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)

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9 responses to “From the Bookseller – Brewer defends SSG liquidation

  1. Valiant for Truth

    I too am angry and in disbelief regarding Mark Brewer, a man who trains as a lawyer, serves in the US forces, tries to enter US politics and sets up a Christian charity, all areas which demand truth and honesty, but increasingly we see a lack of these and a totally unethical approach. I sincerely hope and pray that the Courts in Houston produces a speedy and firm decision, because recent comments have indicated a wait of 12 to 18 months for a successful legal conclusion in the UK. I do not believe that current staff together with former staff, not to mention suppliers and customers can wait that long. There was wonderful and correct support for Dave Walker and for freedom of speech, then in certain quarters things went quieter and people said to employess and ex-employees “bide your time” etc. – don’t all of these people demand as much care and concern for what they’re going through as did Dave and his wonderful campaign? Thank goodness for Phil Groom.

  2. Add another angry one. I don’t care if I sound like a parrot but surely if a bookshop is in liquidation (Birmingham) it’s assets should be properley liquidated and not moved to another bookshop (Durham)

    MB says that he failed to get the support of senior staff. I’m not surprised given the kind of instructions he sent to them. He should say that he failed because he did not listen. Somebody should have put an implant into his brain. A hearing aid would not have worked.

    Waiting for a letter from USDAW about the state of pensions. Apparently one is going out soon.

  3. As usual Mark Brewer’s explanation of how SSG operated is a complete travesty of the truth. LISTEN UP MARK, why did you not explain to Graham Neil that the ‘abysmal Christmas sales’ in the shops was directly related to the fact that the shops had been FORBIDDEN from ordering any stock by you and your brother since the END OF AUGUST ?!! At a time when as everybody knows retail shelves should be full, yours had never been more empty ! ! At the shop where I worked we eventually received a box of books via St Andrews Bookshops ONE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS !

    As for “unintentially alienating staff “by your buying policy, well yes, having nothing to put on the shelves does tend to alienate people from you. But most of all people were alienated from you because from day one you treated them with COMPLETE CONTEMPT, I have never seen behaviour like it !!!
    PLEASE, stop talking to journalists as if the descisions that you and Phil took made any kind of retail sense, for as I and many others who once had the misfortune to work for you can vouch they certainly did not !

  4. Bizarre?
    So, at least we now know it was all the Booksellers fault!
    Strange how so many customers thought it was the lack of stock, including books, cards, Church requisits etc and the sacking of experienced staff that led to reduced footfall?
    …but surely, the “donations” ( as “some” havn’t been paid) of publishers, suppliers , landlords etc.. would have helped boost the finances of this Company?
    Bizarre??

  5. I just checked the US court system’s PACER service this afternoon (it is still afternoon on this side of the Atlantic). The bankrupcty case was dismissed at today’s hearing on the trustee’s motion.

    The actual docket entry is as follows:

    “CourtroomMinutes. Time Hearing Held: 11:00 am. Appearances: Mark Brewer for debtor; Randy Williams for Trustee. (Related document(s): 24 Chapter 7 Trustee’s
    Motion to Dismiss Case). Ellen Hickman present. Mr. Williams addressed the Court
    regarding the motion to dismiss. Arguments were heard by opposing parties. The
    Court announced its findings and dismissed the case with prejudice. (rsmi) (Entered: 08/28/2008)”

    A written order with more explanation may follow, but as of right now, the bankruptcy case is dismissed.

  6. OK, so “with prejudice” means they can’t re-file in Houston, so at least that’s something. It would be good to see this brought up now in a British court, since that’s where all their victims reside.

  7. Pingback: SSG Bankruptcy Case Dismissed « SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info

  8. Pingback: Mark Brewer SSG Bankruptcy Application Dismissed with Prejudice in Houston, Texas | The Wardman Wire

  9. Have just posted this comment on the Bookseller report:

    I think Mr Brewer might have found staff more supportive if he’d treated them with respect instead of contempt. Staff were well aware of the need for change, but the type of change the Brewers attempted to implement was doomed to failure from the outset: read Tom Arthur’s assessment of how things went wrong in Cardiff:
    http://www.pcusa.org/missionconnections/letters/arthurt/arthurt_0806.htm

    Also compare and contrast the Brewer approach to taking over a chain of British bookshops in the name of “Orthodoxy” to this:
    http://khanya.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/avoiding-mistakes-in-mission/

    I think it’s safe to say that Mark Brewer quite intentionally set out to alienate current staff so that he could bring in volunteers from his “Orthodox” supporters in the USA: why pay staff when you can run the show with missionary volunteers? See my recent report on Third Space Books:
    http://christianbookshopsblog.org.uk/2008/08/26/third-space-books-buyer-beware/

    No, Brewer’s attempt to blame staff resistance for his own incompetence simply does not hold water: he doesn’t “share the fault” — he is entirely responsible. If he accepts that responsibility and begins to work with his staff rather than undermine them at every opportunity then things might, just might, begin to improve, but I fear it’s now far too late for that…

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