic move, since CLC was outgrowing its Alresford facility and needed to be in a more central location for shipping purposes.
CLC UK partnered with Eden.co.uk, a major online retailer.
“Our two organizations are now co-located in this building,” Almack said. “CLC owns the building and is leasing part of it to Eden; the signage out front has both organizations on it.”
The partnership was logical because CLC, which also provides wholesale distribution services, is a key supplier for Eden.co.uk.
“Now we’re going to be an even more significant supplier for them,” Almack said. “We supply the entire Christian trade, all over the United Kingdom, in terms of distribution needs, and with this move, we will be one of the most significant distributors in the UK going forward.”
Because of the expertise and experience of Eddie Olliffe—who was at Send The Light Distribution (UK) before coming to CLC as the company’s interim general manager—CLC was shut down for only one week during the move. Almack said he expected distribution to be back at 100 percent about a month from the day the move commenced.
According to Olliffe, although CLC is a charity, it’s run as a business and it’s regulated by the UK’s Charity Commission.
“We see ourselves as a mission charity as opposed to a business,” he said. “I’ve always been troubled by the degree of antipathy that seems to exist between online and bricks-and-mortar stores, because it seems to negate the whole purpose of what we’re here as Christians to do in terms of distributing Christian material. It doesn’t really matter how that distribution takes place … the important thing is that the distribution happens.”
Olliffe said CLC UK is not set up to manage the type of sales that Eden.co.uk does every day.
“It would be a duplication of the worst type if we were to try to go head to head with them in online retailing,” he said. “My decision was that we would seek partnership wherever possible, so last September (2014) we asked Gareth Mulholland, managing director of Eden.co, whether he would fulfill our CLC UK online shop. So Eden.co.uk actually runs CLCbookshops.com; that’s where our relationship started.”
When CLC decided to move its warehouse, company officials looked in the Chester area, where Eden.co.uk is headquartered.
“This relationship came out of the desire not to be seen as competitors,” Olliffe said. “We had a desire to be seen truly in a Christian partnership, even though we remain two separate, and entirely independent businesses. CLC is a charity, and Eden is an individually owned for-profit business.”
Part of what made the partnership come together as it did was timing. At the same time CLC UK was planning its strategic move, Eden.co.uk was also looking for a larger facility to accommodate its growth in recent years.
“We thought we would be better off working together, particularly if we could be under one roof in one building,” Mulholland said. “We’re able to work more closely with one of our most significant suppliers and cut out one day of supply where they would normally be shipping to us overnight; we’re able to get one day stock into our operation. We have different focuses, but we’ll benefit from working together.”
— Carolee Boyles