Philip Brewer says, “Immediately post this…”

August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer, p.1
August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer, p.2

All Shops Memo: August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer

“Immediately post this and make sure all personnel have read its contents…”

So says the closing paragraph of the latest All Shops Memo (larger copy below) from the desk of his excellency, Mr Philip Brewer, and it’s my pleasure to comply, although I confess to being a little late: the memo is dated August 16, 2008. Sorry about that, Philip: if you’d like to get the next one to me a little more promptly I’ll be happy to assist.

If it hadn’t been confirmed by two independent sources, I’d be inclined to view it as a spoof, it’s that surreal: but from my own experience of Brewer style communiqués, I’d say there’s little room for doubt about its authenticity — and this memo takes us beyond the realms of Basil Fawlty into the murkier world of Reginald Perrin. Do you remember Reginald throwing off his clothes and swimming away into the sea? I do hope you and Mark will follow that example soon, Philip… preferably one way: I’m sure the good people of Houston, Texas, will give you the welcome home you so richly deserve.

Once again Philip has treated us to a splendid example from the Brewer School of How Not to Manage Your Staff, entirely in keeping with the memo Ruth Gledhill kindly shared with us in May last year: the essential message to branch managers seems to be, I Do Not Trust You To Manage Your Shop So Do Exactly As I Say Or Else. Very encouraging if you do have the misfortune to be on Brewer’s management team, I’m sure. Sorry, not on the team: in his line of sight for target practice, perhaps? But it’s not just Mr Brewer’s attitude towards his staff that’s problematical; it’s the things he’s telling his staff to do.

Let’s look at some excerpts:

4. On all purchases of 10 GBP or more, offer a 2 GBP discount if a donation of 1 GBP or more is made. They must also fill out a gift aid form.

Interesting fundraising method… offer a discount in exchange for a donation and insist on a gift aid form. That’s not a request: “They must also fill out a gift aid form.” Does HMRC know that’s how you’re doing your fundraising, Philip? Is coercing gift aid from your customers in exchange for a discount an approved technique? Have you cleared it with the Charity Commissioners? I presume you have heard of the Charity Commissioners? Don’t worry if not: copy of your memo’s going in the post to them.

Then there’s the question of cashing up at the end of the week:

11. Be sure to keep the collection box on the counter by the till for those persons who wish to make a donation with their spare change. This should be emptied and counted Saturday evenings and added to the take for the day.

Most shops I know tend to collect change for other charitable causes, not to add them to their own takings… really can’t help wondering how this works for those shops such as Durham and Chichester which are officially not part of the St Stephen the Great group… come to think of it, that’s all the shops now, isn’t it, being run by the Everyone’s Nightmare Continues Management Company? It is St Stephen the Great you’re collecting for, isn’t it? That is what the little note at the end of the memo implies, isn’t it? But didn’t SSG file for bankruptcy? What name are you banking your takings under, Philip? Fascinating…

Since the points in the memo don’t seem to follow a logical sequence, we now jump back to:

5. Be sure that in all inquiries for books that you do not have in the shop, that you offer to order the item for the customer and have it delivered to their home. To accomplish this, log on to our site, http://www.thirdspacebooks.com, and process their order. To set up their password, use the last four of their phone number and their initials. Example would be 8524pwb. When completed, please tell the person that we have hired Amazon to ship their order and that if there are any problems, there will be a return label for them to deal with it. Also tell them that they can continue to order from thirdspacebooks for all book needs, not just religious, and that it supports charity.

So you’ve “hired Amazon” have you, Philip? That, sir, is not being economical with the truth: it’s a blatant lie, made all the worse by instructing your staff to mislead your customers by propagating it. What you have done is sign up as an Amazon affiliate then frame your affiliate storefront within a thirdspacebooks.com page; and lest there should be any doubt, here’s the Third Space Books Amazon Storefront URL for anyone who’d like to check: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/sb08-21 … and no, I’m not providing a link: the last thing I’d want to do is encourage anyone to make a purchase through it.

But it’s not just the fact that you’re instructing your staff to lie to your customers that’s disturbing — it’s the sequence in which you’re setting them up: “process their order,” you say. In other words, take their name, address, credit/debit card details and use those details to set up an account on a third party website using a simple password formula that even a child could crack. Then, when complete, having comprehensively breached every possible protocol of customer confidentiality and trust — not to mention the Data Protection Act — spin them the lie about hiring Amazon.

Is this standard Brewer and Pritchard approved practice, Philip? Or did you dream it up yourself?

Finally, we turn to the memo’s opening paragraph: a ban on any flyers or leaflets that have not been specifically permitted by Philip Brewer himself. Not sure how best to help you with that one, Philip, but perhaps I can encourage visitors to the shops to print out copies of the Durham petition and place them in strategic locations around the shops when staff aren’t looking? Put them in places where staff won’t spot them and therefore can’t be held accountable (tucking them discreetly away inside the covers of the books, for instance) … on reflection, though, I guess that’s unlikely to work: with so few books on the shelves these days it’s probably only a five minute job to whizz through them all at the end of the day… 

As for policing the shop, maybe it’s time to call in the Police for a formal investigation…

August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer, p.1
August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer, p.2

All Shops Memo: August 16 2008. From the desk of Philip Brewer

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42 responses to “Philip Brewer says, “Immediately post this…”

  1. I am pretty sure that at the least some of these directives breach the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

    ‘The Regulations introduce a general duty not to trade unfairly and seek to ensure that traders act honestly and fairly towards their customers. They apply primarily to business to consumer practices (but elements of business to business practices are also covered where they affect, or are likely to affect, consumers).’
    For more detail on this legislation:
    http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/business_leaflets/530162/oft1008.pdf and in relation to this email Chapter 7 makes for very interesting reading indeed, as does chapter 10.

    And of course as Phil G says, giving the customers name, address and credit card details to a third party is a direct contravention of all data protection acts and legislation – in fact it could even be a form of identity theft!, and certainly would be a breach of Credit Card terms & conditions. Actaully come to it it’s a clear breach of Amazons own policy anyway –
    Section 4: ‘You may not purchase products during sessions initiated through the links on your site for your own use, for resale or commercial use of any kind. This includes orders for customers or on behalf of customers or orders for products to be used by you or your friends, relatives, or associates in any manner. Such purchases may result (in our sole discretion) in the withholding of referral fees or the termination of this Agreement. ‘ & ‘(d) make any orders or subscription requests, or engage in other transactions of any kind on our site on behalf of any third party, or authorize, assist, or encourage any other person or entity to do so; (e) take any action that could reasonably cause any customer confusion as to our relationship with you, or as to the site on which any functions or transactions (e.g., search, order, browse, and so on) are occurring;’

    http://affiliate-program.amazon.co.uk/gp/associates/agreement

    Nice to see such a sound grip of the obligations of contracts, laws and regulations being displayed yet again.

  2. Phelim McIntyre

    What about point 10 – Post a sign welcoming donations of decent books.

    Firstly note the term donation – thank you for your books but we will not pay you. SPCK second hand book departments paid a sensible price if the book was valuable.

    Secondly, what does Phil Brewer actually mean by a decent book. From what SSG sent from the States I doubt they have much of a definition for this.

  3. Phelim McIntyre

    Oh yes, and why do they want donations of books? Because they owe so many people so mcuh money then can not get books any other way.

  4. DifferentlySane

    Another Phil Brewer classic, here.

    The ‘donations’ thing seems very fishy to me as well… is there any difference between funds raised via sales and those raised by donations? Is there any legal/financial benefit to being able to declare a larger amount of your income as ‘donations’? I feel rather cynical and suspicious for asking that, but after some of their recent antics, I would not be at all surprised. Or are they simply banking on people going ‘oh, donations; it’s for charity, so I’ll put in more than my £2 discount to be nice’ and so make a bit more money?

    Admittedly, some of these things make sense, like #8 and #9. #12 sounds odd to me, but could be standard practice for shops, if the till is emptied each night.

    One I found particularly interesting was number 13: “There should be no chairs behind tills”.
    So, effectively, a shop peon is supposed to be working constantly. Now, lets assume a 9-5 shift (I’m not sure of the hours people work these days, any hardy souls still hanging on in there are welcome to correct me), with a half-hour for lunch, say. That means standing up for roughly four consecutive hours, twice in a day. Just another example of their unwillingness or inability to understand that they employ people, not robots, I guess.

    Oh, and the serving tea, thing… Where, exactly? Do all the bookshops come with associated facilities for this? And I don’t just mean a kettle, tap and little pot of sugar. Is there anywhere for them to sit? Who wants to wander around a bookshop holding a cup of tea? What manager would want people wandering around a bookshop carrying a drink?

    #17: If restocking the shelves is an imperative, presumably they’ve made arrangements to actually pay their suppliers so that they will actually receive stock to do this with?

    Oh and #18 is an old classic; they’ve been trying to enforce that since things started going badly wrong.

    Good ol’ Phil Brewer…

  5. I can’t help thinking that Amazon’s T&C #8 is somehow just a tiny bit relevant too… (my emphasis)

    8. Identifying Yourself as an Associate
    You may not issue any press release with respect to this Agreement or your participation in the Programme without our prior written consent, which may be given or withheld in our sole discretion. Doing so may result in your termination from the Programme. You may contact us via an online form if you wish to apply for written consent. In addition, you may not in any manner misrepresent or embellish the relationship between us and you, or express or imply any relationship or affiliation between us and you or any other person or entity except as expressly permitted by this Agreement (including by expressing or implying that we support, sponsor, endorse, or contribute money to any charity or other cause. We will make available to you a small graphic image that identifies your site as a Programme participant. You must display this logo or the phrase “In association with Amazon.co.uk” somewhere on your site. We may modify the text or graphic image from this notice from time to time.

  6. I completely agree with you Phil regarding your comment about the Brewer’s communications/management style entering the world of Reginald Perrin. In fact I made the same comment some months ago back on Dave Walker’s site.
    For anyone unfamilar with this series, Reginald Perrin’s GROT shops were the places where you could buy,(among other things) disgusting wine’s to offer to people you don’t like. The wine’s were priced according to how undrinkable they were, the most foul being the most expensive ! Seems suitably Breweresque to me.

  7. Phelim,
    To be fair (and yes I know that it hurts but then its better not to emulate that which we dislike, after all do unto others is a prime directive , although it seems some might prefer the borg collectives prime directive!) Thats not true a few shops did indeed work entirely on donations of stocks – Lincoln was one of these and had a very good and successful second hand department that they were officially told to get rid of – all the stock had to be marked down to £1.00 and cleared out by 50% within 3 months was the order and the rest to go asap after that! strange how now they are intending to build up secondhand but then one supposes it might be a way forward of filling empty shelves.

  8. Phelim McIntyre

    Thanks for the correction UTB. I agree though that after scrapping the second hand section in so many shops they are now repeating the process of what they got rid of. But do you know anyone who will donate books to the shops?

    Also on rereading this there are somethings that may be in breach of health and safety or other rules. How many shops have disabled toilets? To offer access to toilets with out meeting the legal legislation may be a minefield. Are their health and hygiene issues about offering tea and coffee that should be considered? At least warnings that the contents are hot (as paper mugs from fast food outlets do). I read somewhere that any place offering this facility should have a dishwasher and not wash cups/mugs by hand. Is SSG willing to fork out for the cost of dish washers and doing the plumbing. And then there is the wonderful comment about donation not being required – surely if it was required it would not be a donation.

    Then there is the issue that if the shop’s shelves are empty staff can not answer questions as to why only offer a brochure!

    I have an idea – why don’t we all go on to the Thirdspace store and order the Koran, and then when it arrives send it back to Amazon. This would then appear as their no 1 bestseller, after banning the shops from selling it. Then as we send the books back they still would not make any money from the sales. Or is this too mean?

  9. DifferentlySane, the “legal/financial benefit to being able to declare a larger amount of your income as ‘donations’” is that Gift Aid can be used to reclaim 20% or so of the cost back from the tax authorities. But Gift Aid cannot be used for sale of goods, at least I don’t think so, and so this would appear to be a breach of charity law.

    I believe it is against employment legislation not to provide chairs for employees unless standing all the time is necessary for the job. So that is another possible breach of the law in this statement.

  10. Phelim McIntyre

    I am a Tearfund rep and I don’t believe that we are allowed to use gift aid on sale of goods. This site gives some good guidelines http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/CHARITIES/giftaid-charities/how.htm and makes me think that Phil Brewer’s actions are immoral if not actually illegal. He is encouraging people to offer a discount to try and get a donation. In other words while the gift aid will not be on the sale of goods the option of a discount is being used as a carrot to get a donation which can have gift aid claimed against it. I have contacted HMRC to find out whether this is legal or not.

  11. Phil was probably bored or having one of those “I’m the boss” moments. I like rules 2 and 6. Can’t make sense of 4. His English teacher should be drawn and quarted.

  12. Does Phil’s computer not have a £ sign.

  13. Hey, asingleblog, my computer’s got a £ sign… 😉 — I think most of us will figure out which Phil you’re referring to, but I’d be grateful if people posting here could refer to Mr P Brewer as Phil B or use some other designation (keep it within the realms of decency, please!) to make it clear which Phil you mean, please…

    Meanwhile, anyone needing a shortened URL to refer others to this post can now use http://tinyurl.com/brewer.

    Cheers, y’all! (corny attempt at a Texas drawl there).

  14. So should we call him PB or Phoebe?

  15. Call him whatever you like as long as you make it clear that you’re not referring to me. Please 🙂

  16. Asingleblog, I like the image of Phil B’s English teacher being “drawn and quarted”. Does that mean something like “squeezed into a quart pot”? Or does your English teacher deserve a similar fate?

    Anyway, Phil B is American so his keyboard will not have a “£” sign. That shouldn’t stop him finding a way to type the character.

  17. Yeppers, Peter. You do it like this: £. On a Mac, that’s hold down the Alt key and press the numeral 3 key. It’s just as easy to do it on a PC, though it may not be the Alt key. I spent the month of June translating a massive technical document from English to French, and the first thing I did was to figure out how the computer formed the French characters. There are only a few of them. How much easier to take five minutes to do the same for the single character that differs between British and American English–the currency symbol?

    Something tells me, though, that this is not the Brewer Way. If you Britishers insist on having some kind of outlandish monetary symbol, why should they be put to any trouble?

    On the other hand, the memo indicates that it’s from the desk of Phil Brewer. Desks, being inanimate objects, can be rather stupid. Maybe that’s it.

    Just my $.02 worth.

    Anne

  18. Two comments:

    (i) You shouldn’t fill in a gift aid form unless you pay tax

    (ii) I wonder what creditors will think of this plan to divert money from bookshops/trading account to the charity? Are the bookshops and the charity one and the same? Who owns what now?

  19. Well…..off we go to make a customer a cup of tea/coffee….leaving the shop floor unattended for 5 minutes (bearing in mind some shops only have one member of staff on duty all day)
    who looks after the shop/stock/till in the meantime (by the way Phil…..good idea not to leave the till key in the till…..we would never have thought of that!)
    I suggest that until you grasp the rudiments of bookselling/retail you keep your “ideas” to yourself?
    You have experienced, intelligent staff …let them do their jobs and trust them.

  20. Twit!!

  21. Quite an extraordinary document and my thoughts go to those who are on the receiving end of notices like this. It reads like an incoherent mind-dump where quite significant processes like gift aid are grouped together with coffee machine cleaning instructions. As with many other turns in this debacle there might be some humour in there somewhere if it were not all true…

  22. All this sounds oh so familiar – as to standing all day – staff were not allowed to start having lunch till after 2pm – so that’s more than 4 hours then.
    the coffee machine was ok – but the plumbing was downstairs so…- anyway – this just sounds soooo familiar.

  23. At http://www.txs.uscourts.gov/schedules/A671thu1ceo.htm I note that the Honorable Marvin Isgur of UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT Southern District of Texas will be hearing Motion to Dismiss in respect of the case of St Stephen the Great LLC at 11.00am on 8/28/2008 … we watch with interest!

  24. It is astonishing that PB is still bothering himself with these little things, it reminds me much of emails that were issued to us last year, getting obsessed by the little things, not trusting the (then) experienced staff to do what they do best, yet ignoring fairly important things like paying suppliers and British Telecom.

    SSG and SPCK have been talk of the town (well the campsite) this year at Greenbelt, and predictably I have heard nothing good said about either organisation.

  25. The motion to dismiss the bankruptcy application appears to be listed for hearing on Thursday 28th August at 11.00am …

  26. Have now received the following response from Amazon:

    “Because of the number of participants, we cannot always get detailed information from every Associate. In this case, however, we will certainly take a closer look at the website of this specific Associate. Should there be a breach of the Associates Programme Operating Agreement we will not hesitate to close the associate’s account… We would like to thank you for bringing this issue to our attention and would like to assure you that this issue will be thoroughly investigated.”

  27. This circular is clear evidence that, whatever the status of the Durham and Chichester and ENC Shop Management Companies, on 16th August 2008 all the shops were being operated by one or other of the two “SSG” charities and consequently the Directors/Charity Trustees must be personally liable for any losses incurred in the trading. The fact that one charity is in English law a company limited by guarantee is not going to protect its directors/charity trustees if the business is being carried on while insolvent.

    It would be very interesting to see a copy of one of the brochures being offered to customers in the shops.

  28. Pingback: Reflections on a Campaign so far: SPCK nearly Weekly | The Wardman Wire

  29. Peter Kirk, I meant “quarted” not “quartered”. My English teacher would have been happy with a quart. Where I come from a quart is a beer bottle. He was always downing a quart. Hence my bad English. What excuse does Phil Brewer have?

  30. Asingleblog, where you come from you obviously like your beer. We drink it by the pint!

  31. Pingback: Motion to Dismiss: August 28th 2008? « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  32. Pingback: Reflections on a Campaign so far, and SSG Not Bankrupt « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  33. Hmmm. It doesn’t say don’t post on the public noticeboard in the shop.

  34. But it does say “make sure all personnel have read its contents” — we wouldn’t want anyone missing out, now, would we?

  35. Pingback: Brewer & Pritchard Lawyer J. Mark Brewer has his SSG LLC chapter 7 Bankruptcy case tossed out “with Prejudice”! « Squiggle jones’s Weblog

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  37. I worked in the Exetr shop for about three weeks before it was sold.
    It was open Thursday to Sunday, and for the first two weeks I was on my own having had only one day of training.
    Did Phil expect me to work six hours without stopping? ( I didn’t)
    Also, I have only found out about the memo through the Internet.
    Did I mention that there was a hole in the roof which Phil told me to get a quote for?

  38. Maddy I’m angry Really bloody angry.

  39. Hi Maddy and welcome to the murky underworld of Brewerdom. The memo is dated August 16th which — at just over 5 weeks ago — most likely puts it before your time…

    If Exeter received a copy it’s probably in one of the boxes that went to York: no doubt all the branch paperwork went up there for the audit trail…

    Who was your employer, if you don’t mind me asking? Was it an agency?

  40. Pingback: Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  41. Pingback: David Keen writes to the Charity Commissioners « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  42. RE: who was my employer
    It was Central Employment Agency. In newcastle. There weren’t that many details about the job.
    Sorry haven’t replied befor now – only just went on this website

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