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Archive for August, 2011

Running a “Christian” Business

We go to the same church, and he runs a business which does routine maintenance on cars for which I am a customer.  A few days ago it was time for a visit. As we were settling the bill, I mentioned that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a $5.00 OFF coupon in the mailbox, and he explained that they’ve been running them in the local newspaper. After making it really clear that we’re in a tight spot and could really use the $5.00 he said something like, “You’ll just have to watch for it next time.”

I was genuinely hoping he would enter the coupon code, but he didn’t. On the drive home I reflected on the difference between the corporate culture at his shop versus the corporate culture at ours. We don’t cave on everything, but a request like that would have been met.

Today’s the last day of the David C. Cook “Summer Sizzle” sale, and yet, with the deadline passed, I am very confident we’ll be making exceptions for the next several days. We just do that. I want our stores to be “a place of grace.”

It would be easy for us just to have policies and be inflexible. But the policies and rules merely provide us with a starting place to deal with difficult situations. For the most part, I believe that “red tape was made to be cut.” I wasn’t happy with his decision not to enter the coupon code without the coupon, but it just reminded me of the advantage that our customers enjoy when shopping in a store which is guided by a different set of ethics.

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Redeeming Love Celebrates 20 Years

An ever-popular Christian title celebrates 20 years in print and 1.5 million copies sold.  Norm Robertson from Multnomah’s Canadian distributor, Augsburg Fortress Canada passed on the following:

Now in its 20th year, REDEEMING LOVE by Francine Rivers continues with a strong sales track. In that 20 years we’ve sold nearly 1.5 million copies across all formats.

Our 20th Anniversary celebration continues. Here are a few highlights of online resources now available to your accounts:

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Accumulated Inventory

If you still had some sealed 2005 calendars, this would have been the year to bring them out and sell them, since the calendar template for 2005 and 2011 was identical. Now you’ll have to save them until 2022. But if you have any 1984 calendars left over from 28 years ago, now is the time to feature them, as their template matches the coming leap year.

We all have problems with not wanting to throw out obsolete inventory. At a recent party we attended, we were asked to bring a gag gift, so I took a Y2K book. It turned out everyone else had focused on the “gift under $2″ part of the invitation, not the “gag gift” part. In the end, I felt terrible for the guy who “won” it. Y2K books aren’t even valuable for sociological purposes. Or gag gifts.

Books awaiting final destruction: Click the picture to read more about this practice

But some decisions are complicated. For some of us, throwing out a Bible constitutes the unpardonable sin. But throwing out good literature that contains scriptural truth is equally difficult. If there’s anything remotely salvageable, we try to donate it to Christian Salvage Mission, based in Hamilton, with reps across Canada. But sometimes we hang on to things in the hope that somebody might come in with a need for an obsolete prophecy title or a book on parenting that actually predates the ISBN system. And we cringe when we hear about wholesale distributors “pulping” overstock and remainders. I actually purchased a skid of remainder books that were under threat of demise because I couldn’t bear to think of the Bibles that would be thus destroyed. (We also adopted a couple of black cats for the same reason.)

The result is that we’re often crowded for storage space in back rooms. I say that in the hope that there isn’t anyone who actually uses prime display space for titles which would otherwise be heading for recycling. However, I’ve seen it done, and I’ve seen it done in stores that did not otherwise have a used book section which is where, at best, some older inventory belongs. Of course, I’ve also seen a store that dedicated an entire four-foot, six-shelf display fixture to display ten boxes of communion cups, so I suppose as a group, we’re capable of anything.

And now for some full disclosure. I am equally guilty of this. I keep thinking that surely somebody will walk in and say, “Do you have any relevant books for teenagers that were written when bell-bottomed pants were popular?” Surprisingly, this particular scenario actually happened once. No it didn’t. I’m lying. And I’m probably lying to myself when I think that some of the inventory I do have is going to find a use anytime soon.

So…what inventory are you guilty of hanging on to? What do you have too much of that you think might be useful to someone else?

Godliness Without Religiousity

Couldn’t resist the wordplay with the title of Andrew Farley’s new book, God Without Religion (Baker).  Rick Apperson interviewed Andrew as part of his “Five Questions With…” series.  Here’s a couple of the Q&A exchanges, followed by a link to this piece, and a previous one Rick did when Farley’s earlier book published:

2. As in your previous book, you tackle topics that many churches would consider to be untouchable. In your new book you touch on the Law, pre-destination, communion, baptism, forgiveness, etc. How are people responding to this book?

It’s love it or hate it.

I basically get two kinds of email – the kind that says “God used this book to refocus my life back on Jesus” or another kind of email laced with anger, accusation, and name calling.

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by encouraging friends who remind me that not everyone will be happy with the idea of “God without religion.” And the book is doing really well – it has already hit three bestseller lists (on Amazon, Christian Booksellers Association, and The Washington Post). These are early signs that loads of people love Jesus but have been burned by the performance mentality of religion.

3. Throughout God Without Religion you seem to be point out the context the Scriptures were written in. Do you think, as believers, we tend to forget to read the context?

Absolutely. Whether it’s wrestling with eternal security in Hebrews, or faith and works in James, or some other theological concern, I’m finding that many of us have grown accustomed to looking at Scripture in tiny chunks, void of any context at all.

At my website, AndrewFarley.org, I dialogue with dozens of Christians from all over the globe every day, and I’d say that more than half of the Scriptural questions I receive can be answered simply by looking to context – the surrounding verses.

In my own study, I have to continually remember that, because I grew up with a lot of Scripture memory and recitation of single verses. I have to remember to slow down, read a paragraph or a page surrounding an idea, or even begin back at the beginning of an epistle.

Getting the bird’s eye view is essential.

Read the full interview here at Rick’s blog, Just a Thought.  Also check out this May, 2010 set of five questions relating to Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel.

Living Oasis: The Vision

August 25, 2011 1 comment

I’ve been aware of this video for a few days now, but in watching it last night, I feel it’s something that everyone on the left side of the Atlantic needs to watch. Sadly, since it was created three months ago, the situation for the remaining Living Oasis bookstores and Nationwide Christian Trust continues to unravel. For more on that, you should read UK Christian Bookshops Blog. But the video remains viable as a reminder of why we do what we do in our local communities. Watch this while it’s still available on YouTube.

Note: The phrase “High Street” equals what we would term “Main Street.”

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Random Notes for Wednesday

  • The Gideons in Canada is now no longer directly tied to The Gideons in the U.S., and has decided to make the New Living Translation its “official” translation.  Considering to whom and where they hand out Bibles, the NLT is an excellent choice.  This will also raise visibility for the translation among the many who don’t follow the different versions on the market.
  • Our American friends will finally get their hands on Eric Metaxas’ book Bonhoeffer  in a paperback edition starting next Tuesday.
  • Canadian giftware distributor Innovative Home has cut the ten-of-a-kind limitation on rosary products.   Items can now be ordered as single units.
  • Augsburg-Fortress’ extra 5% on Abbey Press special ends a week today.   The turnover on this product is very good; one of the few cases where I wish the supplier actually had more to offer.
  • Barbour Publishing continues its experiment with full-priced (not promotional-priced) titles with Wanda Brunstetter’s Healing releasing early September.
  • Also next week, The Shunning  by Beverley Lewis releases in DVD.
  • Penguin Books (dist. by CanBook in Canada) has a new Jan Karon title next week as well: In the Company of Others.
  • Supply does not equal demand department:  Most music dealers probably have longstanding backorders for Rebel by Christian rapper LeCrae.  Does it take that long to press up a new batch of CDs?
  • Feel free to add comments of your own industry observations in the comments section.  However, please note any books mentioned must be available from Ingram or STL.
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Another Voice Steps into the Hell Discussion

This is another book review which appeared previously at Thinking Out Loud on July 18th.  The title is due to be released any day now from David C. Cook.  This title is very timely, but was already underway before the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book began.

I just finished reading Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It) by Brian Jones, published by David C. Cook. The timing of this book — despite indications that it began as a project long before the current furor — does make it a kind of response to Love Wins even if not directly so. While the Rob Bell book uses its first two chapters to ask enough questions to somewhat undermine a belief in everlasting punishment for those who don’t believe, Brian Jones takes his first couple of chapters to state categorically that he now believes in the certainty of hell as traditionally understood, and as literally taught in the Bible.

He uses his unwavering belief in a physical hell as the premise for what he wants to go on to talk about, which is the need to communicate the existence of hell to our unsaved family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. It refutes Love Wins only in the sense that Jones’ dogmatic certainty stands in stark contrast to Bell’s questions and uncertainty.

The point Jones really wants to get to is taking the message of salvation to those whom life puts us into contact with. Just as last summer’s Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick gave us the phrase “audacious prayers,” so does Hell Is Real… give us a phrase, “apocalyptic urgency.” That urgency runs through all 266 pages.

However, don’t start constructing placards or buying TV airtime right away. The hallmark of this book is the balance of the approach between said urgency, and finding appropriate times and places to work with what the Holy Spirit wants to do in a person’s life. The key to this book isn’t the first part of the title so much as the parenthetic part, But I Hate to Admit It. Many of us have a natural reluctance to engage our friends and contacts in a faith conversation, much less a debate.

Unless people come to you with specific questions or a specific outpouring of the heart on a matter of need, sharing the message of — to use a $50 word — propitiation is delicate. Too aggressive an approach and you create barriers that can set the conversion process back indefinitely.

In many respects for those who have decided that Bell simply asks to many questions and undermines too much of what church leaders have always believed and taught, Hell is Real represents the next step in the discussion. In other words, after all is said and done, where do we go from here? What is the practical application of all the debate?

Brian Jones would say the “hell part” of the equation is necessary to create the apocalyptic urgency needed to make evangelism effective.

Brian Jones is senior pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a rather edgy east coast church.

Mark Hall’s The Well is a Solid Christian Living Title

This originally appeared on Tuesday at Thinking Out Loud under the (long) title, The Well by Mark Hall Turns John Chapter Four On Its Head.
 
John’s gospel, chapter four. Some of you might even have it memorized. Jesus. A Samaritan woman. A conversation of at high noon. We call the story, “The Woman at the Well.”

But Jesus promises her living water. He tells her that he is that living water. The structure they are standing beside is just a hole in the ground. He — Jesus — is the well. We should call it “The Woman Who Spoke to a Well.”

That’s my paraphrase. And that’s just my takeaway from the first chapter of Mark Hall’s book The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty? (Zondervan). Additional insights from the lead singer and road pastor of the Christian music group Casting Crowns tumble out of each successive chapter. And I don’t believe in packing book reviews with spoilers, so you’ll have to get the book.

The Well would certainly suit any Casting Crowns fan, but this is a book that really transcends age or level of spiritual maturity. There’s enough here for everyone. Having said that however, I really hope that, with its straightforward writing style, The Well finds a market among teens and twenty-somethings. I know some stores will stock this in the music section, but it needs to be in the youth section as well.

But also in the self-help section. As Hall points out, the problem stated in the book’s subtitle is that we tend to look for hope and help from substitute wells — approval, control, resourcefulness, talent, entitlement; looking for “something else,” even religion — instead of looking to The One who is The Well.

When I finished the book, I immediately started in again, reading four chapters out loud in our family devotional time. We really liked an insight into the time, just before his ascension, Jesus builds a fire to cook fish. A detail I’d missed. And will never miss again. But you’ll have to get the book.

This one’s a keeper.

The Well: Why Are So Many Still Thirsty? by Mark Hall with Tim Luke publishes the first week in September from Zondervan in paper at $14.99 U.S.

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Poaching Customers from Other Bookstores

Today we received our copy of one of the local Yellow Pages directories only to discover that a Christian bookstore in a town 25-minutes away had taken out a line listing.  Why?  Weren’t we doing a good enough job servicing the local market?  And weren’t we already generously referring people to their store when we were out of stock of an item, or knew they carried something we didn’t?

I always worry when we “strive too much” to expand our influence or “enlarge our territory” in Christian ministry.  I would never have — until now — considered the idea of advertising in their community.  I view that as their ministry and don’t see the need to try to take their customers from them, even though I know we have much to offer that they don’t carry.  That would amount to taking money out of their pockets so I could put it in mine.

At a time when most of us are hanging by a thread, there have to be other ways we can continue to seek to develop our business without going after customers in areas that are already served.  This particular strategy is not the way to survive.  Five years ago, we got talked into a “half price addition” in another phone book market where there was another store, and immediately regretted it, repented of it, and didn’t renew the advertisement for a second year.  To us, it just seemed wrong.

Again, at a critical time for all of us, this hurts.  It just plain hurts.

Serita Jakes Introduces New Novel

Serita Jakes is executive director of WoMan to Woman Ministries and also the wife of Bishop T. D. Jakes of The Potter’s House church in Dallas, Texas.   Her novel, The Crossing releases near the end of September with Waterbrook. 

Publisher marketing:

Imprisoned by memories, Claudia Campbell lives each day in the shadow of a ten-year-old murder. Who can set her free?

On the way home from a football game, a decade earlier, a masked gunman opened fi re on a Texas school bus.  Cheerleading coach B.J. Remington was killed, but her murderer was never found. Claudia, who had a close friendship with the young, spirited teacher, constantly relives the anguish of that day, caught in one moment in time. When her husband, the assistant district attorney, becomes determined to uncover the mystery of that tragedy, the secrets buried over the years threaten to tear their family apart.

Officer Casio Hightower will never forget the day his dreams were destroyed. A star quarterback with a promising future, Casio was on top of the world—until one bullet changed everything. He is eager to help Victor Campbell find B.J.’s killer, the man who shot him. Maybe solving the case will help silence the demons driving Casio to hurt the woman he loves.

As the Campbells and Casio teeter on the brink of losing everything, will they be able to discover that what begins at the crossing ends at the cross?

Thanks to Norm Robertson at Waterbrook’s Canadian distributor — Augsburg-Fortress Canada — for sending the video link.

Mathematics of Year Codes Creates Sale Possibilities

If your store uses a pricing ticket system where year-codes are visible — and last week I was in a store that hand writes each price ticket, so I know this isn’t everyone — the particular year codes currently in effect allow you to have a sale that will help you sell any slow-moving merchandise that might be lying around.  For my Canadian readers, it also allows you to equalize pricing to something closer to par on merchandise bought in 2008 and prior when Canadian MSRPs were much higher due to a higher U.S. dollar.    Here’s how we do the sale in my store:

SEARCHLIGHT is having another Treasure Hunt in our book department; with major savings for you. Before you begin hunting, here are the ground rules:

  • This applies to all our WHITE price-tagged books (not Bibles). For RED tags, our BUY-4-GET-1-FREE special continues…
  • Discounts not applicable to items marked “net” or “net price”
  • Discounts not applicable to Alpha Course materials

So here are the savings. To play the Treasure Hunt, you want to focus on the number in the TOP RIGHT HAND CORNER of the white price tag.

  • If it’s a 9, you pay only 90% of the price, in other words, 10% off. (There’s at least a thousand of these to be discovered.)
  • If it’s an 8, you pay only 80% of the price, in other words, 20% off. (There’s at least 800 of these waiting for you.)
  • If it’s a 7, you pay only 70% of the price, in other words, 30% off. (There’s at least 500 of these throughout the store.)

That’s it. Be sure to ASK FOR this special.

Sale extended into August.

Customer Replacement Theory

I could see this approach working in our industry if your store’s customer base is largely people from mainline Protestant churches.

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Reformed Blog Considers Increasing Isolationist Trends Among Calvinist Shoppers

Regular reader Brian tipped us off about a discussion taking place at the Reformed blog, The White Horse Inn which began innocently enough with a reader wondering why you couldn’t buy works by John Calvin at Lifeway. 

I couldn’t help but be drawn into the discussion, and I think you’ll find the comments to be most insightful.  Most of us are getting a little sketchy on how to best service the Reformed Church market because increasingly, they are buying from their own sources, as we pointed out here when noting the results of the recent poll at Tim Challies’ blog.  My own purchasing of Crossway titles is down about 50% from two years ago, because we just aren’t getting the sell-through.  Sadly, the unavailability of Reformed titles at stores like mine is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Read the article at White Horse by clicking here.

The Choice Books Paradigm Isn’t Copyrighted

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture at right should just about cover it.  You can’t take a number in the deli section of Publix without being confronted with the display from Choice Books.  But while the Choice display in Publix is part of a nationally sanctioned arrangement from the grocery chain’s head office, there’s nothing stopping you, as an independent store, from creating a similar display and consigning product to an independent grocery operator. 

Too close to home?  Maybe.  We all want to draw people into our stores; but what about a neighboring town twenty minutes away?  You provide the fixture(s) and the grocery store provides traffic that should result in very positive sales, even allowing for the percentage you give the food store. 

Read more about this particular display in Publix at this article at Miami New Times

Key Question to Ask Consignment Authors

With the landscape rapidly changing, and more authors moving to various types of self-publishing, bookstores are being inundated with requests to take books on consignment.  I remember getting requests like this every two or three months, and now it’s two or three requests every week.  Some have even tracked down my home address.   So how do we frame a response?

I believe the key is in asking each author, “What mechanism(s) exist that would cause a customer to seek out your particular book in our particular market?” In other words, you’re asking the author what promotional efforts they are making that would create ripple effects in the city or town where your store is located.  They are offering to place the books; and you have a retail store.  That’s the supply side.  What’s being done on the demand side? 

In nine out of ten cases, the author can’t come up with a valid answer.  Authors sell books.  However, if the book’s title identifies a “felt need” I might consider the book anyway if the consignment percentage makes it worth setting up the necessary paperwork.

We’ve covered this topic before: See this article from June, 2010

 

If you’re an author considering self-publishing, make sure you know where you’re going to see your product sales happen.  As one co-author told me, “We sold 17 copies the first day, and after that sales tapered off.”  You need a plan that has lots of follow-through so you’re sales aren’t just a one-day wonder.

 

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