Canada 150 Offers an Opportunity to Promote Canadian Authors

Canada’s 150th birthday offers store owners and managers an opportunity to bring Canadian authors front and center. Or perhaps that should be centre, since we’re talking Canadian! Using the official Canada 150 logo, you could:

  • Make a large version of the logo and feature all your Canadian authors in a single section.
  • Make many small versions of the logo and place these as shelf-talkers everywhere you have a Canadian author.
  • You could also offer these at a discount for select periods, such as the week before and after July 1st.

A few years ago, I was asked to walk around my Non-Fiction shelves and see how many Canadian authors I could spot. At the time, I came up with these:

  • Ann Voskamp
  • Drew Dyck
  • Bruxy Cavey
  • Joe Amaral
  • Emily Wierenga
  • Ken Sigamatsu
  • Joe Boot
  • Lisa Elliott
  • Eric Wright
  • Roseanne Kydd
  • Sarah Tun
  • Tim Day
  • Rick Apperson
  • Sarah Bessey
  • Lee Beach
  • Judi Peers
  • Diane Lindstrom
  • Greg Paul
  • Alan Roxburgh
  • Tim Huff
  • Mark Buchanan
  • Brian Stiller
  • James Beverley
  • Sheila Wray Gregoire
  • Colin McCartney
  • Marv Penner
  • Henri Nouwen
  • Phil Callaway
  • Clarke Pinnock
  • Grant Jeffrey
  • John Bowen
  • Charles Price
  • James MacDonald
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Bookaholics Wanted

I just found out that a longtime customer and one-time employee is moving out of the province. She’s also one who recommends authors and books to others, so it’s a double loss. We’ve lost a lot of customers lately due to moving. I hope we can replace them with new customers. In the meantime, I’d like to get to know the woman in this cartoon by Sarah Anderson:

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Word Alive / Anchor Distribution System Lacks Christian Integrity

It always amazes me when dealers here simply laugh or change the subject when the subject of Anchor/Word Alive is mentioned. Everyone is beyond frustration, but most are unwilling to go on the record because we’re Christian stores and we’re Canadian and so we have two reasons to be extra polite. But let’s face it: Their system is set up so completely contrary to Standard Account Principles (SAP) and (today’s topic) standard methods of order processing that really, they are undermining the success of Christian bookstores.

One of the many, many problems — and we won’t even get into the joke that is their new website — is that you can’t build an order cart you don’t plan to clear through within 24-48 hours. Let me say that again in case I’m not clear: You can’t add to cart in the way you do with your other vendors. In their system, add to cart works as though it physically removes the product. No one else can touch it at that point, unless you default on your order. On the plus side, if you do complete the order, no one can shop product ‘out’ of your cart. (The best example of that, with which many of you are familiar, would be Book Depot.)

However — and this is a big however — it also means that when your backorders come up, they can also be shopped out. Do they remain on backorder when this happens? Who is prepared to answer that question? Not anyone who you try to get to address this, that’s for sure. And their left hand (Manitoba) clearly doesn’t know what their right hand (Pennsylvania) is doing. And vice versa.

Small, small case in point. We ordered the movie I’m Not Ashamed by PureFlix Entertainment. (We’ll leave aside here the whole other discussion about what PureFlix has cooked up with 100 Huntley Street to further undermine our DVD sales.) We actually placed two small order, one on January 11th and one on February 6th. We can’t buy these from their regular stock because of pricing issues, so we’re purchasing from the stock marked Canadian Sales Only. (We’ve asked if they can simply move a few copies from the regular shelf to the Canadian-designated shelf to get us off their backs. No response. Correspondence ignored.)

On Thursday at 5:40 PM — we had already closed — we were notified they were ready to ship. We couldn’t do the order on Friday so today, before noon we placed our order. Guess what? The product has vanished! Once again. Let me be totally honest here, I have reached the point of giving up trying to be polite. My customers are waiting. I am trying to be their advocate to watch this movie. (I don’t even want to watch it myself anymore, nor do I wish to cooperate with any future PureFlix releases.)

What this also means is this: Some store(s) which purchased this product spontaneously on Friday were able to get copies which were supposedly on hold for me without having to having to wait. Sorry, but if that’s your store, you jumped the line. You’re the person at the grocery store who simply walks to the front of the line and cuts in ahead of everyone else. But it’s not your fault. It’s Word Alive’s fault. It’s Anchor’s fault. And for the customers we may have notified on the weekend that their product was on the way, who we now have to tell that it’s not on the way, it just sucks.

This is a deplorable way to run a company. There ought to be laws. Perhaps there are, actually if you can make the case that this constitutes unfair trade practices. You might have to prove it was done to give preferential treatment to other dealers. But you might not. It might be sufficient to argue in court that Anchor simply acted unfairly in their dealings with their accounts. 

Furthermore, as Christians should not be aiming for excellence? Should we not wish to attain the highest standards?

I am filing a formal complaint with PureFlix on behalf of dealers here. We’re just in the process of framing who will formally receive that letter.

Publishers and media companies: We have two other independent distributors in Canada who are worthy of distributing your fine products: Parasource and Foundation. On their very worst days they will do a better job for you than Anchor/Word Alive.

We’re a Small Part of a Much Greater Picture

Bonjour! Whenever I receive print catalogues or emails from Christian French language suppliers such as Librairie crétienne du Québec, I am at the most basic level reminded of products which, although I may not carry them in stock, are available to my customers should a need arise.

But at a higher level, I’m reminded that we are part of something much greater in terms of (a) the book industry as a whole and (b) more importantly, what God is doing around the world. These books by popular Nick Vujicic are an example of a message that is being translated en français including: Commentaries, Christian Living titles, Fiction, Children’s titles and of course, Bibles. Then, think of all the other languages in which many of our bestsellers are offered.

We could all use that type of encouragement, right?

Also, this weekend, I watched the baptism portion of all three services at Willow Creek Church in Chicago. (It took 52 minutes to watch all 3 video clips.) Teaching pastor Steve Carter said that at the 11:15 Sunday service alone, over 100 were baptized. To see each and every one of these people going public with their faith, and to see the pure joy on the faces of those in the tank doing the baptizing was a great reminder that while Christian bookstores are hurting right now, the capital “C” Church continues to forge ahead.

We need that type of encouragement, too!

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What Do You Want Them To See?

In the winter season we have a green carpet on the floor when you first walk in the store. If you push it with your foot, it’s secure enough — store owners and managers must constantly be thinking in terms of insurance issues — but it does shift a bit from left to right.

I’ve noticed when it shifts right, customers go right. I start to wonder why so many people are heading down that narrower aisle, and then I’ll notice the carpet. When it angles to the left, people go left, which is the section of the store I want them to see.

I never thought much about this until I read the introduction to this article on worship music in church, which used as an example the design of a new airport in Atlanta.

While the author’s intention is different from ours, take 2 minutes to read this and think how it might apply to your store. What do you want customers to see when they first walk in?

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Bible Edition Contradicts What We’re Trying to Teach Our Kids

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in our industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.”  Why release products that simply feed those who think our agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

I recently had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We have a great apologetics section (5 four-foot shelves) but he asked to see kids books about Noah’s Ark, and pointed out that many of them, either in terms of the text or the illustrations, would not be considered theologically accurate.

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned.  Did they anticipate the critics? I don’t think so.

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Even Discounted; This Would Be a Nice Sale

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Our Visit to Christian Salvage Mission

Because I’ve already run our post about Christian Salvage Mission three times here, I won’t repeat it. However, this week we finally got to see their office and warehouse in person. Located in a modest industrial unit in southeast Hamilton it’s hard to believe that from this small space, material goes out to various countries with life-changing potential.

You can click the above link to see what we wrote before, or check out their website at csmcanada.org. This is a great opportunity for retirees who want to lighten their library before downsizing.

Volunteers sort materials daily. These people have a unique window on the world of Christian literature printed both now and in years past.

Murray answered our questions in the warehouse and described their work in detail.

I wanted to take an exterior picture but forgot. We had this one on file from when the trees were greener, though Ontario did have a mild winter!

CSM takes a wide variety of materials and has volunteer coordinators and drop off centres in almost every province.

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Local Charts Help Customers See What’s Popular at Your Store

This is what’s selling at my store currently. We have a formula to adjust — but not exclude — special order titles as well as some adjustments for children’s titles and some compensation for projecting future sales on newer releases. Our chart is probably different from yours — we’re missing the #1 title on the current CBA list — but that’s what makes each of our local stores different. Our customers look forward to these when we publish them. If you have one from your store, we’d love to share it here.

searchlight-chart-spring-2017

Courier Companies Already Stop By — Offer Parcel Pickup to Your Customers

pick-up-service

Six weeks ago we drafted an idea for offering a free pickup service to our regular customers. Then, earlier this week when we saw the rise of Penguin Pickup at 60 big box centres across Canada, we knew we had to go public with this. This is a sensitive area for many of us, since online shopping is what’s killing many of our stores. But we felt it was worth a try in our community. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever sat at work wondering if a small parcel delivering to your home is safe from theft? Or if it’s been left outside the door and blown away? We want to offer something to our regular customers as a free service on a trial basis. Have your order shipped to our store instead and pick it up on your lunch hour or on your way home from work. The rules are simple:

  1. Small parcels only.
  2. Make sure when you place your order online to include your name, our business name and our full address
  3. Phone or email us so we’ve got your name, phone contact info, and who the parcel is coming from.
  4. No CODs. 
  5. No U.S. orders with customs duties and taxes owing
  6. Note: we do not provide a signature to Canpar and Purolator.
  7. Pick it up as soon as possible.
  8. Nothing liquid, chemical, corrosive, explosive, illegal, etc.
  9. Out of respect to the store, nothing from Amazon, Abe Books, CBD, etc. unless it’s something we can’t get.
  10. No charge for this service to regular customers.

Wondering if this would work for you? Feel free to steal our graphic!

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Industry Needs Improvement But FCS Haters’ Words Not Helpful

February 27, 2017 1 comment

fc-logoOn Friday we reported the impending closure of 240 Family Christian bookstores. If you missed that, you can read it here. I started my Saturday morning at Internet Monk, and was a little surprised by both the negative comments concerning this type of establishment, but also the great number of people bashing the stores as opposed to those saying they were sorry they were closing and that the store would be missed. Before I knew it, I was typing this article, which first appeared Sunday at Thinking Oud.  Comments, and my responses included:

  • So Family JesusJunk Stores are closing. I feel for the employees, but I can’t say I’m disappointed otherwise. Those places were an abomination.

I’m not sure what you are expecting. Here: Take $100,000 and spend it on products that will be of interest to: Mainliners, Evangelicals and Charismatics; kids, teens, twenty-somethings, middle-agers and seniors; seekers, new believers and veterans; scholars, students, and blue-collar workers; people needing help with their marriage, parenting, addictions, finances, interpersonal relationships, prayer life, devotional life and bad habits; those wanting to learn more about missions, church history, denominational distinctions, and church leadership. To all this add some products which enhance Christian life for those who want to: fill their home with Christian music including hymns, chants, country, adult contemporary, modern worship, rock, rap, etc.; have a few inspirational quotes on their walls and tables including plaques, paintings and picture frames; offer their family a wholesome substitute for the movies they would otherwise watch; have some little gift or novelty that they can give to a child to remind them that God loves them.

Oh yes… and Bibles!

And this is an abomination? That’s rather strong language.

  • I already have more than enough Bibles, and I can’t think of a single other book they’d carry that I would want to read.

Seriously? There’s nothing there for you at all? Not one author who represents your brand of Christianity? Nothing you need for personal enrichment? You’ve got it all.

  • I am sorry for the employees losing their jobs in depressed places – but the closing of Family Values Propaganda Market is a good thing, IMO. Good riddance.

To the above we now add propaganda? By definition, this is material that a group writes about itself. There isn’t one book on the shelves is about Jesus? Maybe you simply (think you) know too much. You’ve been totally jaded and can’t see the good that is still be accomplished through those books.

Or…maybe you’ve never been in a country where nationals would give their eye teeth to get their hands on a commentary or Christian living title or even a praise CD.

  • Yeah, I am not sorry to see the Family Christian book stores close. So much “Jesus junk” made in China; candles with Bible verses, straws in the shape of the Jesus fish, sox that have some religious symbolism, and a few cheesy books but very little that is truly theological.

You focused on the non-book products, and when you did look at the books you wrote them all off with the term cheesy. Perhaps you don’t realize that the high-brow academic tomes you seek are sold in places like that by special order.

Oh, and by the way, if something is anti-theological, bookstore chains and independents vet their product very carefully, something you can’t say for the “Christian” section of Barnes and Noble.

  • The last couple of Bibles I bought for gifts, I got online just to avoid the bookstore.

The bookstore was more than a store. It was a meeting place for Christians and performed a large number of non-retail functions, including referrals to local churches and Christian counselors; as well as staff trained to help new believers connect with that first Bible and parents get the appropriate Bible for their kids, rather than buying one online and then finding it’s too young or too old for them. In 240 places, that will not happen anymore. Your disdain led to the demise of something which you judged as not necessary.

Sorry. That attitude does not emanate from someone who possesses the Spirit of God. A Christian wants to be with and encourage fellow Christians. A Christian wants to come alongside the people, places and ministries which God is using.

And God used those bookstores. You just don’t hear those stories as loudly as you hear from those who seem to be almost rejoicing at Family Christian’s demise; a behavior I would more expect — forgive me for this — from demons.

  • I haven’t set foot in a Christian bookstore in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

Again, a personal choice perhaps, but being flaunted like a badge of honor. I haven’t given to the Salvation Army in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t been to a Christian conference in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go. Or, I haven’t listened to Christian radio stations in twenty years. I won’t miss them when they go.

It’s just too easy to fill in that blank, but to what end? It’s not particularly righteous sounding is it? But it has enough of an air of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness that someone might be impressed by it. For at least 60 seconds. And then it kind of hangs there and the speaker’s heart is laid bare.

So…want to know the real reasons Family Christian stores closed? It wasn’t the stores’ fault entirely.

  1. The U.S. publishing establishment is caught in a “hardcover first edition” mentality which diminishes sales potential through high prices. When a “trade paperback conversion” happens a year later, the sales momentum is completely lost. As more and more Christian authors migrated from the traditional Christian publishers (Baker, Cook, Tyndale, etc.) to the big publishing houses (Hachette, Harper, S&S, etc.) where this mentality is more entrenched, average retail prices for new releases by the bestselling authors actually skyrocketed.
  2. The industry is founded on a “stack ’em high and watch ’em fly” mentality instead of a common sense, “just in time” distribution and delivery system. They send out “floor dumps” and “planograms” with an “if you build it they will come” confidence while failing to see to the organic nurture and cultivating of an author over time.
  3. The parent company never embraced the “order online; pick up instore” concept, even as record numbers of parcels were being stolen off front porches. Or the idea of “shop online, refine your purchase instore.” We need to offer that third-way, middle-ground option in our stores.
  4. Christian publishers were too content to produce products for Christians, when in fact Christians were looking for things to give their non-Christian friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers. (Not to mention the recent study that upwards of 30% of the ultimate consumers of Christian media are non-churched individuals.)
  5. Individual FCS stores were caught in national marketing programs that necessitated purchasing of products nobody wanted or needed at the expense of things for which there was demonstrated local interest. You have to ask: What do your customers want? If I simply picked up my store and dropped it in place or New Brunswick or Saskatchewan, it would be far less productive, since my inventory has been tailored to my market over time.
  6. There was no equivalent to the woman at the big box store handing out samples. First chapter excerpts of the latest Christian titles were simply too hard to come by online. Give people a taste of the author, let them understand his or her heart and intention, and perhaps they might have made the purchase. When you find such resources — and publishers don’t make it easy and often have restrictions or want the reader to be on their mailing list — you need to link them on your store website. (Oh…and stores with Book Manager need to have a non-Book Manager website or blog to have the conversation with their customers.  At the moment, all your sites look the same.)
  7. Chain stores and publishers have no consumer product panels and no working customer feedback mechanisms. There’s no suggestion box, no place for people to offer their opinions except for the angry rants when a chain shuts down. (I can tell you that some of the major players in U.S. Christian publishing have nobody to whom store owners and managers can send an email suggestion. They know it all. They have all the answers. They create the products, the stores just sell them; a condescending relationship. Believe me, I’ve tried. And don’t buy the Canadian distributors promise that they’ll “pass your comments on at the next sales meeting.”)
  8. The industry lost credibility when authors and artists admitted moral failure and yet they continued to market and distribute their products. We really do need to clean up our shelves.
  9. Ten years ago, publishers offered print on demand as kind of second life for slow-moving backlist titles and series, but then got seduced by the quicker, lower-cost solution they found in eBooks. (But hey, you’ve already read my rants on this subject enough times here.)
  10. Some pastors got too big for their britches. Once they started to see national success on a grand scale they stepped down from their churches and lost a big part of their platform overnight. I challenge you to show me a “former Pastor of …” who is better known now then they were then. (Okay, maybe the guy who teamed up briefly with Oprah.) (Update: And one just announced this weekend.)

This is a crisis for American Christianity generally. Don’t blame the people at Family Christian. Yes, management mistakes were made; but many were doing the best they could with the materials they were given.

If the industry doesn’t shake itself awake, LifeWay and Parable are next. Hopefully, the requiem for the entire retail genre is still not needed.

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Family Christian Stores: The Final Goodbye

Christianity Today reported the sad news on Thursday (2/23) afternoon:

All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing

More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.

fc-logoMore than two years ago, suppliers forgave Family Christian Stores $127 million in debt so that it could remain open. Today, the chain—which bills itself as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”—announced it is closing all of its stores after 85 years in business.

Family Christian, which employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 stores across 36 states, blamed “changing consumer behavior and declining sales.”

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” stated president Chuck Bengochea. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization,” he stated, “and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.”

Tyndale House Publishers chairman and CEO Mark Taylor called the stores “an important outlet for Christian books, gifts, and Bibles for many decades.”

“All of us at Tyndale House Publishers feel a sense of grief over Family Christian’s decision to close the entire chain of stores,” he stated. “Family’s millions of customers now have even fewer options for finding these wonderful, life-giving products…

continue reading here

Publisher’s Weekly had a different store count:

…Family Christian Stores, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2015, is closing all of its outlets due to changing consumer behavior and declining sales, the company announced Thursday. The Christian retailing chain operates 266 stores in 36 states.

According to various sources, a board meeting was held at FCS’s Grand Rapids headquarters on Wednesday afternoon to determine whether the beleaguered retailer would close or finance another year. To continue, the board members wanted to see a path to profitability by 2018, the sources said…

continue reading here

Michigan Live reported:

…The announcement on Thursday, Feb. 23, did not specify a timetable for the liquidation, which will affect more than 3,000 employees at more than 240 stores in 36 states…

…”We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” said company president Chuck Bengochea in a news release, that blamed changing consumer habits and declining sales for the decision.

“Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.” …

continue reading here

This is a very sad turn of events for our industry. It is a loss that is both significant numerically and also symbolically. It represents the further demise of brick-and-mortar Christian retail, and all the fellowship and ministry that these stores bring, at the hand of online vendors.


We reported extensively on this subject; to read recent stories click this link.

The Family Christian Bookstore of Burlington, Ontario is in no way connected to the U.S. chain.

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