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Archive for April, 2010

Waterbrook Offers a Free First Chapter Download

In preparation for Tuesday’s release of Radical by David Platt, Waterbrook-Multomah is networking through social media such as WordPress and Facebook, to invite readers to download a free chapter of the book.

Instead of sending out review copies, the company, no doubt aware of recent blogger traffic jams at Thomas Nelson, is instead inviting social media pagemasters to download chapter one of the book, review it, and then in turn invite their readers/followers to get a free download of a companion booklet, being sold in packages of ten, titled The Radical Question. They will also be presented with a chance to download the first chapter of the larger work.

For booksellers who want a peek at the book and the marketing program, the free first chapter is available here.    The free download of the booklet is available here.

Now you know everything except what the book is all about.   Here’s the publisher marketing:

It’s easy for American Christians to forget how Jesus said his followers would actually live, what their new lifestyle would actually look like. They would, he said, leave behind security, money, convenience, even family for him. They would abandon everything for the gospel. They would take up their crosses daily…

BUT WHO DO YOU KNOW WHO LIVES LIKE THAT? DO YOU?

In Radical, David Platt challenges you to consider with an open heart how we have manipulated the gospel to fit our cultural preferences. He shows what Jesus actually said about being his disciple–then invites you to believe and obey what you have heard. And he tells the dramatic story of what is happening as a “successful” suburban church decides to get serious about the gospel according to Jesus.

Finally, he urges you to join in The Radical Experiment –a one-year journey in authentic discipleship that will transform how you live in a world that desperately needs the Good News Jesus came to bring.

Finally here’s an author video clip:

Alarm System Pays for Itself

Smaller to medium sized Christian bookstores sometimes have a relaxed attitude when it comes to building security.   It’s often an attitude shared by smaller to medium sized Churches, that is, until they have a break-in and their insurance company forces them to do something to secure their premises.

“Who would want to steal Christian books?”   That’s the usual line.   But probably there’s more interest in stealing computers, cash registers, or just plain vandalism.   Furthermore popular crossover music artists, even Veggie Tales DVDs, can be sold at pawn shops and converted to cash that is often needed to buy drugs or alcohol.

One of our stores had a motion-sensor but it was too sensitive.   We’d reached our limit with police calls and weren’t about to start paying for false alarms.

Still, I can’t imagine a store without:

  1. Door sensor activation — Employees have 40 seconds to log in their PIN to prevent the main alarm from going off.   It also provides a record of whether or not employees arrived on time, if they left early, or were in the store during unusual times.   (You usually have to request this information, but it’s available without charge.)
  2. Monitored smoke alarm.   What good is a smoke alarm going off ten minutes after someone left the building if nobody is there to hear it?
  3. Glass break sensor.  This works on air pressure and goes off immediately if someone tries to smash through the main store windows or even a door window.
  4. Police/Ambulance/Fire call buttons.  Most alarm systems have these on the main keypad panel as an added bonus.   Some of the police call buttons operate on a silent alarm, so the person causing a disturbance or attempting a robbery may not realize that police have been called.

These measures of security are offset by a discount from your insurance company.   Make sure they are made aware of existing systems or systems you install.  After those discounts are applied, the peace of mind the alarm system brings comes free of charge.

In our store the challenge has always involved having an “on call” person who can come if there is an alarm.   I have issues with expecting female staff — always our majority of our sales associates — to get up and respond to such a call in the middle of the night.   Especially in winter.   (And what if there was no such alarm; someone was just luring an employee to meet them in a remote retail district at some odd hour?)

I had a couple of employee spouses who were willing to be that person, but that’s awkward since they don’t really work for us, and would have to borrow the key from their wife.

The main challenge involves the fact that of the 20 or so staff we’ve hired since we alarmed our locations, very few have actually lived in the town where the stores are located.

But other than this, I would never consider not having an alarm system in the stores.

The Float is Sinking

Have you noticed that more and more customers are using an electronic form of payment?   Chances are that means you no longer need to carry a gigantic change float in your cash register, especially if it means someone has to count a lot of unrolled coins first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Also, check your insurance policy.   Cash is usually an exclusion.  Another reason to keep the float low and get deposits to the bank each evening.

Another solution that has worked well for us is to use a secondary float that can be used to prop up the main float, but doesn’t have to be balanced each day.  That way you can keep the main float lower.

Categories: Uncategorized

Keep Inventory in Balance

I’m not a morning person.   But there’s one person in our industry for whom I’m always prepared to do a breakfast meeting.    I might even remember some of it by noon the same day, if I’m awake enough.

After doing so on Tuesday, what I did remember, hours later, was a short discussion we had about bargain books.

Our business survived the first decade of this century by connecting with about ten different suppliers of remainders, overstock and hurt books.   Some of them are names you know and others you might never have heard of.   It made what we do possible in some smaller markets.

The key for us has been to not go overboard on this.    To continue to track the 100 – 200 bestselling titles alongside tracking bargain opportunities.    To make sure that neither the bargain section or the frontlist new releases dominates the other.    To handpick bargain books that meet frontlist needs and requests.

In our discussion it was suggested that perhaps some stores have been seduced by low costs and potentally greater margins.   Here’s two pieces of advice that have helped us:

  • Always consider the possibility that you’re buying someone else’s junk.  That’s extreme, but it helps put things into perspective.  At the very least, think of it as you’re purchasing some publisher’s problem, and now it has become your problem.
  • For Canadian stores especially, remember that the bargain books issue is the same as the lower-dollar pricing issue.   You sell a $6 book to someone who might have paid $26 for the same type of content, and you’ve put yourself in a much tighter position when it comes to paying rent, salaries, utilities, insurance, etc.

For some of you, it may be that in weighing all your options, you don’t want to go down this road.

Categories: Uncategorized

Video Sale Risks Legal Action

Many Christian bookstores decided to take a pass on the movie version of Ted Dekker’s House, but stores selling the DVD could be in legal trouble if they sell it to someone who is underage.

A film’s “R” rating in theaters becomes its rating for video sales as well.   So depending on where you live and how strictly sales are being policed in your jurisdiction, you probably shouldn’t sell it without asking for identification.

But there’s more at issue here.   Nobody is looking for this type of movie content to turn up in a Christian bookstore, but your local law enforcement wouldn’t hesitate to act on a complaint.

And the complaint could just be an issue of someone setting you up.   My advice:  Stay away from movies with “R” ratings and video games with “M” ratings.   They have no place in Christian stores, especially if the sale of a single unit comes back to bite you.

Categories: Uncategorized

Some Ontario Stores Could Open Next Family Day

If the City of Toronto goes ahead with plans to allow retail stores to open on statutory holidays, it’s almost certain that other municipalities could follow their lead, which means Family Day — the new stat holiday largely disliked by retailers — could be a regular business day for some Christian bookstores.

While Christian stores aren’t likely to open on Good Friday or Christmas Day — just as they don’t open on Sundays — an American style New Year’s Day sale or Labour Day sale is not out of the question.   Canada Day also becomes a more remote possibility, though Thanksgiving seems unlikely.

There are two serious cost issues here:

  • It takes a significant advertising budget and some great loss-leader merchandise to really “hype” the day; especially when customers are accustomed to holiday closings;
  • It’s still a stat holiday:  Staff would need to be paid time-and-a-half or double time.

Still, it’s not out of the question.   Retailers need to remember that store openings on such holidays fall under municipal jurisdiction.   You need to be certain that the opening is permitted where you live.

The final vote at Toronto city council is scheduled to come up on either May 11th or 12th.

Liz Curtis Higgs 6-Hour Event for Women

Here’s a link to some local publicity for a coming event in Fort Wayne, IN — no foreign place for Liz Curtis Higgs who was once a DJ in Indianapolis.

This is what is called “good press.”  It  promotes an event, it promotes an author, it tells some of the author’s personal testimony, it promotes a book, it gives a precis of the book’s content.   Win-Win-Win-Win-Win.

If you’ve got an event coming up in your city or town, this is a model for what a reporter’s finished story could look like.   If you know the value local events like this have on author visibility — not to mention encouragement to the Christian community in general — this is an event you might want to see happen where you live.

Start reading the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette story here.

Not Always Right

It’s been fourteen months since we stole borrowed something from NotAlwaysRight.com; a funny website history of customer interactions gone awry.   Here’s another one from the bookstore category:

A-B-C, Easy As D-U-H

Bookstore | Massachusetts, USA

Customer: “Hey, can you help me find this book?”

Me: “Sure.”

(He holds up a piece of paper with the title and author of a book on it. I find it on the shelves and hand it to him.)

Customer: “Thanks! How’d you do that so fast?”

Me: “Well, I’ve worked here awhile, and the books are all in alphabetical order by author’s name.”

Customer: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Alphabetical order. Like the alphabet song? You know, A’s before B’s?”

(He looks confused, but then widens his eyes.)

Customer: “The letters actually go in that order? I thought that song was just to remember them all!”

…Maybe some of you have something to contribute to them?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Christian Bookstore and Educational Store Merge

It helps to know that they were owned by the same people; a couple with the poetic names Christopher and Christine Santalucia.     Learning Works and Christian Light Bookstore merged into a single building and in the process added a café.

The 7,000 square-foot facility now employs 14 people.

Read the story in the Williamsport, PA Sun Gazette.

BTW, there’s also an excellent example of an educational store merged with a Christian bookstore in Lansing, Michigan; where there is obviously a strong homeschool market.  (I think it’s called Gift and Bible on W. Saginaw, but their webpage was down.   Huge store.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Brouwer Wins Gospel Juno Award

Thanks to all of you who have contacted me reminding me to say something about Matt Brouwer’s Juno award in the Gospel/Contemporary Christian category.

For our U.S. readers, the Junos are our equivalent of the Grammy awards.  It’s been interesting to see Brouwer’s publicity south of the border on this.   (Other nominees were Janelle, FM Static, Thousand Foot Krutch and multiple-previous-winner Steve Bell.)

Here in Canada, four albums are currently available from David C. Cook:

  • Imagerial
  • Unlearning
  • Where’s Our Revolution (re-issue)
  • The B-Sides Recording, Volume 1

To learn more about Matt, click here (turn speakers on).


First Communion Customers Defined

The confirmation or first communion shopper is often:

  • Someone who has never been in your store before
  • Has arrived not really knowing what they are looking for
  • Really isn’t interested in your recommendations
  • Already bought a card somewhere else
  • Has no intention of ever returning to your store

That cynicism (or reality!) aside, the FC or Confirmation customer represents a tremendous ministry opportunity, especially if you get them one-at-a-time when you’re free enough to engage conversation.   It is perhaps, the only chance you’ll get –

  • to plant a seed
  • to remind them of the essence of the gospel
  • to share your own church experience possibly inviting them to your church if they don’t have one, or to a special event
  • to recommend a book that many people are reading or that they might enjoy
  • to make them feel comfortable enough in the store that they do come back again

Bottom line:  Frustrating as it can be, it’s your moment to let your store and all that contains really shine.  It’s our test of how much we really love people in the community at large.  For that five to fifteen minutes they are on your turf. What are you going to do with the opportunity you’ve been given?

Categories: Uncategorized

The Cats Are All Away

It’s a quiet day online today, as a good many Canadian retailers are experiencing the Foundation Distributing (FDI) annual warehouse event.

With the exception of this year, I’ve been invited to these events annually — they are actually a continuation of the annual warehouse sales at R. G. Mitchell, where the FDI founders worked previously — but as a dealer set us straight this week, I’ve just realized I didn’t fully understand how this event works.

Basically, buyers from FDI’s major accounts are flown in from various places across the country and given accommodation and are presented with an opportunity to roam the warehouse and place a stock order.

But one of the main draws is that all year long FDI collects publisher overstock, remainders and hurt books which store buyers physically remove from displays and fill up shopping carts with everything from giftware to books to Bibles.    (For weeks now, FDI staffers have been separating some nice leather Bibles from their boxes for this event, but that’s another story.)

At the same time, not-so-major-account Ontario stores within driving distance also are invited to the event which fills out the numbers a bit more, and creates more of a buying frenzy.

It’s well organized; you get to meet dealers from other stores; and they serve a nice lunch.

At least, that’s how I thought it worked.

This week a dealer set us straight.

The one-day event that we know as “A Day in the Country” is actually a two-day event which presumably operates under another name for the chosen few.   It actually started yesterday.   I have absolutely no idea what happens the first day.   We’re told that no one has prior access to the large collection of remainders and overstock, though in the past, by the time we’ve arrived — as early as 8:30 AM on the Wednesday — there are already huge boxes of product which have been pre-selected by those major accounts.

So it’s really a two-tiered event.

Not exactly.

Last year, we attended the second day — the only one we’re invited to — when presumably we were picking through what was left of the bargain product, only to have a FDI staffer tell us that we were “not eligible” to purchase the three dozen NLT Bibles we’d selected.   He then removed them from our shopping cart.

Suddenly it was appearing to be a three-tiered event, and we were on the lowest tier.   Sigh!

An hour later, I happened to meet one of the principals of FDI and mentioned that this was rather humiliating, and he walked me back to that area and told me there was no such restriction.

There were still about twelve of the Bibles left, we did in fact get them, and months later customers started returning them.   They have serious binding issues.   (I’m looking for a source for the glue used by book binders, if anyone knows.)

Bottom line:  We attended this event for many years and really enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the company of other dealers, got some good bargains for our store and had a nice lunch.    But last year, we decided to leave before the lunch began.   We were made very conscious of the fact we were in the bottom tier of accounts shopping the sale.

But that doesn’t mean that anyone should assume that this is an industry that will ever stop giving the big guys a break.   The bargain inventory at Book Depot for example, has already been pre-shopped by some key accounts who are tipped off about “sorting days” for key publisher product  before the leftover product is posted online.   Others receive advance lists of product before it is announced online.

One Christian book dealer described it to me this way, “The owners are Dutch and we’re Dutch and we work together.”   Guess I was born in the wrong country.

No one likes to attend a party they weren’t invited to, and no Christian bookstore owner should ever be made to feel second rate. And nobody should ever have to suffer the humiliation of having merchandise removed from a cart (physical or online) because they don’t meet eligibility requirements.

Frankly, I honestly believe it takes more “smarts” to operate a Christian bookstore in a smaller market than it does in a major metropolis, where the sheer volume of people passing through helps to cover all your mistakes.

To those of you who were flown in for the event, I’m sure you got some deals and had a good time.   Much has been given to you.  Enjoy it.  Be grateful.  It is not so for some of us.


Dollar Dilemma

For stores in Canada, although R. G. Mitchell is no longer with us, their approach to the Canadian dollar’s “reverse crisis” in 2008 is well-remembered.

Recognizing that lower prices could prove chaotic for retailers, while at the same time wanting to deal with the media’s influence on consumers, RGM tempered price adjustments with expanded margins until, at one point, 50% became the normative trade discount for the lines they carried, which represented about 90% of the best-selling Christian books.

While I was not a fan of everything that happened on Gordon Baker Road, I did agree that this was the best approach.   Furthermore, it wasn’t our industry’s handling of the currency issue that brought on the demise of RGM, but rather the availability of online purchasing that existed as a consumer alternative when the U.S. dollar got affordable.

Canadian customers were already paying conversion rates of 1.650 in the earlier part of that decade, and ironically, our stores were in much better financial health.   The industry couldn’t deal with declining prices fast enough, and suddenly, a whole consumer segment discovered the ease of purchasing from U.S. online vendors.

Here’s how our most recent dollar adventure tracks — these are the monthly closing numbers from the Bank of Canada:

March 2010  1.0158
February 2010  1.0525
January 2010  1.0693
December 2009  1.0510
November 2009  1.0556
October 2009  1.0819
September 2009  1.0707
August 2009  1.0950
July 2009  1.0775
June 2009  1.1630
May 2009  1.0917
April 2009  1.1930
March 2009  1.2613

The last six months have not been nearly as exciting as the first six, but anytime the dollar creeps toward parity our Canadian industry “blinks.”  In some ways, it’s a blessing that we aren’t dealing with fixed pricing here.   Our ties to the U.S. pricing and royalty structure certainly work to advantage here provided our dollar is going up against the U.S. dollar.

I also again want to go on record as saying that I don’t think our Canadian market will ever again survive conversions as high as 1.600 or 1.650.   In fact, I believe that if we ever back to anything over 1.400 consumers will gravitate to other media to provide them with spiritual input.   We would have to negotiate a separate arrangement at that point, no matter what they U.S. literary agents have to say about it.

All this to say…

I’m not sure yesterday’s announcement by David C. Cook that they are moving toward a conversion factor of 1.100 is the greatest news we could have heard, especially from a company that does so little discounting to begin with.

Frankly, when RGM changed the rules all those months ago, my own business decided we weren’t going back to 40%.   Pricing from DCC is already adjusted in our store, and will continue to be moving forward.   We need “real dollars” to pay heat, insurance, telephone, security, wages, and especially rent.   Customers are not nearly so price conscious as we think they are, nor are they as price aware as we are on the other side of the counter.

Dealers need to regard the announcement as a change in discount as much as a change in retail pricing, and find the balance point that works for your business.

Your future is hanging on your decision.

Related:  These days, this is a recurring theme at this blog, check out posts on April 7 and March 4.

Amazon Becomes First Foreign Owned Book Distributor in Canada

Back on March 9th, we reported here that Amazon was wanting to hire its first ever Canadian employee and ship its first book from a distribution base located on Canadian soil.    Last week, that desire became reality.

The Globe and Mail reports who capably handled the earlier story — Omar El Akkad and Marina Strauss — continued with it on April 12th; choosing a quotation or two wasn’t easy; these are highlighted paragraphs only, you should click here to read the entire article:

Ottawa said it will allow U.S. on-line bookseller Amazon.com Inc. to set up its own distribution centre in Canada, a second major move in recent months by the federal government to effectively override foreign-ownership rules.

The ruling allows the Seattle-based firm to cut its costs significantly, prompting heavy criticism by local booksellers who say it will allow Amazon to price Canadian businesses out of the market…

…“This signals a government of Canada policy change confirming that a company no longer needs to be Canadian-owned to sell books in Canada,” said Heather Reisman, chief executive officer of Indigo Books & Music Inc.

The government’s approval of Amazon’s plans follows a surprise December decision that opened the door for Globalive Wireless Management Corp. to begin operating a wireless network in Canada, overturning a ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that deemed Globalive to be a foreign company because of its Egyptian financial backing…

…Amazon.ca is a website that has no physical presence in Canada. Had Ottawa rejected Amazon’s shipping centre application, the government would have found itself in the untenable position of saying the company’s business runs afoul of Canadian rules, while at the same time allowing Amazon.ca to operate outside those rules.

Instead, the Conservative government secured a number of “commitments” from Amazon in exchange for approving the distribution centre.

According to Heritage Minister James Moore, those “commitments” include a $20-million investment in Canada…

…However it’s unclear how much of the $20-million investment is new money. In addition, many of Amazon’s commitments are vaguely stated, such as “increased visibility for Canadian books on the Amazon.ca Web page,” “increased availability of French-language Canadian cultural products” and “making more Canadian content available on the Kindle e-reader.” Neither the government nor Amazon supplemented these promises with hard numbers, or indicated when they would begin to take effect…

…Again, you’re encouraged to check out the entire story.

Meanwhile on Saturday, also at The Globe and Mail, columnist James Adams suggests much more is afoot:

…Still, the decision, announced Monday, is important, momentous even. It may be the case that the Conservatives were bowing to the reality that Amazon was already in Canada as an e-tailer (albeit working through a subsidiary of Canada Post, a Crown agency, rather than a retailer with hundreds of physical locations). But some are arguing the decision is nothing less than a reversal of the cultural protection policy that’s been in place since the Trudeau era. For Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books & Music, the situation is pretty clear. This week’s decision “signals . . . a policy change,” she said in an e-mail. “[It confirms] that a company no longer need to be Canadian-owned to sell books in Canada.”

A change in culture policy?

…Heritage Minister James Moore would allow, during Question Period in the House of Commons… “We will create new Canadian jobs in Mississauga.” The same went for Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice-president for global public policy: “We believe that a local fulfilment center will enable us to even better serve our customers in Canada as well as our customers in other countries who seek Canadian books and other cultural products,” he told The Globe and Mail in a statement.

Could there even be more than one facility? In the United States, books are only a small part of Amazon’s retail offerings (a low-margin one at that) – and you don’t earn gross annual revenues of $25.3-billion, as Amazon did last year, by selling Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol at a 42 per cent discount.

Over the years, Amazon has steadily increased its choice of wares to American consumers to the point that there’s pretty much nothing they can’t order – baby food, toilets, musical instruments, faucets, beauty aids, power drills and, of course, the Kindle e-reader. Asked about future plans to expand their offerings in Canada, an Amazon spokesperson would only say: “We don’t have anything to add at the moment – I’ll let you know should that change.”

Changes might not be too long in coming. Last December, when The New York Times asked Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey Bezos, “What is your goal, exactly?”, he replied: “We want to have Earth’s biggest selection.”

Continue reading that piece here.

For our industry, Heather Reisman’s concerns are representative.   This is a selling out of Canadian sovereignty over a “cultural industry” and opens the floodgates for Borders, Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble to look north for expansion; stores which carry a much, much larger percentage of Christian book bestsellers than our own Chapters; not to mention chains like Family Christian Bookstores.

Don’t assume that won’t happen.

Cook Gives Canadian Dayspring Customers Three Options

With the Canadian dollar trading at or near parity over the last week, Dayspring Card’s Canadian distributor, David C. Cook, is giving stores three options:

  • a 20% off program
  • a 15% off program
  • continue selling at CDN pricing as marked

If other card shops in your area are selling their greeting cards at reduced prices, it’s hard to be the lone holdout at higher pricing.

But the deal is only worthwhile if you are approaching the need to make a significant inventory purchase.

For example, in our larger store, we have 4.5 racks of Dayspring product.   At 116 pockets per rack that works out to 522 pockets.   Today I place an order for 48 pockets at an extra 10% discount, in exchange for signing up for the 20% program.   I maintain margin on this new purchase at the discounted rate, but it touches less than 10% of the number of card pockets in my store.

That means nine out of ten cards sold — in the short term until I place subsequent orders — will involve selling cards for 20% off for which I did not pay the higher price.

The variable is not knowing what the future holds for the dollar and how long the program will last.    A store like ours also needs to assume there will come a time when the situation reverses, so that I can catch this “early stage” loss on 90% of my Dayspring card sales when the market moves the other way.

Not knowing also puts pressure on us to buy new inventory while we can to try to shift the “balance of discounted product” more toward at least 50%.   For example, I purchased 48 pockets today, but as soon as that order arrives, I intend to ask staff to provide reorder information for pockets containing only a single card.

That may produce some anomalies as new designs have replaced older ones, but at this point it becomes a race to buy the product in case the dollar happens to move back, although economists are predicting this stretch or parity or near-parity to last much longer than in 2008.

BTW (or is that FYI), this particular store has a total of 13 card racks.   There has been no indication from Leanin’ Tree cards’ Canadian distributor that a similar program is in the works.   This line does well for us, but is also the most contentious among customers because of the pricing:  2.50 US / 3.75 CDN.    That’s a rather glaring conversion of 50%.    We’ve asked repeatedly for adjustments from them on this, but to date,  but Don Fowler Distributors have shown little interest in capitulating.

The rest of the racks there include an assortment of various lines we’ve purchased directly from the U.S.  including Dear Cards, Marianne Richmond, and some handpainted custom cards commissioned directly from a local artist.

Also on the topic of cards, our greatest need right now is for birthday cards which honor specific years, especially 70th, 75th, 80th, 90th, 100th, etc.) The revised “Through the Ages” line from Life is rather devoid of scripture content — or any content for that matter — and our repeated appeals to Dayspring either don’t produce responses, or they simply maintain there is no need for this in the U.S. Christian market.

Seems to me that’s an opportunity for someone in the U.S. to fill a void.

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