Revisiting a Classic Formula: Book Tables

Sometimes we think that as retailers, we’ve grown too sophisticated to re-adopt or re-consider formulae from our industry’s history. Personally, we were reminded that’s not a good mindset to have.

Living in the backyard of a large denomination’s District Office, means we’ve had a couple of book table opportunities thrown our way at the last minute. One was right in town, so we did the display ourselves, over two days, and netted about $1K in sales. The other would have involved a total of three hours of travel, so we packaged it out and gave it back to them, and they sold $500 worth of products that were slow-movers for us over the winter, including a lot of low price-point things that were bought by children and teens.

Both involved a bit of extra work and administration, but with both, when you look at the situation on Monday morning, the injection of much-needed extra revenue is certainly appreciated.

So today I wrote some emails to see if we could get some other book tables happening, including contacting people who we’ve worked with in the past. If you need to boost your numbers, I do recommend trying the same strategy; at the very least they can say ‘no,’ but mentally note that you are reaching out.

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What Successful Stores are Doing Right

We’ve spent a lot of energy at this site talking about store closings, but what about the person reading this who is considering starting a store of their own?

If that’s you, then yes, we are an industry that faces many different challenges, but there are also stores that are not planning on closing this year; stores that are placing Christmas orders and even making plans for next Valentines and next Easter.

We don’t often give space here when it’s business as usual, but my advice would be this: Talk to the store owners and managers and ask them what they feel they’re doing right. As them, “What is it that’s keeping your store open while others are closing?”

…And here’s an idea if you’re considering opening a store. Instead of contacting suppliers and placing purchase orders, consider buying into the inventory (and history) of a couple of existing stores.*

Store owners: Would you be open to a stock split to help a store gain immediate access to a balanced and curated inventory with an instant history? If not, why not? It’s a win-win for both you and the prospective new store owner.

And if anyone dares, leave a comment on what you feel is keeping your store alive while others are closing. Is it something about your market, or is it your marketing, or just dumb luck?

*This is something I would be willing to do myself. It compresses several years of careful buying into one or two purchase orders for a new store, and the product already is priced!

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Losing the Pricing Sweet Spot

Because of the changes in the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar, we’ve seen a number of price increases over the past few months. Some of you know I have made a case for fixed Canadian pricing, but I want to raise another argument for that which we haven’t considered.

I was thinking of this when looking at my Rose Publishing Pamplet display. Some of our customers have really taken this product line, and for good reason. But with the last price increase, the price jumped to $5.19 CDN. We’ve determined not to change prices on these, because I think the “sweet spot” is $4.99. I’m prepared to stay at the price even as new titles come in higher, plus we have a graduated pricing discount in effect, the more assorted titles people buy. We’ll buy conservatively so that previously-purchased items continue to dominate the mix; at least for a while.

We tend to notice the exchange rate’s effect on pricing on larger price points, such as books going up $1 at a time, but we forget the impact on low-price items can price them out of range for the customer who subconsciously associates a certain ceiling with different product types.

>>> For what it’s worth, the dollar closed today at 81.78, up slightly from yesterday.

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Moncton Store Pursues Non-Profit Option

Over a week ago, we reported on yet another announced closing, but determined to survive, Faithful Servant Books in Moncton, New Brunswick is looking at restructuring as a non-profit organization. Last week they posted this on their website:

Thank-you to everyone who has expressed their support and offered prayers to our Lord over the last month, when we announced that store closure seemed unavoidable, if a buyer could not be found.

Although there has been no offer to purchase, we have left no stone unturned in trying to find a way forward, as we have witnessed first hand the change in people’s lives as a result of the Lord working through our ministry. We have not only received untold encouragement and moral support from our customers but the general consensus is that a community or region without a Christian resource centre is missing a critical ingredient of its spiritual health.

Having shared those thoughts, we are pleased to share that we believe there may be a viable solution to our dilemma. We plan to formally restructure as a not-for-profit organization.

read the balance of the notice by clicking here  — look for the April 15th posted item 

What do you think? Are there some advantages to be gained by going non-profit? What activities might the store need to be doing to meet the definition?

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New Information Emerges in Family Christian Saga

Free Press

An article published Sunday in the Detroit Free Press carries information not seen to this point, including the amount of kickbacks the chain received from World Vision for each child sponsor recruited. There’s too much to reprint it all here, so you’ll need to click through. A couple of highlights though:

Now, the future of 3,100 employees and 266 stores in 36 states is hanging in the balance as the company seeks a potential alternative buyer. The bankruptcy comes less than three years after three wealthy evangelical benefactors, including [Richard] Jackson, purchased the struggling chain from private equity firm Blackstone, converted it into a not-for-profit venture and donated it to FCRC [Family Christian Resource Centers].


Executives told attorneys for the U.S. government and the company’s creditors that the Family Christian has not been profitable since the 2007 calendar year.

which begged the question asked by one creditor:

“If these stewards have $20 million to spend to buy a company that’s not making a profit, why wouldn’t they take that money and use it for the Dominican and Haiti and stuff like that?” said Dave Rowland of Cleveland-based Union Gospel Press. “I’m not computing here.”

The article also uncovers some practices concerning the charities FCS collected for. As we learned personally, going through the checkout there is a litany of pitches including bonus buy offers, but also charitable causes including placing Bibles in prisons, and child sponsorship:

The chain has come under scrutiny for the transfer in December of $1 million in customer donations to its parent company.

Under inquiry from attorneys after the company’s bankruptcy filing, Family Christian Vice President of Finance Ken Dady acknowledged that in-store customer donations to Christian causes are placed directly into cash registers and not physically segregated from other funds.

But he said the company adequately tracks the actual amount of the donations through accounting measures.

The one which this writer was most appalled at:

Family Christian has also benefited from customers who sign up to sponsor a third-party group called World Vision, which provides food, clothing and shelter to impoverished children throughout the world.

The chain solicits sponsorships from its customers and receives a $150 fee from World Vision for each customer who signs up and pays the monthly fee, according to records obtained by the Free Press. Family Christian receives another $35 if the customer signs up for automatic payments.

Again, you’re encouraged to read it all at The Detroit Free Press.

Canadian Dollar Improves

img 041715

In particular, Wednesday and Thursday were good days for the Canadian dollar, rising about 1.25 cents on one day and about 0.80 the other to close at 82.10 cents per U.S. dollar yesterday, and dropping back only slightly today to a close at 81.78. The chart above shows the cost of buying American dollars, of interest would be the difference between a transaction you made Monday versus one you made on Thursday.

Is the rate about to change? David C. Cook recently made the conversion rate jump from 1.2500 to 1.3000 which throws some Spring Catalogue participants into a bit of tailspin. On the one hand, it changes the catalogue order form each time there’s a conversion change, but on the other hand, we’re thankful they held back as long as they did. Over at Foundation, conversions have been at 1.3000 or 1.3333 for a long time, so the Spring Catalogue stores have been unaffected. Foundation also grants their flyer partners a regular trade discount off the sale price, so stores make full margin on all advertised titles.

This year’s Spring Catalogue is a joint venture between DCC and FDI, with some additional titles from HarperCollins and two titles from Augsburg-Fortress Canada. I’ve written more about it at this article.


Data, images: Bank of Canada website.

When You’re Asked to Take a Title on Consignment

The theory is simple.

Consignment titles require no investment on your part. The author is taking all the risk. So how can you refuse?

Even if you don’t pay upfront, consignment titles consume valuable shelf space. Unless you’ve clearly got a winner, the space used to feature such titles means another title in which you have made an investment is not going to be seen in that spot. And if their title is that good, then why not offer to simply buy the books upfront?

What you have to ask the author is, “What mechanism is in place that will direct people to this store to purchase this book?” Related, “How will people interested in this topic or this story come to seek out this title here?”

Often, the author has not thought that through. Authors operate by the mantra, “If you display it, they will buy.” But no matter how strong the titles on its left or its right, if it doesn’t have a compelling cover, people probably won’t give it a second look. What’s needed is the extra push from public appearances, TV/Radio interviews, newspaper publicity or social media.

There’s nothing wrong with telling an author, “When you’ve got a plan, give us another call.”

On the other hand, we have had a few offers where we’ve said, “We think this is a concept we can, at the very least, hand-sell to our customers, so rather than do all the consignment paperwork, what discount will you give us to buy ten copies upfront?”

New Bookstore’s Promotional Video Helps Customers Catch the Vision

We covered the new Inspirational Christian Storehouse in Windsor, Ontario launch here a few days ago, but I wanted to share their promotional video with you. On arrival at their website visitors click “Start Here” and are taken to the page where this 2-min video clip awaits.

Owner Derek Ouellette is brutally honest about how our industry faces challenges, and how he found himself launching Inspired despite those obstacles. He emphasizes The Nook, a meeting place and their Third World charitable objectives. The shots of individual departments are very fleeting, and there is no store exterior images, but again, that’s because he’s trying to stress purpose — being a hub connecting people with other people and products — over environment, though The Hub looks like a fairly relaxing place to take a coffee break.

The video is also posted to the store Facebook page.

Moncton, NB Store to Close

Faithful Servant Bookstore

You may have noticed in the comments two days ago a reference to yet another store closing. Faithful Servant Books has been in business in Moncton for three years and is owned by David Ford and managed by Michael Steeves. They wrote their customers:

Despite a very promising start in our first year, we have been unable to attract enough business to make the store viable. It is therefore with great reluctance that we have decided to wind up the business and close the store, unless a buyer can be found soon.

We aim to stay in operation through Easter until the end of April…

Our presence in the region is unique, and we have seen a positive, and sometimes dramatic impact on peoples lives who have patronized our store.

Please pray with us that a buyer can be found to continue the ministry in some form…

Faithful Servant operated on a principle of having everything in the store discounted:

Our pricing is structured along similar lines to all major online book retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc). As such all our books & publications are discounted between 5% & 30% and you should find our rates VERY competitive…

…with extra discounts for pastors.

One of the features of their website is an interactive floor plan, so that customers can familiarize themselves with the store layout before they arrive. (Click the image to see the functional version.)

Christian bookstore floor plan

We join David and Mike in hoping that this ministry can continue somehow in Moncton.

The LifeWay Blacklist

Is the list real? Either way, there have been changes at LifeWay, a bookstore chain associated with Broadman & Holman Publishing and the Southern Baptist Convention (though operating at arm’s length from the latter.) So first, a blogger published a story on a house-cleaning that allegedly took place along with a .pdf list of the authors. Then he updated with a clarification that these authors were not previously carried as part of store inventory, but had been available to order, and now would not be available to order. There’s also more on the story at CT’s news page, Gleanings.  

As we’d hate to see anything happen to this list, we’ve taken a screenshot of it for the archives. I think it’s ironic that American churches forced R. T. Kendall into exile in the UK, where his ministry flourished for 25 years, and now LifeWay is repeating history. I also don’t get their issue with the Common English Bible, which we use at Christianity 201 quite frequently. Banning The Voice Bible is just plain sad. By listing the TNIV as a banned product, they are actually quite literally flogging a dead horse. (Maybe they have a Bible translation conflict of interest.) As for Greg Boyd, if you’re that threatened by the idea of Open Theology, then you’re basically saying that customers are morons and can’t think for themselves. (And why Neale Donald Walsch needs mention, I can’t image; I doubt a single Christian bookstore in the U.S. stocks him.)  Personally, I think Noah Hutchings should be on the list, followed by Michael and Debi Pearl, but we’ll save that for another column.

LifeWay's banned products list


Bridgewater, NS Store to Close


Garden of Readin'

We were saddened to learn today that a beautiful store serving Nova Scotia’s south shore is set to close. Opened in 2008, Sarah and Matt at The Garden of Readin’ are clearing out their inventory. They wrote this note

…It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that seven years after we opened our doors, we will begin the process of amicably and honorably concluding operations, being left with no other alternatives.

Because of our passion to serve, we continued fighting for and investing in the existence of this ministry, but it wasn’t enough.  In the changing times we find ourselves, the local Christian bookstore is no longer the primary place to purchase what we still consider to be life-shaping product.  The dramatic shift in the industry from physical product to digital, coupled with the habit of online shopping being at an all-time high, created a detrimental situation in which we were unable to survive.  We take comfort, however, in the fact that over the past seven years, our presence in the local area has been palpable and we’ve been privileged to see the positive impact we’ve made in many individual’s lives…

One look at the pictures on their website tells you that this is an impressive, well-stocked store. They certainly did everything right, but today that’s not enough to overcome market forces.

We wish Matt and Sarah the best in whatever they do next.

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Retailers are Ripe for Some Good News

Cook Communications Ministries' Angel of Death

Cook Communications Ministries’ Angel of Death

Perhaps there are some younger readers here, but for those of us who are older, you reach a stage in life when the only time you get an email form certain people is to inform you that other certain people have passed away. I have one person in particular in mind here; as soon as I see his name in the in-box, I wonder, “Who died?”

I’ve noticed lately that the only time I receive an email from David C. Cook Canada’s Greg Tombs (title: Executive Vice-President of Global Distribution) it’s bad news. In my computer’s in-box, he has this whole “Angel of Death” thing going on. I realize somebody has to pass on such information, but frankly, I would be concerned about having an image problem. It’s all discipline and no love.

What Greg Tombs needs right now is an image-lifter. An announcement peppered with daisies and kittens and a little good news for retailers like, “We are pleased to announce that, in the spirit of international paperback editions, we’ve negotiated lower royalty rates and arranged for special Canadian pricing at par on twenty bestselling titles representing four different publishers; prices which we’ve arranged to have locked-in from now until the end of the 2015.”

Yeah, that would do it.

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