Daily Archives: August 28, 2008

From the Bookseller – Brewer defends SSG liquidation

From The Bookseller online:

Brewer defends SSG liquidation

Mark Brewer, head of the Christian bookshop chain St Stephen the Great, has explained his decision to file for protection from creditors in the US. In email correspondence with The Bookseller, Brewer said that “abysmal” Christmas sales last year meant that “by late spring, the chain was plainly insolvent”. Brewer said that he did not have enough money to file for insolvency in the UK.

Brothers Mark and Phil Brewer, who run the chain, told suppliers in June that SSG had filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Houston Bankruptcy Court later converted this to Chapter 7, leaving the business in liquidation.

SSG was registered at Companies House in the UK, but Brewer said that the management of the company and its accounting support were based in Houston, Texas.

“This made bankruptcy in the US a viable alternative to a UK insolvency, and given the dollar-pound exchange rate, US bankruptcy was dramatically less expensive,” he said. “Candidly, the charity simply did not have the funds to institute an insolvency proceeding in England.”

In June, the trustee for the Chapter 7 liquidation, Randy W Williams filed a motion to dismiss the case. He said, “On its face, there is nothing to liquidate and nothing available to fund an investigation in the UK”. Brewer admitted that “due to the relatively small number of assets, the trustee did not feel that liquidation was worth his while”. The motion to dismiss is due to be ruled on in Houston today (Thursday, 28th August).

It is unclear what, if any, monies creditors will receive. Brewer declined to discuss what would happen to companies such as Marston or STL, which are owed money. He maintained that “this was a matter for the bankruptcy court”.

The Brewers took control of the former SPCK bookshops in October 2006, and closed at least six shops before the insolvency. Mark Brewer said that he “unintentionally” alienated staff with a new buying policy, which included a discontinuation of selling the Koran and an increase in the number of Orthodox materials sold. “[Staff] actively worked to prevent implementation of anything to do with change until the chain’s finances were too far gone for any change to have worked,” he said.

“I certainly share fault for this, mainly because I failed to muster the necessary support of the senior staff.”

Some of the chain is continuing to trade. The Brewers have registered the shops under a new trading company, ENC Shop Management, which is listed at Companies House.

(Reproduced here by permission)

Yet when the Carlisle shop closed Mark Brewer stated that all the shops were making a profit. Also notice that it is the staff’s fault for not obeying the demands from above. If people had just laid down and done what the Brewers wanted everything would be fine. But no mention is made of the unpaid bills to suppliers, unpaid rent or other financial mismanagement. I am too angry for words at the moment.

– Phelim McIntyre (Edited by Phil Groom)

Brewer and Pritchard PC: The Things They Say

With Principal Partner J Mark Brewer having joined forces with his brother, Philip, to successfully decimate the former SPCK Bookshops in pursuit of their vision for Orthodox Mission, I thought it would be useful to reflect on what, exactly, this “Professional Corporation” from Houston, Texas, believes in.

A Google search for the company reveals some interesting snippets:

  1. Welcome to Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.

    Disclaimer: Please be advised that Brewer & Pritchard, P.C. has not agreed to represent you or render legal advice to you by virtue of your having visited 
    http://www.bplaw.com/ – 19k – Cached – Similar pages
  2. Welcome to Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.

    The attorneys at Brewer & Pritchard are aware that efficient staffing and direct accountability produce cost-effective results. Respect for clients’ budgets 
    http://www.bplaw.com/index.cfm?menuitemid=145 – 18k – Cached – Similar pages
    More results from www.bplaw.com »

The first, I have to say, came as an immense relief: knowing that Brewer & Pritchard had not agreed to offer me their services was the best news I’d come across for some considerable time, and I’d like to go on public record as thanking them for that. A considerable saving on outrageous legal fees, I believe…

The second: I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Let’s run through that again: “The attorneys at Brewer & Pritchard are aware that efficient staffing and direct accountability produce cost-effective results. Respect for clients’ budgets…This, then, is no doubt the strategy that lies at the heart of the Brewers’ business practices here in the UK:

  • Efficient staffing
  • Direct accountability
  • Respect for clients’ budgets

Rather than comment directly myself on the subject of “efficient staffing”, I quote from Usdaw’s statement dated 24 June 2008:

Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has submitted 15 employment tribunal claims against the Brewers, US-based brothers who have taken over a chain of UK bookshops and were seeking to impose a new contract on staff, drastically reducing their contractual rights…

Following the change of ownership, a new contract was drawn up increasing the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours with no additional pay, turning all part-time staff into casual staff with no guaranteed hours every week and taking away all rights to company sick pay.

Now, virtually all Usdaw members have been dismissed with no notice, some by email, and have received little or no information about what this means for their rights and their pay.

Er, yes… efficient staffing indeed.

On the topic of “direct accountability”, it’s equally encouraging to know that Philip Brewer holds himself directly accountable for the activities of his branch management team and likes to send them jolly memos to build up their confidence as they serve the company. His most recent memo that we know of was, of course, reported here earlier this week, Philip Brewer says, “Immediately post this…”, and an earlier one was kindly shared with us by Ruth Gledhill in May last year.

Then there’s the little question of “Respect for clients’ budgets…” — one might hope that would, perhaps, include such things as not charging your clients the kind of fees that bring them to the point where you yourself declare them bankrupt. But I suppose that’s OK if you’re on the Board of your client’s company: then it’s just an innocent little internal transfer, isn’t it? Mark, we know you’re an expert on all things legal: could you outline the USA legal position on this for us please? Here in the UK the word “fraud” comes to mind, and I’m sure that couldn’t possibly be right…

So let’s continue to take what encouragement we can from the knowledge that Brewer and Pritchard PC have not agreed to render us their legal services: thank you, gentlemen.

Finally, let’s make it very, very clear that the Brewer approach to Orthodox Mission and bookshop management is most definitely NOT representative of the wider Orthodox community. In particular, Steve, at Khanya Blog, has made a point of distancing himself from the Brewers’ disreputable behaviour:

Avoiding mistakes in mission is especially well worth reading, articulating an intelligent strategy on how a more orthodox Orthodox group might have gone about establishing themselves here in the UK via a chain of Christian bookshops. Steve, should you ever wish to pursue this further, I for one would welcome your involvement in the UK Christian bookselling scene… I believe there’s a Cathedral Bookshop somewhere in northern England which needs of someone sensible to run it…
– Phil Groom