Here in Ontario — especially Eastern Ontario — we tend to think of Western Canada as the heart of the Bible Belt and therefore invincible to the tough times affecting our industry. So it was a surprise to learn of another store closing in Alberta, this one in Sherwood Park:
To all of our valued customers, friends.
It is with sadness that we announce the closing of Inspirations Christian Books & Gifts at #40 130 Broadway Blvd. Sherwood Park.
After 3 years and a downturn in the retail market, Stan & Patricia will be closing the doors effective closing on June 25th, 2016.
We thank you and appreciate your faithfulness and support.
Proverbs 3: 5-6 encourages us; “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Each store closing hurts our family of retailers here in Canada. We share their pain and wish them the best.
There have been times in the past when my regular blog, Thinking Out Loud, can get into a run of critical articles, and even my Twitter feed occasionally upsets someone because it appears to be skewing negative. (That’s why I created Christianity 201; for my own spiritual sanity.) So in the “It takes one to know one” category, I can spot this type of rhetoric a mile away.
For example, Jim Fletcher’s article in WND (World Net Daily) is interesting because they have a conflict of interest here, as they also publish books which occasionally appear in many of our stores, including a Four Blood Moons title of their own last year.
Checking out Christian retailing online the other day was a real downer. Among the top-selling books/authors making their rounds through evangelical circles: “Jesus Calling,” “The Power of I Am” (Joel Osteen), Thom Rainer, Rick Warren, Jen Hatmaker, Steven Furtick and “Half Truths” (Adam Hamilton)…
…Anyone who has paid attention to the research of Warren Smith regarding Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” mess should be dismayed. That this non-biblical book has become the publishing sensation it has indicates biblical illiteracy is at epidemic levels within the American Church.
Rainer, who runs the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Publishing Division, a cash-cow for the denomination, doesn’t like to answer uncomfortable questions about LifeWay’s business practices. He finally blocked me on Twitter for asking questions about Alex Malarkey. He is a major change-agent within evangelicalism.
Osteen … what more needs to be said? “The Power of I Am”? “I Am” is the self-identifying name God used to announce … Himself. Of late, American evangelical “leaders” have begun using the phrase to describe themselves…
What’s next in Christian bookstores, mini golden calves?
He attacks others as well, and while I have also voiced the opinion that LifeWay is “a cash cow” and have been involved in discussions in other media regarding the Jesus Calling merchandise, I felt the piece rather trashes people like you and me who entered the arena of Christian bookselling out of purer motives. So I wrote him this letter:
My wife and I run a small-town Christian bookstore without pay, and have been doing this for more than 20 years now. We basically lose money every time we open the doors; it’s all we can do some months to cover the $1,600 per month we pay in rent. (Real estate bargains to do not abound in our part of the world.)
I think a lot of what you wrote was spot-on. There are a lot of issues that need to be identified, including our industry’s penchant for taking a trend like adult coloring books and milking it to death, to the shallowness of Osteen, to the incredible cash cow that is LifeWay; and while I often try to cut Furtick some slack — “He’s just a kid;” I tell myself — I frequently feel I’m betting on the wrong horse.
Any list of new releases is often met by a great deal of eye-rolling, though there are always a couple of gems worth finding and recommending to customers.
Jesus Calling has been the subject of great angst for us. It’s not my thing, but some of the book’s fans are core customers, a situation I don’t fully understand. We’ve compromised with this one title. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking right now.) There are minimal copies in the store, but most are out-of-sight, behind the counter. I’m very vocal with prospective buyers that the book has some controversy associated with it, to put it mildly, and then we discuss that in detail. (Interesting though that the genre is not new; first-person, God-talking books by Larry Crabb, Sheri Rose Sheppard (6 such titles) and Frances Roberts escape all the criticisms. I guess sales volume makes you a greater target.)
That said, I’m still not content with your article. First, it curses the darkness without lighting any candles. There are some great books being published that have rich text (a term I’ve borrowed from the HTML world of computing) and offer spiritual depth and insight. I would offer my store’s entire Christian apologetics department — about 300 titles — as Exhibit A.
Second, you paint all of us who involved in the buying, merchandising and marketing of Christian books at the local, community, storefront level with the same brush. The decisions, as I stated above re. Sarah Young are never easy. But some thought and prayer does go into deciding what gets in and what gets rejected.
Finally, the comment,
“What’s next in Christian bookstores, mini golden calves?”
simply wasn’t helpful for purposes of this discussion. (A more informed article could have discussed the St. Joseph statue phenomenon, where people bury a statue of the poor man upside-down in the hope of selling their house. Some ‘Christian’ bookstores do actually stock these. I tell customers to lower their asking price or get a different sales agent.)
The article was simply too easy to write, and too sensational. For balance, it needs a Part Two.
Basically, I’m saying don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t blame the individual, local, mom-and-pop store owners for the state of the entire industry; and don’t castigate them if taking on a category like colouring books or eschatological scare-mongering helps keep the doors open and facilitate a whole lot of helpful interactions and transactions.
If it’s true, as the set-up indicated, that this investigative piece only looked at online titles on offer, perhaps that’s the problem; it’s missing the heart and the nuance of what happens when people step into a real store with real people serving them.
A version of what I do at Thinking Out Loud just for you:
- The movie based on The Shack has been delayed.
- This spring three different books all have the same title, Unashamed
- Also, two different CDs have similar titles, Where the Light Gets In (Jason Gray) and Where the Light Shines Through (Switchfoot).
- LifeWay’s consumer blog launches its forthcoming fall preview, starting with Baker Books.
- Publisher’s Weekly has done a full overview of Christian Fiction.
- While only looking at a single author, this post claims Christian fiction is skewing toward darker themes.
- World Net Daily (WND) who publish books themselves, go on the attack against “rotten fruit” in the industry.*
*I’ll have some excerpts from this, plus a response I wrote to the author several days ago. Stay tuned.
An unnamed source told Christian Retailing today that Send The Light (STL) Distribution will be liquidating and closing. The process is to begin in the next 90 days. The source also indicated that STL notified its employees of the situation so they could find other employment.
…continue reading here… [waiting for online version / return for updates]
UPDATE: 24 Hours later, nothing new on this front, though a comment at Facebook suggests that CR may have jumped the gun on this announcement. I went fishing today for myself, but no one at STL was talking.
One of the battles we face in retail in knowing when to get in to a current fad, how deep to get in, and when to start getting out. Say what you will about lotteries, but retail buying is also legalized gambling.
We had a slow sales period in our store for the past two weeks and we’re wondering if that might be colouring — pun intended, just wait for it — our view on certain sections of our store, but we always worry about the dangers of getting in too deep on particular inventory. For example:
Colouring Books – This product group didn’t exactly happen overnight, but it was a lot easier when there were only a handful of products. Once you’ve got one of these in your home, you’ve got your work cut out for you, so it could be awhile before you run out of blank diagrams. Or have we seen this category crash and burn?
First Communion and Confirmation – The interesting facet to this is that many stores are owned and managed by Evangelicals who aren’t always tuned in to the dates for these sacramental occasions; dates which may change from year to year. At the local level, things may come to an abrupt halt, though thankfully there are always gifts needed for out-of-town events, as well as people who give belatedly.
Amish Fiction – This category seems to be holding its own though not necessarily growing. Fiction generally is a tough sell in many of our stores, though the suspense genre seems to still be building. Like the colouring books, there’s simply so much Amish product from which to choose.
Tie-In Products – Just because the movie did well, it doesn’t mean the related books, or calendars, or music soundtrack will do as well. Or just because the core title did well, it doesn’t mean the spinoffs will. (For example, other books by Sarah Young don’t perform much in our store; people just keep requesting the original title to give away.) On the other hand, if the movie or core title is recognizable, at least the ancillary items are their own shelf-talker; no hand-selling is necessary.
…So here’s a fun homework exercise:
- Go to the CBA Top 50 list (or any other similar chart) and print a copy.
- Draw a line through all the colouring books (or similar items you see as trending).
- Draw a line through all the tie-in product (right now War Room is represented in many places).
- Draw a line through all the products that are spinoffs of an original brand leader.
- Cross out all the multiple listings — different ISBNs for different bindings — of a given title.
What you’re left with is your true list of titles to keep in stock, but remember, the list is itself a chart, so by definition you’re still looking at trending items, often new releases, and remember that the list takes no account of local area interest titles which may be important in the life of your bookstore.
What other categories and trends cause you to aim for caution?
Some days I sell titles.
But many other days I sell authors.
And I have no clue who wrote these books listed below, except for one rather obvious one.
This new release sheet for June is relatively useless to me.
And if I find out about the books through other means, should I not then honour that by ordering the books from those channels?
In the past few weeks we saw two cases where an American owned Christian distributor was purchased by Canadians; David C. Cook Canada and Augsburg Fortress Canada. The new, combined company will doubtless be undergoing a name change over the next few weeks.
Today, we’re hearing of the reverse case, where a longstanding Winnipeg, MB distributor, Word Alive, has been purchased by Anchor Distributors of New Kensington, Pennyslvania. There are a number of reasons why this is significant.
First, in terms of independent distributor options available to Canadian stores, Anchor, Send the Light (STL) and Spring Arbor (Ingram) have been shipping to Canada to years, but Anchor never had a consolidated freight or pre-clearance system. Orders went out individually and stores had to pay hefty freight costs. Furthermore, Spring Arbor won’t export anything that isn’t a book, CD or DVD, which means that up until now, stores wishing to bring in ancillary items either got them from Send the Light or they didn’t at all. Importation of a variety of these items is a complicated process involving various harmonized codes and many countries of origin. Hopefully, that changes.
Second, the two companies have always been tied together doctrinally. They have carried similar publishers with a strong Charismatic and Pentecostal identity. While Charismatic books don’t drive the market as much as they did ten years ago, they are a necessity for stores selling to the Evangelical market.
Third, Anchor’s corporate association with Whitaker House hopefully means that Canadian stores will have frequent access to the Whitaker Bargain Books line without the aforementioned high shipping costs.
Fourth, the last point means that both companies have been involved in the publishing side of the business. Word Alive Press is home to many top Canadian Christian authors. Is it part of the sale? [See update below] Publishing is federally regulated and historically, in the name of cultural sovereignty, the Canadian government is loathe to let publishers here fall into American hands. It’s possible that division may need to spin-off in order to maintain a separate identity, but if Canadian authors are hearing about the deal, it sounds like a win with higher visibility of our authors. [See update below]
Finally, it’s an affirmation of our Canadian Christian market; showing that while two U.S. parent companies decided to divest themselves of holdings here, another U.S. business is saying that we’re worth the investment.
UPDATE 5/19 8:00 PM: Word Alive Press authors have been notified of the sale and the positive and an announcement has been posted on their blog. Here is portion of that announcement:
Word Alive Press itself is not part of the Anchor purchase. We remain a Canadian-owned publishing company, proudly serving the Christian book market in Canada and abroad. Our vision has always been to find and develop a base of Canadian authors who, through their stories and God-given talents, will teach, equip, entertain, influence, and ultimately extend the impact of the Kingdom of God in Canada. We are excited about this vision and now see an even brighter future for our authors to influence people beyond our borders.
This is a win-win for authors. The publishing stays Canadian owned and controlled but artists reap the full benefit of the enhanced U.S. distribution.
I think that bookstore owners need to be ambassadors for reading in general and need to be posting things like this on their store Facebook, Instagram and website pages.
In many respects Slingshot is a Canadian Christian product creator’s dream. Based in Breslau, Ontario, a few kms east of Waterloo, the business has the benefit of North American distribution through Dicksons. This week we got a company update from Adam Brodrecht.
We purchased the company from Mike Clark back in late 2013. The company was heading for bankruptcy and my business partner and I bought it before it was lost. Since then our goal has been to stay true to the original vision of Slingshot, design Christian artwork that appeals to the youth and young adults of today. However, we have massively overhauled the “how” we do it. We discussed a name change. We discussed the core values of how we want to do business. We developed a ‘playbook’ that we adhere to for our day-to-day interactions as well as our long term goal setting. We realized, this really is a complete overhaul of how Slingshot Publishing works. And it has been an absolute thrill to take this company to a new level.
From inception, Slingshot was distributing product directly from the head office in Ontario, Canada. In 2011 Slingshot desired to widen our customer base and distribution was moved to Dicksons Gifts in Indiana. At the same time an opportunity to engage with a Marketing Agency arose and Slingshot became a new product line to the Dicksons Gifts Sales Representatives. Representing Slingshot throughout North America, the sales representatives present each product offering to their customers at in-store engagements. This team is made up of people that love the Lord and are committed to doing the best for their customers.
For those without a Dicksons account, Slingshot’s internal sales team is ready and eager to help. All product still ships from Dicksons distribution center.
Based out of Kitchener-Waterloo, Slingshot is run by owner Adam Brodrecht and a small team of artists, collaborators, customer service reps, sales agents and an administrator.
Doug & Karen Guderian love God, love people and love business! This refreshing recipe for life has translated into some incredible opportunities including the turnaround of Slingshot Publishing. Doug’s expertise in business has helped steer the company to a new future.
Adam & Nicole Brodrecht bring leadership to Slingshot in a number of ways. Adam leads the day to day operations of the company and works hand in hand with Doug to ensure the company will be around for years to come. Nicole, a local artist and art teacher, is Slingshot’s Creative Director and works closely with our designers to bring excellent, relevant and influential designs to each release.
Our team of designers work year round to bring new designs to the table for each catalog release. These talented, freelance artists embody our motto, Design With Influence. Each of them share a common goal… to influence the world around them with their God-given artistic talents.
To download catalogs, click below:
My wife and I can sense it within about 30 seconds of entering. A quick look around and I’ll turn to her and say, “It’s a Foundation store;” meaning a store that is heavily invested in inventory from one particular supplier, and does their various marketing programs.
Sixteen years ago, Foundation Distribution moved into my backyard. Door-to-door from my house to their warehouse is 20 minutes, which means about 25 minutes from my store. Relationally, they might as well be in Siberia. I had hoped that with a wholesale distributor that close, maybe I’d be able to help them with a project or two, as I had with IVP Canada, Mainroads Music Group, and the Canadian Bible Society.
Instead, I often found it was all I could do to keep my relationship with them as a customer intact. Right from the very beginning, they wouldn’t release their 800-number to me to place orders. “We’re very busy;” was how the request was answered. (That was the exact substance of the response.) Odd. Apparently I had been labeled, though I don’t know as what; but some baggage had carried over from the R. G. Mitchell days.
Then there was the warehouse sale a few years back. A Foundation staffer started removing things from my shopping cart. “These are for other customers;” I was told. Other customers. Totally humiliating. (Some of the items were put back after I objected.) I have not been to a warehouse sale since. To be really honest, it has more to do with the luncheon; I can’t really eat their food, especially now knowing the Eastern overtones of sharing a meal. I think it would be hypocritical on both our parts to break bread together. Perhaps some year I’ll go back but grab lunch in town or in my car.
Anyway, here’s my track record with the company:
- Customer for 16 years
- Never missed a single payment or bounced a cheque
- Never returned anything that wasn’t defective (but received no extra discount for doing so)
- With two exceptions, never burdened the company with the cost of a sales rep visit
My only major transgression in those 16 years has been showing up to pick up orders at times the entire company shuts down for coffee break or lunch. Apparently, they all eat together. I am guilty of this more times than you can possibly imagine, and my response to the daily shutdown has not been well-received.
So how has my customer loyalty been rewarded?
In 2006, I was given a copy of a book by Steven James called How to Smell Like God. I read a few chapters, but while I still have every review copy I’ve ever received, I don’t know what I did with that one. Even after my other blog took off and review copies of books starting pouring in from other publishers, nothing was forthcoming.
Of course, all stores got a copy of The ESV Study Bible when it released, but I had to really beg for mine, it was a defective copy with the ‘free’ code for the online study option being blank. I do use this Bible regularly however, and we’ve sold enough of them that FDI made back its costs, if there were any.
Oh, and a used copy of The Gospel of John Board Game. We did actually play that as a family for a few hours one night, but it didn’t do well in the store. I think there’s still a copy there.
The two sales visits were a nice gesture, low cost excursions given the short distance from my location to theirs, though I didn’t appreciate leaving my office to help a customer only to find the rep using my computer to make copies. That rep never returned, either; even though I gave him a sizeable order. The second rep visit went far better.
That’s it, apart from the aforementioned lunches at the annual warehouse buying frenzy, and a one-time, last-minute invitation to a dinner at the Orono Town Hall where I have to assume we got in because someone else couldn’t make it.
Despite all this, when Canadian stores started closing in quick succession in 2014, I redoubled my efforts to support Canadian suppliers. We didn’t use STL as much as the CEO of another company accused us of doing, but we did appreciate the convenience and the fill rate they offered. Around the same time however, STL changed their freight terms and with that and the stores shutting down, it seemed like a good time to channel as much business to my wholesale neighbor as possible. I even went through old catalogues and created backlist orders at times when no restock special was being offered; in fact our store receives the basic trade discount and usually little else. To this day, I read every page of every catalogue, and every single email that my telesales rep sends, usually responding to about 25% of them.
In other words, I’ve never sold my soul to FDI like I think some retailers have, but I’m still a loyal customer, in the same sense that a dog will always return to its master even after it has been constantly beaten.
Rather than curse the darkness, let’s light a candle: Here’s what a store/supplier relationship should look like.
For ministry objectives to be accomplished the relationship between retailer and supplier needs to be
While suppliers have a window into books that won’t hit our shelves until Christmas, retailers have a window into what customers are needing and asking for. These are two very different information sets, with two very different sets of gifts needed to manage each. Suppliers who see the structure as hierarchical (i.e. top -> down) end up with a lack of respect for the very retailers they serve; and the retailers can sense it.
While this may seem to just be repeat what was stated above, it’s meant to reflect a different idea; the notion of a partnership between retailer and supplier that serves the common goal of connecting people and products. The language should be, “How can we work together to facilitate getting resources into customers’ hands.”
The natural outgrowth of the above two factors will be a playing field that is level for dealers, big and small; and fairness in respect of pricing, discounts and terms. We are all squeezed right now, and have been since an industry downturn in the last eight years, but without the retailers, the suppliers have nothing. If store owners and managers even feel they are being taken advantage of, and curtail purchasing, the supplier losses will mount up.
The small store that is coerced into purchasing ten copies of each of ten new releases in May might have nothing left to work with for June releases. While “open to buy” programs are rather constraining and don’t allow purchasing to balloon for major titles, suppliers and their sales reps need to realize there is truly only so much money out there.
We have a ‘sales final’ policy in our store on reduced items. It’s there if we need it, but it’s almost never enforced. Suppliers also need to have flexibility with regard to the special needs that may arise with a store. Yes, if it’s offered to one store it should be theoretically available to all stores, but suppliers need to trust the retailer’s judgment and be willing to bend terms or policies to suit particular situations.
If you sense that any of these are missing in any supplier relationship, I think you need to re-examine your support of that company.