On 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.”)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
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.
More 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…
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…
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.” …
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.
Does your store sell Arch Books? They are the little rhyming booklets which, with the right speed and inflection can turn any Mom or Dad into a rapper. (See sample below.) But don’t read them that way, you’ll scare your kids.
Recently, they released an updated version of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho titled Joshua and the Fall of Jericho. I know this because it’s on their website. But then, Thursday night I found myself in the unusual position of having to prove to someone in the biz Stateside that it existed. And guess what?
It’s not at LifeWay. It’s not at CBD. It’s not at Mardel. It’s not at Parable. Finally, just before I convinced myself that I was losing my mind, I sourced it at Ingram. Concordia’s website doesn’t use ISBNs, which was the proof I needed. The magic number is 9780758657343. Plug that into Book Manager and you’ll see the title as available only at Baker & Taylor or Ingram. All warehouses have stock.
The release date was January was January 6th. The title appears in a flip-book offered here by Foundation, but is absent from their order form.
So why does no one else seem to know this exists?
There’s a story here. Who wants to play detective?
Recently a church where two of us who work at the store attend bought into a package from Right Now Ministries International. By creating a login, parishioners can enjoy video content from a variety of sources at absolutely no charge. The organization’s website claims 15,000 churches are participating. There are indeed great video resources available, and I’ve always recommended that customers check out particular authors.
This morning we had a discussion about the possible impact on the book store, since this is the largest church in our community. In particular, the advertising features an image of Francis Chan. Will watching these videos whet the appetite of viewers for more of Francis (in particular his books) or will it quench their appetite so that nothing more is needed.
I’m a great believer in offering free samples, especially chapter excerpts to friends and customers. I believe it creates a hunger for more. But this is a huge library and I wonder if church members might just get lost in it and not need anything else.
(I’m also wondering if the people in our church are aware what this is costing. The discounted price for a church of 400 is $199.00 U.S. per month, although the denomination might have scored a group discount. Still, that’s $1,200 U.S. per year. I could supply a lot of print resources to the church for that price.)
Do any other stores have any experience with this particular resource?
So did I create a login? No. The reason was I am wary of providing too much information online and when the service asked for a particular birth year (not in multiples of 5) I simply decided I didn’t need the service.
I took one look at the design and I knew it could really connect with my customers.
It’s on page 2 of the new Everyday Boxed Greeting Cards 2017 catalogue from Bellefair Greetings. But then I saw the price: $11.55 suggested list. Admittedly, you can still enjoy a healthy margin at $9.99 which is what I might do.
I’m willing to give this a try. Sometimes deviating from the “sweet spot” pricing on an item is risky. Right now for cards, that price is $7.99. I mentioned this idea two years ago when Rose Pamphlets topped the $5 price line in Canada. But there are always a small number of customers who will not sacrifice quality for price. Or in the example shown, willing to just have something that’s really different.
As we mentioned on Friday though, boxed card customers are particular. Often buying in bulk on behalf of a church or organization, they go over the boxes carefully before taking the plunge. Bellefair is offering twelve cards in the new catalogue at this suggested price. Perhaps all are not as striking as the one pictured above. The MSRP incorporates a 56.8% for the dealer. But purchase 100 assorted boxes and you get an extra 5% discount. That brings you to an even 59%, a margin many suppliers offer on this type of product.
But that also leaves you with 52.6% if you stay with $9.99 and the product will move a lot faster. In other words, configure the margin differently at different price points.
I have simply been in this business too long and watched too many companies implode because of database, mainframe computer and website issues. Some did not recover. In one case I am aware of from several years ago, execs admitted the beginning of the end was a computer upgrade which became the undoing of the entire operation.
- The changes made have all been retrograde from a B2B end user standpoint.
- None of the changes dealers have hoped for have been visible or even promised.
- The company is now running 4-5 days behind on order fulfillment.
- It is impossible to submit carts on B2B. Here’s what I kept getting after trying for a half hour on Saturday night for a Rush order that needs to be in the queue early on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday in Ontario) so that it can be picked up mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
This is the only order I have placed in the last 30 days. It totals $1,452 wholesale. I hope it matters to someone at Parasource; I’ve now submitted it in the form of an email. I have no intention of placing any further orders until I hear that some serious progress is being made.
Innovative Home won’t be doing the gift shows this year, so check out the 55-page .pdf filled with items for Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Wedding, and other special occasions. There are picture frames, rosaries, cake toppers, jewelry and much more.
Does your store do gift wrap? Innovative Home has gift packing accessories and many colours of ribbons.
Get your catalogue via email at email@example.com
Have you ever watched the customers who purchase boxed greeting cards? Most of them are buying on behalf of a church to mail them out on birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other special occasions. Despite the fact that the 3 or 4 designs show on the lid, they open the box and go through each design, one by one.
Late in the day on Friday I checked out our boxed card section and noticed that in the birthday selection, one particular brand wasn’t moving. Not moving at all. The cards were from Papercraft/International Greetings and it didn’t take more than 2 seconds to diagnose the problem: The card boxes are all sealed shut with clear round stickers and our mannerly Christian clientele doesn’t want to open them.
How could they miss this little detail? Did they not send staff into stores to see how this merchandise is purchased? Apparently not.
How did I miss this detail? Tomorrow, we’ll go through the boxes and slash them all open. If there’s something there the manufacturer doesn’t want my customers to see, I’d rather everyone knew that ahead of time.
Every major business has a war room, a planning room, a board room; in other words a place where executive decisions are made. Part of business is forecasting worst case scenarios based on current trends; and the trend, for as long as we’ve been writing this blog has been a decline in the number of brick and mortar stores.
Recently, freelance writer Lisa Hall-Wilson did a piece for Light Magazine, a regional Christian periodical distributed in Vancouver and Fraser Valley to over 200 churches. The article was about the acquisition of Augsburg-Fortress and David C. Cook Canada by the former Cook management group resulting in Parasource Distribution.
You can read that article here.
The article concludes:
…The company directly serves churches and para-church organizations, Christian consumers in Canada across many denominations, as well Christian bookstores and other retailers, such as Amazon and Chapters. Their customers include bookstore owners, seminary professors, Sunday School coordinators, ministry leaders, individuals looking for anything from curriculum, books, devotionals, Bibles, music, movies, ministry supplies, or giftware.
In other words, many different channels. Continuing,
Parasource President Greg Tombs insists this merger is not about putting the local Christian bookstore out of business. “If people want to continue shopping at their local Christian book store, please do that. There is a place for Christian book stores in our communities, but not every community has one anymore. People shop differently than they have in the past. We want to provide quality service using our unique expertise within the Christian market in Canada.”
Publishers and distributors don’t see an end to their product lines, but they must strategize based on a multiplicity of channels. Is Parasource telecasting a major change with this comment? As smart business people, they must be aware that they cannot keep all their eggs in one basket. The tendency would be to grow the areas which are growing. To strengthen the things which remain.
Increasingly, brick and mortar Christian retail is not the dominant channel and is becomes less of a force with each passing day.
The nice thing about being a type of department store for Christian merchandise is that the whole enterprise doesn’t rise or fall on a specific product type. Sure, it’s disheartening hearing about what’s happening in Canada with HMV stores, but most of us probably continued placing CD and DVD orders, right? Just because the guy running the marathon next to you just crashed into the grass next to the sidewalk doesn’t mean you have to stop running.
Even if these sub-sections don’t have specific signage, staff should know how to locate all of these for customers.
Where to put things? For example are mass choirs a subset of choral music or urban gospel (black gospel)? At the very minimum, books are displayed spine-out, but CD spines are harder to find, and in flip-bins, a small subsection of music can easily be missed.
- Bluegrass Music — This should be distinct from country gospel or southern gospel
- Wedding Music — Usually found among the soundtracks; if you’re still carrying those.
- Celtic — A tricky genre that almost always involves some cross-filing, since the group Iona (which we still get asked for) belongs in contemporary, but many of the generic Celtic music aligns better with the traditional and worship sections.
- Chants and Liturgical — Tracked more in stores which are responding to a distinct Catholic market; but for stores that don’t, you should be able to locate the Taizé and John Michael Talbot quickly for that small market segment that wants them.
- Mass Choir — There’s a disconnect here between people who ask where the section is and people who actually buy. We found the word “gospel” resonated more with our staff, so it ended up as subset of southern gospel, which objectively would be my very last choice. Probably better in urban or a choir section if you have one.
- Budget samplers — Anything under $5 really belongs at the checkout. You’re trying to introduce non-music customers to new artists, not lose a sale within the music department itself. Keep impulse music at the checkouts.
- Music parody — Really there’s just Apologetix and most people would ask for them by name. Are they still doing new albums?
- World Music and Jazz — You probably don’t have enough of anything to form a section, but if you do, staff should know who and where they are in the store.
- Local artists — Music you’ve taken in on consignment from local bands and artists deserves to be featured within its proper style, not placed in some independent ghetto. If it’s rock, put it in rock. If it’s worship, put it in worship. They probably left you a quantity so just put them face out where people can find them. True, they’re taking up space where you’d rather display things you actually own, but hopefully you negotiated a decent margin. (We are so blessed in our store because YouTube’s David Wesley, with his album of acapella worship songs, is also a local artist. Let me know if you want some CDs!)
- ‘Tween music — Hate to say it, but in our store it’s a subsection of the children’s department, which is physically as far removed from the rock/contemporary section as possible. Ideally, it would be located in contemporary, but we’re really full there, and the parents are more comfortable when it is still part of the kids section.
- EDM — Electronic Dance Music is still the rage (or should that be rave) with some customers and would probably be happy in a section of its own.
- Spoken Word — Sorry, these aren’t music. Yes, some of the scripture medleys have a music background, but they really belong with your audio books.
What specialty music sections are unique to your store?
Clicking on this should get you a version of this which is sized perfectly for Facebook covers. The book images were chosen somewhat randomly, with a mix of bestsellers and forthcoming releases. These are easy to make, but you’ll find major U.S. vendors — who generally offer the best easy access to a variety of images — don’t size them exactly the same, which makes this a bit of a game.
Feel free to help yourself.
Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.
The need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.
For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.
The author has been writing at his blog, ZacHicks.com since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”
Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.
Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:
Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide
The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role.
I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections.
Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)
Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.
But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.
Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)
My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.
Thanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.