Freezing in winter, scorching in summer, who would want to work in a cavernous aircraft-hangar-size book warehouse? Yet many of Random House New Zealand’s excellent, experienced warehouse team have worked either at Random House or other publishers’ warehouses for 20 years or more.
Distribution manager Jill Ewing has 15 years in her role – one which comes to an end, officially, on 31 March. Sales, management, publicity and other staff have already left the building for Penguin Random House offices in Albany, so one floor has that Marie Celeste feeling already, but the warehouse is still surprisingly well stocked and bustling. There’s still the April releases to go out – they’ll be packed in advance but billed and dispatched early in April.
Random’s reputation for their dispatch services has been legendary in the trade – when the Nielsen Awards for best dispatch were handed out, Random was almost always on the receiving end. The warehouse also was the distributor for nine other publishers of varying sizes.
One of the ‘nearly finished’ closing down jobs has been gathering and sending stock to those publishers’ new warehouses. It is fair to say none would have moved if there had been a choice. “What a great job they did,” says Neil Hyndman at Hyndman Publishing. And that is from someone who knows – Neil previously did his own distribution, but moved to Random House two and a half years ago.
VUP’s Craig Gamble joked that “We went from Random House sobbing – they were marvelous, and all the booksellers liked them!”
Bookseller David Hedley said RH’s warehouse service had been “Incredible, amazing – the trade will miss them and their overnight service. It is a sad moment, but another stepping stone of change. When I was first a bookseller it was all indent from England for stock,” he quips. “Now it is from Australia!”
Gecko Press’ Julia Marshall also credits lessons learned from Jill Ewing as important to her business. “Jill taught me a lot about stock turn, and trained me to keep good levels of inventory!”
“Te Papa Press enjoyed almost a decade of superb support from Random House New Zealand and remain immensely proud of the partnership. Experts at every level from leadership to sales to accounts to warehousing, Random were consistent bookselling award-winners for a reason, and to watch their team in action was impressive, right down to the very last pallet relocation,” said Te Papa Press publisher Claire Murdoch. “We extend our aroha, thanks and good wishes to all their expert staff, past and present.”
Jill (pictured left) says that warehousing and distribution had its own calendar rhythm through the year. The former sales rep and customer service manager for HarperCollins NZ supervised a regular two releases each month, the main one in the first week and a second smaller dispatch in week three.
But Random House dispatch was also famous for its speedy turnaround of customer orders. Warehouse staff shared the buzz and rose to the challenge of promptly dispatching major best sellers – The Da Vinci Code being one, and more recently the Fifty Shades of Grey titles.
They were also known to receive bestsellers in the morning and dispatch stock the same day – a feat few book local warehouses could match, especially at those volumes.
Jayden Connolly, the Warehouse Manager, and other key warehouse staff Doug Hollinger, Ray Hurley, Chris Sorenson and Raewyn Wynyard have all been 20 plus years on the Random warehouse team.
There will be a dinner for warehouse staff as part of the wind down, and probably a morning tea or two for suppliers and colleagues, but meanwhile there is work to be done, so the warehouse has the same purposeful bustle as ever.
Asked what the hardest part of her distribution manager role has been, Jill says “The most challenging thing is what we are doing now. The publishers we distribute for have had all their stock go in many directions, and one is yet to move.”