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Interview With Brent Hackett at Radio Bible Class

As Christian publishing and Christian retail continues in a period of contraction, many industry leaders have had to look for work outside our industry.  Just how portable are the skills we’ve developed?

Two weeks ago we reported that Holly DeGraaf, national sales manager at David C. Cook was moving be director of Retail and Public Relations for the Ten Thousand Villages charitable retail organization. Today we interview Brent Hackett, founder of Forerunner Marketing Corporation and then more recently a sales territory manager with Foundation Distributing (FDI), who is now Canadian Director for Radio Bible Class (RBC), the organization best known for its Our Daily Bread devotional materials and Day of Discovery television ministry.

So first of all, Brent, there is life after Christian publishing?

I think I would change the designation to “Christian Industry’, as that is what it always was to me.  When we had Forerunner, the goal was to always provide as many resources as possible to the Christian Bookstores.  So if the questions was asking if there is life after the Christian Industry, I would say from my perspective YES.  Working at RBC Ministries has tied in amazingly well with what I did with Forerunner and the CBA.  There are a lot of the same people, or people who know the same people, and the networking just continues. But I would qualify my answer, as I was on the wholesale side, so I did spread my networking links further out by going to the US shows, and keeping in contact with more (potential) suppliers.

Going back a few stages, Forerunner was an extremely well-managed and well-marketed company. What led to your decision to shut it down?

Forerunner had to close because of the way the industry was changing.  I never wanted to be known as a distributor who “stole” a line from another distributor.  As such, I never pulled in any really big publishers that had the “must have” book that was the day’s biggest seller.  We always had the other stuff – the games, the puzzles, the novelties, the posters, the candy, etc.  When things were going relatively good, stores were able to buy our products and put them on the shelf.  

But we found that stores had to make the financial decision of shelf space vs. turnover.  So, a game that may take 2 or 3 months to sell, lost out to 4 or 5 copies of a paperback that would sell in a few weeks.  Plus, customers weren’t rushing into the store asking “where is the Bible version of Mad Gab??”  So, we found that the comment to us was increasingly “we can always special order it for our customer if they ask for it.”  Alas, the product we had wasn’t ending up on store shelves to catch the attention of the shopper, it was sitting on a shelf in our warehouse hoping for the shopper to make a special order.  The product that did sell were the novelties.  But it was really tough there too, as we sold in dozens, and to sell a dozen pencils at $2.40, and make 75 cents profit, didn’t cover the labour costs to pick that product off the shelf, pack it up and ship it out.  We tried to increase the minimum pack sizes, but then stores didn’t want that many of one item, and just didn’t order.   So as I watched sales decline, I knew the only choice was to pack it in.

Since many of our readers own and manage their own businesses, was it hard to go from working for yourself to working for someone else?

I’ve been fortunate in that area.  Bob & Pat (at FDI) are great guys, and we always got along great.  When I was working for them, the sales territory was everyone I already knew, and I already understood how FDI worked. So Bob and I were able to bounce ideas off each other, and he respected my input because of the rapport we had with each other.  

In some ways it was a relief working for someone else, as they had someone who took care of payables, someone who took care of receivables, someone who took care of purchasing, someone who managed the warehouse… everything that I had to do with Forerunner.   Today, at RBC Ministries, the Canadian office runs as its own entity, so it has some of the same feeling as running your own business, but there is support — and accountability — with the main office in Grand Rapids.

How long were you in transition after leaving Foundation?

I wrapped it all up with Foundation on June 30, 2010.  In December, I thought I had a job in Burlington, but the company just decided at the last minute to not pursue the position.  So all my hope in getting a job was dashed, and I had to start all over in January 2011.  But in February, I saw the ad for RBC, and after all the interviews, started March 23, 2011.  From the day Bob told me that we had to part ways, to the day I started with RBC was exactly nine months.  Total number of resumes submitted in that time period: 402.

How did the position at RBC come about?

After the job in Burlington fell through, I knew I had to start all over again.  Their process took just over a month, so I didn’t focus too much on finding another job during that period.  But when it didn’t pan out, I just went back to the beginning.  I had saved all my job links on the internet, and started going through them one-by-one.  

There was a little job site for Christians that I found previously, but wrote them off because they never took down any old job postings.  I had seen a job on their site once that I applied for, and then going back to the job description found out that the job posting was 3 years old! But I thought I’d better take a look one more time, just in case.  

It turned out that RBC found the same website, and posted the job listing there. At first I didn’t know if I wanted to apply for the job, as it would require a move to Windsor, and we were pretty settled where we were.  But I figured that if almost 400 other people said no, they probably would too.  So I sent off my resume.  It took a week, but they did call me to see if I would like to come to Grand Rapids for an interview.  Turns out it was a whole bunch of interviews over the course of 2 days. However, through the entire process, things happened that seemed out of the ordinary.  As I look back now, I can see God’s hand working in everything – even the other job that fell through.

You bring many good organizational and leadership skills to the table; but is there anything about your current position that is better informed by your years in CBA?

As I said before, there are so many people that are connected through my CBA connections.  A lot of people at RBC came over from Zondervan, so they too have CBA experience.  The understanding of the Christian publishing industry has been a help, as RBC prints all of their own material, and also has a publishing arm called Discovery House Publishers.  There are a lot of parallels in the processes of both Christian ministry and the CBA industry.  Plus, it has helped to know most of the bookstores in Canada, as we are expanding our outreach with Our daily Bread, and it has been a natural fit to be able to work with stores I already knew.  If I had of come from a secular company into the ministry side of things, it would have been more difficult, as everything in the business world is about sales increase and how can we aggressively go after it.  While businesses in CBA still have to make profits and grow sales, the greed isn’t there, and the desire to minister to people is.

What challenges do you face in the new job.

The biggest challenge is perhaps dealing with all of the different aspects of the ministry.  In Grand Rapids there are about 15 different areas that all have their own focus on the US market.  My job is to deal with every one of those departments and develop a continuity plan for Canada, but on a much smaller scale.  When I go to the main office in Grand Rapids, my days are usually back-to-back meetings because there are so many different people and areas I interact with. 

The challenge is keeping everything straight and making sure I am always on top of everything going on in each area.

Many of us distribute Our Daily Bread in our stores, and sell Discovery House books.  Are there any other ways we as retailers can support the ministry of RBC?

A number of stores that don’t carry Our Daily Bread are concerned with the fact that it could eat into the sales of Everyday With Jesus. But they are two different products.  Stores that currently don’t have Our Daily Bread should consider that there is a dedicated returning customer that will come in every 3 months to get their copy.   Offering Our Daily Bread is an incentive for them to keep coming back to the store.

For those who already have Our Daily Bread, please let us know if you run out early.  We want to make sure you have enough, and it’s just a matter to let us know by email you need more (or less if you have extras).  The best way to support RBC Ministries is to provide Our Daily Bread to your customers.  From there, the little booklet just makes it’s way into places we had no idea even existed.

Discovery House Publishers are their own publishing entity.  They are not part of any other distribution company.  There are a lot of good titles available from Discovery House, including all of the Oswald Chambers titles.  Discovery House Publishers uses the proceeds from their book sales to subsidize the translation costs for their books into other languages.  This allows the foreign language book to be sold at the same retail price as the English edition, even though they may have only run 500 copies.  All of the Discovery House titles are sold through Foundation Distributing here in Canada.

Any closing thoughts?

There is a book that Discovery House produces called The Roller Coaster Ride of Unemployment.  If you know someone that is out of a job, this book may be able to give them support and encouragement.  There is also a small pamphlet we have here called “Now What? The Healing Journey Through Job Loss” (#Q1124)  which is available to anyone at no cost.  It is tough being out of a job, and there are days you are ready to tackle the challenge, and other days when you wonder if you are even qualified to flip burgers at a fast food restaurant.  But through it all, I found that the Lord was testing my faith.  When I took a look at what I was going through, the question kept going through my mind was “where was my faith?”  Psalm 139:16 tells me there is a book about my life that has already been written – by God himself.  So when I was down in the dumps, I had to keep reminding myself that God knows where it is all going to end up, and I just haven’t read the entire “book” yet.

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