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Most Stores Reporting Light Christmas Sales

In discussions with similar, general market stores in my community, and online discussions with Christian bookstores across the country, poor Christmas sales seems to be a consistent theme. Several reported a strong lead-up to the holiday in November that simply wasn’t matched by sales in the final month. Across most of Canada, the weather played havoc with sales in the final two weeks, especially as older customers — a generation considered less likely to download books or music — feared to venture out in sub-zero temperatures or a mix of everything from freezing rain in Ontario to major snowstorms in the Maritimes.

At Faith Family Books in Toronto, Kern Kalideen reported numbers were down, but he was thankful that the store managed to stay open. “We can say thanks to God for His mercy since we did nor loose power. We can see His blessings in the midst of chaos.”

At Family Christian Bookstore in Burlington, Jack Huisman also noticed a sales drop but felt that only about half of the difference in numbers from this year to last could be blamed on weather factors. He added,

We are keeping on top of returns so we get our credits ASAP, and keeping inventory lean. Our biggest cost is staffing, so we are keeping an eye on the schedule. Not much you can do once you have really cut this as much as possible as the minimum wage has gone from $7.45 to $10.25 since 2005, a 38% increase. Our rent steadily increases every few years as well. So our two largest expenses keep growing, but our sales are not much different from 2005/2006 due to various causes – US/CAD dollar, Amazon, eBooks, Internet, Facebook, etc… It is a challenging business to be in.

We will be mailing out less flyers this year – focusing on the top 20% of our customer base. The money we save on flyers will be spent on sending out thank you letters to new customers to try to encourage them to come back and convert them into more frequent customers.

At House of James, Lando Klassen echoed the cost-cutting sentiment almost word-for-word:

In December Bookstore was down 9.5% below last year, and last year was already low.

Our coffeehouse side was up 15% but that 15% is a much smaller number

We promoted like crazy via radio, our very own 20 page catalog, Facebook , e-blasts, and in store merchandising but there are simply less customers shopping here and I’m having trouble getting  them back.  We work hard on special orders, a positive in store experience and a wide selection of merchandise but it seems the good old days are gone.

I am trying to be positive, but it becomes challenging to forge ahead with declining sales.  We continue to cut costs, inventory and staffing and we are trying to be more efficient in all we do.  Have we reached the bottom in our decline. I sure hope so but not sure?

The encouraging thing is when we keep  hearing the stories of how our books and music and live events impact people.

The theme was the same in smaller markets. At The Word bookstore in Perth, Ontario, Mary Keeling noted, “November was down and Dec looks like it too, the weather has had a lot do with it. The whole year has not been good, not like the previous 19 years.” Still, Mary has found a buyer for her store who takes over this week, and is to be both admired and congratulated on having continued to own and operate her store to the age of 84. The Word is a great example of doing more with less, having a strong local and regional customer base in a small store with limited display options.

Another dealer mentioned that boxed Christmas cards seem to peak early this year, which left December sales down.

At my own store, Searchlight in Cobourg, while November was equal to the previous year, we noticed the December drop in key departments. Children’s books have been down all year, but we expected a last minute rush for Children’s Bibles and Bible storybooks, which never materialized. The same is true in our CD department, where the usual final week sales simply didn’t happen, though some products, like WoW 2014, continued to be the default purchase as in previous years.

Doing both the Cook Christmas catalogue and the STL catalogue got a bit confusing at times, but it gave us a broader range of merchandise to offer, and allowed customers to plan their visit ahead of time. One of our largest Evangelical churches had the Cook catalog on every other seat on the Sunday a month before Christmas at both of their services. It was their idea, something above and beyond what we had asked for, and we weren’t going to argue!

Moving forward however is going to be a challenge. We usually ‘burn off’ our line of credit the first or second week in December (at the latest) but this year find ourselves moving into 2014 in a debt position we haven’t known previously. Since gift certificate sales were also down significantly this Christmas, we can’t count on that medium to generate in-store traffic.

If any stores that were solicited for comments for this piece wish to add comments, I’ll edit this article later on. I also want to thank those of you who shared impressions with me anonymously by email and telephone.

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