In addition to its core subject matter, the book I’m currently reading, The Strategically Small Church by Brandon J. Obrien (Bethany House) offers some encouragement to stores like ours which still place a high value on individual customer service:
…Consumers want more than genuine products. They also want to do business in ways that feel more “real.” According to [James] Gilmore and [Joseph] Pine [in the book Authenticity] the companies that are thriving today find ways to deliver personalized and intimate service to their customers. Instead of the efficient, automated telephone services, for example, more customers want to talk to real people, even if it takes longer. In a technological, digitized world, people long to do business the old-fashioned way: person-to-person. [pp 60-61]
We’ve felt this way for some time now. Tired of roaming the aisles at Wal-Mart in a frantic search for some obscure item, they welcome the opportunity to interact with someone who will address their need. Conversely, we tell our staff that our sales associate job description, while it lists a number of possible responsibilities, is actually light on administration so that they can spend their time investing themselves in the people who walk in.
I’m halfway through the book and will be doing a review of its main message before the end of the week.
Andrew T. LePeau of InterVaristy Press shares some personal memories at his blog, Andy Unedited, under the title…
It’s the Smell I Remember
It’s the smell I remember.
When my older sister was in high school she got a summer job at the local bookstore in the center of our town. It was only about a mile from home, so I would sometimes walk or ride my bike there to visit her. I tried not to interrupt her professional duties too much. It was there that I first learned to browse.
In the brightly sunlit shop were stacks of neatly piled paperbacks on tables and shelves. Some current fiction and self-help to be sure, but it’s the classics that stick in my mind—Shakespeare, Twain, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Melville, H. G. Wells, Upton Sinclair and more. Some became friends at that time. Some later.
Even more than that, however, I recall the smell. As soon as I stepped into the door of the small shop, the fresh scent of pulped wood surrounded me like a forest in the Rockies. “What’s that smell?” I asked my sister quietly.
“It’s the books,” she confided.
The effect was magical on my young imagination. We had books in our home, but not nearly so many of course, nor so many that were as new. The books in this store, however, engaged me fully in sight and touch and even hearing as I flipped pages. Nonetheless, the sense that overpowered the others was smell.
Every once in a while I am still carried back to that shop in my memory when I step into our own warehouse here in Westmont. It happens less often when I enter a bookstore which in its spaciousness and diversity of other products allows that special fragrance to become more diffuse. But whenever I catch the scent, I think of my sister and sunlight and the classics.
Here’s a rather offbeat little title for children that released back in May, one that at $4.99 U.S. is certainly affordable, and unlike anything you carry right now. It’s Our Home is Like a Little Church by Lindsey Blair and Bobby Gilles and published by Christian Focus for Kids aka CF4kids.
So what does the title really mean, and what are the authors selling? Let’s start out with the publisher marketing:
Our Home is like a Little church was written to teach preschool children the Christian doctrine of the home as a place of worship where the father teaches his family Gods commands and leads them to worship the one true God. The home is the front line of ministry to children-not the Sunday school or public church gathering. All the practices present in a Christian worship service-the Scriptures, prayer, and praise-should be present in the home as well. Our Home is Like a Little Church teaches this truth by repeatedly putting church and home side by side-on adjacent pages. God expects parents to teach their children when they sit down for meals, when they drive along the road, when they lie down for bed, and when they get up in the morning. These pastoral duties can be daunting so this book also serves as a reminder that these duties are done in light of Gods grace shown to us through Jesus work on the cross. Parents and children together can read this engaging little book in order to discover what Gods plans are for worshipping Him inside their home.
So what are people saying? Here’s some short excerpts from a site which contains endorsements from other sources; albeit a site connected to the writers:
Our Home is like a Little Church helps both children and fathers see some of the beauty and richness of this relationship. How good it will be when an increasing number of Christian fathers own their roles as their family’s pastors
This is an excellent book and I have sought to get a copy into the hands of every family at our church… The book is simply written in a nice rhyme with nice illustrations. This little book has the potential to accomplish much good.
Blogger Wayne Stocks at the blog Dad in the Middle provides some background:
This book originally published by Sojourn Community Church, in Louisville, Kentucky, was written by Lindsay Blair and Bobby Giles and illustrated by Tessa James. It was originally published under the title “Pastor Daddy,” but has since been picked up by Christian Focus Publications and republished under it’s new name Our Home Is Like A Little Church.
…At just shy of 300 words in total, this book makes a critical point in easy language that kids can understand and parents will appreciate. The whimsical font and great illustrations make it fun to read and captivating to kids. My two, almost three year old, made me read it to him no less than four times in a row the night it came in the mail. My seven year old daughter and nine year old boy both really enjoyed it as well.
Another blogger, at Honey and Locusts, has more background:
The inspiration for the book came from a quote from Martin Luther:
“Abraham had in his tent a house of God and a church, just as today any godly and pious head of a household instructs his children… in godliness. Therefore such a house is actually a school and church and the head of the household is a bishop and priest in his house.“
I know some of you reading this right now may fear that the whole “husband is the spiritual head of the house” message is too conservative for many of today’s Christians; but while I sometimes share that concern, I don’t see this stopping me from ordering this title, which in fact, I just did.
On the one hand, a book like this one will probably be of interest to customers who are interested in evangelism and witness.
On the other hand, we get into these kinds of conversations ourselves, as our stores are a natural environment for spiritual discussions.
So we should sell books like this and read books like this.
The Best Kept Secret of Christian Witness by John Dickson is new this year from Zondervan.
This post originated out of the overflow of discussion on my personal blog today on this very topic.
GMA Canada announces the nominees in a wide variety of categories… many of these artists have a reach beyond the Canadian border and will be known by readers in other parts of the world. There are many, many diverse categories; the list below simply reflects a few of the major award nominees.
When all the stats are in for the week ending September 25, which of my departments produced the greatest return on investment? Was it fiction? Bibles? Children’s devotionals? Good guesses, but in fact it was a shelf so hidden you would have to move some other things out of the way just to find it.
It was my Spanish section.
This statistical anomaly was the result of two customers who discovered the unexpected: A Spanish section in a small town Canadian bookstore. They’ve been driving sales on this little shelf for the last four weeks just about as fast as I can replace the titles.
So does this signal a need for great expansion for Latino readers and/or expansion into books in other languages?
The answer is, it’s really dangerous to consider major changes to your inventory balance on the basis of one or two customers. I am not seeing the tip of the iceberg here, I am seeing the entire iceberg. This is Canada, and our demand for Vida, Grupo Nelson and Editorial Unilit titles is extremely rare. We’ve also seen instances where an enthusiastic customer roars in like a freight train, but quickly burns out on money, options for distributing the product, or both.
But it’s rather amusing for us to have the Spanish section performing so well.
And we’ll take our sales any way we can get them!
It’s unusual for me to have three posts here in one day, but there is no ignoring this morning’s announcement that Blockbuster has entered Chapter 11 protection in the United States.
There are several issues raised by this that we need to consider, especially at a time where, for many Christian retailers, the DVD department is the only section of our stores that has seen any real growth in the past 48 months. Those issues include:
- brick and mortar stores versus direct-to-home delivery
- physical product (book/CD/DVD) versus virtual product (e-book/music download/movie download)
For stores like ours, the first issue is really simple: This is not a time to be investing in more square footage. Not a time when for most people, “going shopping” involves never leaving the family room. Prudent management suggests a careful watch on aspirations of mega-store status.
The second issue is more complex, and for some stores, the solution has been found in actually offering those same e-books, or having a CD “burn bar” making customized “albums” for customers.
For me, the news raises another issue however, the one referenced in the title of this article: What of the DVD itself? We know that in the future more and more video content will be downloaded; but how and when do we cut back in, as mentioned, the one growth area our stores are experiencing?
Furthermore, it has been my experience that in terms of technology, our particular demographic tends to be more in the category of “laggards” rather than “early adopters.” (That statement, written by a guy whose store still has a couple of Veggie Tales VHS tapes visible; a guy who actually sold a couple a month ago!)
The further complexity of this is demonstrated in the fact that when some technological formats die, they crash hard and fast. Nobody wants to be left with hordes of inventory of old formats, but again, as mentioned, nobody wants to miss out on the potential that is still right here and now; especially with tomorrow marking Christmas Eve just three months away.
I’m a great admirer of Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California; about 40 minutes east of Los Angeles. So I really wanted you to see this particular book trailer for his new project The START! Bible, being marketed as a Bible you purchase to give away to someone beginning their Christian life.
But after watching the video twice and visiting the website, I still wasn’t sure what translation was used. So I’ll save you all that time: It’s a NKJV. Which begs the question: Why would the publisher, who also owns the NCV, not release a “new believer” Bible in the more easily understood version? Beats me. I don’t get to sit in that boardroom.
So I don’t think the people at Tyndale are in the least worried that their NLT New Believer’s Bible is in any way threatened. The two may end up complementing each other, as there are some people reluctant to give away an NLT because it’s not their personal preference. (There’s a longer introductory video as well, you can see it here. I found it just before this published, and it argues for the translation choice.)
This Bible releases mid-October.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make about a dozen years ago was the decision to give my assent to my parents decision to sell the upright piano. I was very happy with our digital piano, and its 270 sound samples, but I had to wrestle with getting rid of the family acoustic piano; moreover, I had to really wrestle with the question, “What is a piano?” It’s as though it was real and my digital piano — though in much better tune — was not.
So, the future will take us places where people will be asking the question, “What is a book?” When does it stop being a book and become so interactive that it’s more like a video game, or more like the internet itself?
Brian sent me this Vimeo clip this morning, but remember, for every one of these clips, there’s a story like the one I posted on Saturday, where bibliophiles affirm the print version. But then again, what is a bibliophile?
Most of us are at a point now where we can’t afford to lose a single sale. But can we afford to keep every product line in our stores? Does being all things to all people work for us or does it sometimes work against us?
Most of us carry:
- greeting cards
- boxed cards
- Bible covers & accessories
- church supplies
Each of these is part of its own industry, with its own paradigms.
Is there an area from the above list that you’ve decided simply to let run out? Is there a department from the above list you’re considering dropping?
Does it makes sense sometimes to simply stop trying to be all things to all people and just let a line go? And here’s the big question:
How do you think your store would do if you focused on a single product line? What would it be?
Pictured: Green Pastures in Dereham (Mid Norfolk) UK; Click image for details.
Yes, it’s me again. I’m sorry to have to keep writing these little notes to you, but I don’t think you and your friends have been paying attention.
You keep sending me little notes and I do read them. You seem quite willing to talk, but not so much prepared to listen. You want me to get your message, but you don’t care so much to hear mine.
The point is, you’ve been a bad boy again. You sent me a box of books and didn’t bother taking the time to pack them properly. And a lot of them are very damaged, which is making a lot of people really angry.
You see those people were promised their books would arrive by a certain date, and now I can’t sell them what you shipped me, because… well, frankly Tommy, we have to set some kind of standards and live up to them. Besides, a couple of those books were gifts and this will never do.
But there’s another problem, Tommy. The people who order those books are getting to be few and far between. There aren’t as many of them out there right now, and so we’ve got to work really, really hard to make sure every single one of them is happy.
That won’t be happening this week, will it? They aren’t happy, and neither are the people I pay to call the people and give them the good news when their books are in, and the bad news when something has gone wrong.
So here’s the deal: I think you should stop sending me little notes trying to get me to buy more books until you fix our little problem. It really hurts me to say that, because I’ve known your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson since the very first day I began working here, in fact, they sold me the very first box that got me started.
But Tommy, I’ve been at this business for a long, long time, and frankly, I don’t have any more patience for people who send me boxes of damaged books. I just don’t need this problem on top of all the other problems that are making it harder and harder to stay in business.
So please don’t send me any more books until you can make sure — not just promise — that this sort of thing stops happening.
Do you think you know how to do that?
UPDATE: Within hours of this appearing Tommy’s “parents” were very quick to respond and put a fix into motion. (I can’t begin to imagine how they knew it was about them!) I went over the damaged stock and decided to meet them halfway and didn’t demand replacements for every little scratch. However, I got a long letter off-the-blog from another dealer who reminded me that while the customer service people are quick to make adjustments, it doesn’t confront the problem when the issues are systemic. Good point. Especially where customers are waiting for orders. The impression I got is that they’re working on it; and I was also able to provide input to their International Sales person as to how other companies actually pack their shipments. Most suppliers know very little about the nuts and bolts operations of other companies.
With most of the recorded music distribution of Christian labels concentrated in a single Canadian distributor, the first sentence of an online story today from Christian Retailing might lead you to believe that things have changed.
The copy reads:
…a former executive for CMC Distribution, once the largest Christian music distributor in Canada…
It’s true and not true at the same time. English can be a frustrating language sometimes; and I know if I had written that sentence, I would have people jumping all over me for it!
While CMC was sold to David C. Cook Canada in the fall of 2008; Christian bookstore staff still have a hard time purging “CMC” from their vocabulary. Even within the halls of Cook itself, the company is referred to as the “Music and Media” division.
So how’s the whole thing working, two years in?
- WEBSITE: Amazing!
- ADJUSTMENTS: Probably somewhat easier
- SHIPPING COSTS: Lower, because you can combine with book orders
- PRICING : Somewhat unchanged in the last two years. The conversion on the dollar is high relative to the official rate at the bank, but you have to factor in the “loyalty” coupons, which have as much to do with “wholesale loyalty” as they do with “customer loyalty.”
- DISCOUNTS: Somewhat unchanged.
- OTHER POLICIES: Somewhat unchanged.
- RETURNS: Don’t know; since I buy non-returnable.
- PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE of COOK STAFF: It was a sharp learning curve, but a new retail staff person calling today would think they’ve always had music.
- DOWNSIDE: Really isn’t one. The Cook web system currently “hides” product with a street-date, so you can’t check and confirm previous orders which can result in double-ordering or not ordering. Other than that…
- CONCERNS MOVING FORWARD: The company needs to come clean if they’re selling direct-to-consumer.
CANADIAN stores: Do you agree with the above assessment?