I thought I had it all figured out. We would carry Spanish editions of titles we also had in English. Our staff would recognize the covers and know exactly what they were recommending.
In hindsight? Spanish customers are more interested in some of the indigenous products created just for their market. Titles with which we, as a staff, have no familiarity. We’re now reliant more on special-orders.
Being a film student, I thought Nathan might enjoy having a look at a new book written by a filmmaker which also happens to be full of QR codes for smart phones.
He decided to try one in the store, but cut short the download when he realized it was essentially a link to a video sharing site; stating, “This is just YouTube, I don’t have a data plan for that.”
A month ago I wrote a background paper for some larger stores which came out of a meeting where I got to hear the concerns that “the big boys” are dealing with. The issue on the table was Canadian suppliers who sell direct to churches and individual consumers.
Americans may not “get” this issue, since there are so many parallel channels already vending the same products in the U.S., but here in Canada, retailer expectations are for more protected markets. Here are a few edited excerpts from my analysis…
It seems to me that there are two issues here. The first is:
- Brick and mortar stores are being hammered by online competition. While some of this was/is inevitable, having that competition coming from someone who is also a supplier is creating a strained working relationship.
The second issue however, will not be as apparent to people who are employed by said suppliers, you have to make the connection for them:
- You can’t be asking stores to respect an exclusive Canadian distribution arrangement while at the same time undermining the position those stores occupy in the retail chain.
Having thus stated the issue, the problem is that our Canadian distributors represent a wide range of suppliers, which leaves each of us dealing with a variety of their people on different fronts:
- Books and Bibles
- Music and Movies
- Cards and giftware
…which means that with every single contact with every single staff member, the issues above need to be raised until they see this as something they need to deal with. That means, for those…in a larger store environment, each person on staff interacting with each person at the distributor’s head office has to raise this issue with each phone or email contact, emphasizing:
- “Selling around” the stores is just as significant an ethical issue as stores “buying around” their suppliers
- This is a central issue, not a peripheral issue
- The supplier needs to acknowledge that this is an issue for retailers
- The supplier needs to agree that the situation is untenable at present
- The stores need to know what is being worked out on this, what steps are being taken, when we can expect to see some response
And then, without idle threats or using the “b-word” (boycott), they need to know that the enthusiasm of the larger stores for making significant purchases or cooperating with new programs, new product lines, new marketing initiatives or new product launches will be tempered by the seriousness of this issue.
That’s how I believe the major stores should respond to this crisis.
To follow: How Canadian retailers can offset aggressive direct-to-consumer marketing by major suppliers.
Zellers is Canada’s national department store chain, with many locations soon to become part of Target Canada. We dropped by for a visit Friday, and this was the first thing that greeted us when we walked through the doors:
The supplier is American Greetings, which means that CBA stores are for the most part effectively shut out of this particular tie-in. Some, no doubt are relieved, while others might have wanted to be offered this line. Closer inspection revealed that only the top two tiers (11 cards) actually contained the Joel Osteen product — with a picture of Joel and Mrs. O. on the back of each one — while the rest were simply quasi-inspirational cards from the American Greetings writers.
My instructions that Sunday morning were clear. Look for a man with a long beard, he has a case of the new Bible everyone’s talking about. It turned out there was also another guy in what was Canada’s only megachurch running copies through an underground economy.
The Bible was Reach Out. It was a New Testament using a new translation, The Living Bible. I’d seen Living Letters and Living Epistles on my parents’ bookshelf, but this was a youth edition with over a hundred pictures and graphics. A Bible that was cool. Who would have thought? (I later received a copy of Get Smart, an equally youth-targeted version of Proverbs; more on that here.)
My Reach Out was well read. At a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania, I obtained a couple of bumper stickers and used them to keep the book intact. Here was a Bible that talked like I talked, and looked like other books I would read. And I did read, discovering that when the text is flowing and easy to follow, one of Paul’s epistles only takes five minutes; a gospel might be read in 20 minutes. The book that had intimidated me for years was suddenly accessible.
Later, a full edition with both Old and New Testaments was released as The Way; and now, in 2012, The Way returns in the same spirit, with sidebar stories and black and white pictures. Spearheaded by Mark Oestreicher, the goal of this particular labor of love was to capture the spirit of the original but with new Bible book introductions, new sidebar stories, and of course, substituting the NLT for the Living Bible.
(I should say at this point that the publisher, Tyndale, has kept the original Living Bible in print. They even added a second anniversary edition last year, effectively doubling the number of formats available.)
In a world where Bible publishers have gone overboard adding color pages, The Way is very counter-cultural in black and white. I wasn’t sure how one approaches reviewing a Bible, so I jumped into Leviticus. (Rob Bell would be proud.) I enjoyed the intro, which is empathetic to non-Bible-readers.
The list of contributors to this is not exactly a Who’s Who of Christian writers, though you might recognize a few names like Luke MacDonald, Matt Maher, Austin Gutwein, Charlie Peacock and Dan Kimball. For the most part, these are younger writers. (Christian blogosphere types will also recognize UK photographer Jonny Baker.)
There are many features in this single column NLT including smart phone QR codes [sample]; but probably its greatest distinctive is a selection of “laments” that runs throughout set in white on black.
“These are the questions we’re all afraid to ask God, and the complaints we might hesitate to voice to him. The truth is, God desires our honest doubts, questions and complaints. After all, the writers of the Bible regularly lament, crying out to God and questioning him about injustices, pains and problems.
The paper is thin and sometimes the print is small, because there’s a lot packed into the nearly 1600 pages; but overall, I think this is probably the best of all the NLT editions to give to someone under 30, even if they have not yet crossed the line of faith. I was given a paperback; it’s also available in hardcover and imitation leather.
A copy of The Way was provided to Christian Book Shop Talk by Graf-Martin, a Canadian company representing key U.S. Christian publishers for promotion and publicity.
A new Hillsong title releases July 3rd.
From Your Music Zone:
…The idea behind Cornerstone was birthed out of an international tragedy last summer in Norway when more than 70 innocent victims, many children, were killed. Hillsong’s worship leader Reuben Morgan shares his response to this frightening shooting as he was visiting the Scandinavian Peninsula.
“When you write songs that people sing as part of their worship to God there is a bit of your soul that shares the aches of those around you. When there is tragedy, the song of lament wakes up with you, and when there is joy, the sound of praise fills your ears. To some it might seem really odd to reach for a guitar when tears are falling on scuffed up shoes, but I really don’t know any other way of being.”…
One of the great things about blogging with WordPress is the quality of the span filtering. But every day the “Discussion” page here attracts dozens of comments, and since it hasn’t been used regularly since 2009, I am deleting it. Before doing so, I found this exchange which I thought was worth preserving.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have had more investment set aside for marketing and establishing a presence in a local market instead of trying to do it on a shoestring. I would have done more general advertising to the community at large than expecting that I was reaching people by contacting churches. I would have “bit the bullet” and hired others sooner so that the store projected more than just a one-man operation; thereby also spending more time with family.
How large a part does creativity play in your particular business?
I wouldn’t call it creativity, I’d call it flexibility. The landscape is always changing and you need to adapt to that. When you lose a distinct music supplier, and then 15 days later the leading book supplier AND a chain of bookstores are wiped off the map, and then two weeks later the Canadian dollar crashes; well…you don’t get a better example of the changing landscape than that. Fortunately most of the events in a year are a little less dramatic. But it can also involve adapting to your local market. Knowing when you’re seeing the beginning of a trend in the popularity of a subject or author (the tip of the iceberg) and when you’ve sold the only copy you ever will (you’ve seen all the iceberg).
Are your rewards tangible or intangible?
Shoot for the intangible rewards — they do exist — and treat any tangible rewards as a bonus.
What was your best advertisement or promotion?
I’m still waiting for my best advertisement or promotion. (Rim shot!) Whatever it is, it will probably work the best the first time. Our experience has been that you can go to the well one time too often and then you get no returns. Updated answer: Our Christian Events Calendar and related email campaign has been the best thing we could ever “give back” to the Christian community where we live, and we know it is appreciated.
What makes your business unique?
We’re two stores in one: A full service Christian bookstore and a Christian Book Outlet. Over 80% of our book intake is red-tagged specials. We’re in two small towns, and many customers know we aren’t on a fixed salary with the business.
How important is price? Would a price war increase your customer base?
Economics 101 teaches that if you cut the price too much you won’t get enough volume to offset the discount. Our customers are price conscious, but if you put too much emphasis on price, you devalue the “priceless” quality of what we sell. So for us it’s not about price, it’s about giving customers “good values;” an intentional double entendre.
What other knowledge is needed?
You really have to know your products; not the 4 – 10,000 SKUs in your store, but the 168,000 Christian products you do NOT stock but have available through your suppliers. You need to know the needs people face. You need to visit churches of at least a dozen different denominations and join them in worship. You need to know the needs of street ministries, crisis pregnancy centres, Christian camps and retreat centres , house churches, hospital chaplains, touring musical groups, youth ministries, concert promoters, Christian schools, and on and on and on…
There was also this section from a larger comment:
I need to know if I should focus all my ordering from the US, where I can have an order filled in a week, should I do only my special orders from the US… Getting this info is like pulling teeth. I only spoke with customer service, who repeatedly told me she had no idea, but I could expect 2 – 3 weeks. I did ask to be put through to purchasing, and after putting me on hold, the same lady told me she was right, 2 – 3 weeks, and at best if it was in stock it would ship in about a week.
I know that suppliers are keeping a tight rein on inventory. Let’s face it, we all saw the liquidator lists from the RGM fallout; inventory was simply way too high in that case. I think we want stability and suppliers who will be around for the long haul. As the economy improves, they can be more “reckless” with their inventory.
…I don’t agree with the statement that “a lot of booksellers are shopping US for almost all product…” I asked some rather pointed questions in the short three hours we were [at a wholesale event] and I didn’t get that vibe at all. I can see western stores opting out more easily because of freight and lead-time issues, but they were the very ones who were most upfront about being loyal…
A final consideration is to remember the story of the Russian buyer, Oneofeach. (One of each. Okay, it was bad joke then, and it’s a bad joke now.) It works when test-marketing stock items, but when it comes to special orders, I find that if one person in your community wants something, someone else might also. If you were around the industry in the late 1980′s, I was working for the company that later became CMC, and circulated a letter across the country about why “two” should be the unit of order for special orders. You’ve already proven demand exists in your local area. Similarly, re-read the item on this blog about “padding the order.” Done rightly, you can fill out orders to where they make sense to ship, without creating inventory headaches.
Some of the issues that were important in 2009 are still important today. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts.
When I worked on the wholesale side of things — with five different distributors — it was easy to think I knew everything and that store owners were sitting by their phones, mailboxes and fax machines waiting for the wisdom that we in wholesale could pass on to them, and by which their business prospects would change overnight.
In actual fact, all we had was product accumulating in the warehouse that we needed to get out the door. “We bought this in good faith;” we considered, “and now it’s your turn to buy it from us.”
But sometimes we got it wrong.
It’s also equally easy however for those of us in retail to think that our customer contact grants us 100% of the knowledge needed to be effective in our industry, and that publishers need only pay attention to the pearls of wisdom we are forwarding them — now it’s emails instead of faxes — in order for them to get their respective houses in order and provide the products the market really needs.
In fact, there is both: Supplier wisdom and retailer wisdom. This will always be, even when the paradigms of retail have altered even more than they have heretofore. The two ‘wisdoms’ clash occasionally, and are especially prone to conflict when it comes to publisher decisions to remainder a title.
“Out of print? What were thinking? We still have high demand for that title!”
Or words to that effect.
Still, it’s frustrating when you’re trying to explain out-of-print status to a customer, especially when it’s actually a rather large handful of customers, and all of them very suddenly within a few weeks even though none of them knows the others; as in the rather large handful of people looking for Powerlines (by Leona Choy, Christian Publications) a book about what classic Christian writers believed and taught about the Holy Spirit.
Or sometimes just a single customer, like the one who wants a dozen copies of Cancer and the Lord’s Prayer (by Greg Anderson, Meredith Books) a book about, well the title really says it. I was able to get her two copies from a store with a rather sluggish stock turnover rate, but we’ve had a rather continuous string of requests for this one since it disappeared a couple of years ago.
Or the fiction series where book one and book three exist in massive quantities in every remainder warehouse in the continent, but customers are tripping over themselves at swap meets and yard sales and flea markets to find the elusive middle volume. When it comes to backlist, wasn’t print-on-demand designed for exactly that reason? And in this type of situation, trust me, the publishers know the demand exists; fiction readers can be very vocal.
…As the post header for this article indicates, I believe retailers need to make more of a racket when it comes to easing customer frustration. We need to track down who owns the rights, or who is in a capital position to buy reprint rights — at least for the CBA market — where the publisher has no further interest.
We need to at least take the few minutes it takes to draft a few letters and advocate for OP titles that deserve a second chance.
Because retailers have wisdom, too.
What titles are your customers seeking that you’d love to see return to market? Do you think some publishers jump the remainder gun too quickly?
The name may not be familiar to you, but many of us across Canada work with Mark Hildebrand who is the rep for Zondervan and HarperCollins religious product. When I first met Mark seven years ago, his wife Christine had begun a battle with cancer which sadly, after a long and courageous fight, ended early this morning.
I know that many of you have been praying and after deliberating decided it would be fitting to mention this here.
In a letter to his accounts today, Mark wrote:
…I am so grateful for you folks as friends over the last seven years, walking with me through this time of pain – letting me share my struggles in this journey, and pointing to God’s sustaining touch. He has certainly provided for us, during our time of need. I have been blessed in my interactions with so many of you. Your words of encouragement and reminders of God’s promises, certainly lightened the load.
I appreciate this deeply.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark and his teenage son and daughter and extended family.
I anticipate that funeral information will be posted here when available.
This came today from Send the Light Distribution:
Dear Retail Stores: I am pleased to announce that we are doing the Band Angel Bandages Display of 12 Boxes. These come 20 Band aids in a box and retail for $2.99. We are doing 55% discount and your cost is only $16.15 each. Here is a brief description for you. The ultimate fix for your little ones’ “owies”! Cute and colorful, these 3″ adhesive bandages feature Bible verses about God’s healing power from Luke 4:40; Exodus 15:26; and Jeremiah 30:17. This would be a great time to carry these with the kids out for school and having accidents.
C’mon, kids. Play a little rougher out there. We’ve got bandages to sell. You’re not trying.
…Except that I posted it to my other blog, on March 7th:
An new Amish ‘fish out of water’ story; though not sure who is the fish and who is the water. An Amish woman decides to raise money by teaching quilting to a mix of people from the broader community. The new book by Wanda Brunstetter really should be made into a film.
Well, Half-Stitched Amish Quilt is going to be a musical instead. I got it half right.