Christian Retailing

Australian retailer's 'learn as we go' approach Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Monday, 04 January 2010 04:03 PM America/New_York

A top Australian Christian retailer has spoken about his family business' first overseas venture, which has saved a group of leading stores in the U.K.

Paul Bootes, managing director of Koorong, said that the company--which has 18 stores across Australia--would be adopting a "learn as we go" approach with the eight Wesley Owen stores it purchased last month as part of the breakup of IBS-STL UK.

Koorong will retain the Wesley Owen name for the stores--in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Bromley, Coleraine, Derby, Glasgow and York--which it acquired along with the Wesley Owen Web site and Authentic Book Publishing, another of the U.K. charity's divisions put up for sale.

"Our market share in Australia is around 60% of the market, and we felt that an overseas opportunity would enable us to grow more quickly than at home," Bootes told Christian Retailing. "As Australians, we have an historical and cultural relationship with the U.K., and when the STL opportunity came up, we thought we may be able to do something."

He added: "Clearly some of the Wesley Owen sites were not profitable because of the high rents that are charged in the U.K. We are focusing on the bigger stores with more established volumes of sales. We have always been specialist retailers, so hopefully we understand the business as well as anyone. All that being said, it is certainly going to be hard work to make it work well."

Bootes said that his brother, Rob Bootes, Koorong's chief information officer, would be moving to the U.K. for 12 months to oversee the transition, but long-term leadership was not yet clear." We will need someone who is strong at retail and also understands book publishing. ... In a few months we will start to think about someone to head up our U.K operation."

Bootes added: "We plan to take it quietly and focus on the consumer and build a base. We are not presuming anything about what will work in the U.K. We want to learn as we go." Founded in 1978, Koorong takes its name from an indigenous Australian term for "watering hole" or "oasis."

Six other Wesley Owen stores in the U.K. were taken on by CLC International (UK) in the December sales, with hopes that some of the remaining 26 stores may continue under ownership by local groups.

STL Distribution, the main supply hub for Christian retail in the U.K., was purchased by John Ritchie Ltd., a subsidiary of The Lord's Work Trust based in Kilmarnock, Scotland.