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Both New and Existing Christian Retailers Filling the Family Christian Stores Void

Publisher’s Weekly has a great article profiling new stores which are opening in the wake of the Family Christian Stores closures; some in the very same locations.

Nearly eight months after Family Christian Stores—the largest Christian retail chain in the U.S.—began closing the first of its 240 outlets and going bankrupt, other booksellers have begun to fill in the gaps left by the retailer’s absence. With stores in 36 states across the U.S., Family Christian initiated its closures in February, and the last store closed in May…

Later in the article they also look at the impact on existing stores which weren’t part of the chain.

…In addition to making room for entrepreneurs to open new stores, FCS’s closure has affected existing bookstores as well. Lifeway Christian Stores expanded into four new locations that were previously occupied by Family Christian. The chain, which has over 170 locations, already overlapped with over 140 former FCS outlets, and it has no plans for expansion in other locations, a Lifeway spokesperson told PW.

Sue Smith, manager of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Mich. and president of the CBA (the Association for Christian Retail), said Baker’s sales increased 20% following the chain’s closing compared to the same time in 2016. Three FCS locations shuttered in Grand Rapids in April, followed by several more along the West Michigan Lakeshore. Baker, which is independently owned, was able to tap into FCS’s church customer base, and it now stocks products such as communion ware and curriculum…

click here to read the article in full with pictures of the new stores

Photo: Publisher’s Weekly on Twitter

Family Christian Stores: The Final Goodbye

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.

fc-logoMore 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…

continue reading here

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…

continue reading here

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.” …

continue reading here

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

Family Christian Stores Begin a New Life

September 3, 2015 1 comment

fc-logoWith a tumultuous season now in the past, Family Christian Stores have had a legal resuscitation and the chain enters into the 2015-2016 selling period with a mixture of hopes and challenges. A lengthy article at MiBiz.com is worth reading in its entirety, some highlights are below, but you should click here to link.

Some key points that stood out to this observer:

  • …the senior management team of the new Family Christian is much of the same team that took the company into bankruptcy.
  • “We need (multiple) outlets in our industry,” said Curtis Riskey, president of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Christian Booksellers Association. “Family Christian is the largest chain, so it’s important that we retain those outlets. For the suppliers that were part of the proceedings, to be able to keep doing business with their largest customer is important.”
  • Aside from closing approximately 15 of the company’s stores, the management team’s agenda includes better defining the Family Christian brand, enhancing the look and feel of stores and shifting to a hybrid e-commerce sales-and-distribution model.
  • “We’re never going to compete with Amazon — that’s a losing proposition,” [Family Christian CEO Chuck] Bengochea said. “But I don’t want (customers) to have to wait a week and a half just because (they’ve) ordered a Christian product. I want it to be out there in three days or less.”
  • “We have a five-year plan and we don’t believe it’s double-digit growth,” Bengochea said. “We believe there is single-digit growth, which the (Christian retailing) industry has not been experiencing, but we believe we can do that. Our model is very healthy. We have new stores in the model and good EBITDA earnings growth. But it’s not a high-growth business.”

Again, there is much, much more to read in this well-reported analysis.

Family Christian Stores Stay Open, But Gospel Light Files for Bankruptcy

From Christianity Today:

The nation’s largest Christian retail chain will remain open after a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the troubled company today.

After six months of wrangling in bankruptcy court, Grand Rapids-based Family Christian Stores will be sold debt-free to FCS Acquisitions for between $52.4 and $55.7 million, according to MLive.

The move will cost creditors millions of dollars but will keep more than 200 bookstores open as venues for publishers and vendors to sell products in the future.

The plan was approved by Judge John Gregg Tuesday morning…

Family Christian—which will be renamed FCO, LLC—was able to shed more than $127 million in debt.

On Friday, Family Christian Stores’ creditors, many of them Christian publishers and vendors, voted 162 to 7 in favor of the sale. According to court records, Family Christian owed about $108 million to the creditors who approved of the sale. It owed about $97,000 to the creditors who opposed the sale.

The sale will preserve Family Christian’s business for now…

But there are casualties:

“For the short term they will be healthy. And if they can adapt to the retail challenges ahead they may be successful,” Christian literary agent Steve Laube told CT in an email. “Unfortunately, their financial ‘health’ came at the expense of a number of publishers, suppliers, and authors.”

Because of the sale, Family Christian’s suppliers will have to cope with being paid cents on the dollar for products they had shipped to the retailer.

Gospel Light Publishing, which sells Sunday school and Vacation Bible School curriculum through Family Christian, filed for bankruptcy last Friday, the same day that creditors voted overwhelmingly to keep Family Christian in business.

“It was a contributing factor in our need to seek court protection,” Gospel Light CEO Dave Thornton told CT. “We had to write off $143,000 in expected income, and we’re a smaller, family-owned Christian publishing company that didn’t have deep enough pockets to sustain that, combined with other unexpected losses this spring.”

continue reading at Christianity Today

 

In Family Christian’s backyard, Kregel Publishing is taking a big hit. MLive (Michigan Live) reports:

Jerry Kregel, executive vice president and chief financial officers of Grand Rapids-based Kregel Publishing, said the bankruptcy will cost his Christian publishing company about $400,000.

As one of Family Christian Stores’ consignment vendors, Kregel’s family- owned company will get 35 percent of the wholesale value of their products as a result of the sale, he said.

Despite their losses, Kregel said they voted for the sale in hopes of keeping Family Christian Stores open despite the challenges “brick and mortar” stores are facing from online and digital competitors in the publishing industry.

Christian book and gift stores continue to face challenges, said Kregel, who company also operates a retail store in Grandville and recently closed a store in Plainfield Township.

“In an industry that has been challenged in recent years, this squeezes things even more,” he said.

continue reading at MLive

 

 

Bankruptcy Court Denies Sale of Family Christian Stores

The drama of Family Christian Stores is now officially in overtime. Here’s some of the report from Publisher’s Weekly (19/June), but you need to click through for the full story:

A United States Bankruptcy Court has denied the sale of Family Christian Stores, the largest retail Christian chain in the country, to FCS Acquisition (a company founded by FCS owners to buy back the business). The ruling was detailed in a memorandum decision filed on Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Family Christian Stores, which has 266 locations in 36 states, filed for bankruptcy in February after several years of falling sales.

The denial of the sale motion was based on several factors: Hilco Merchant Resources, LLC, and Gordon Brothers Retail Partners LLC (Gordon/Hilco)–both liquidators–made bids on the chain, and both have standing to object to the sale. Additionally, the auction process during which FC Acquisition was named the “highest and best” bidder included several mistakes, though the court said it ultimately did not “find that the auction was unfair or fraudulent.”

The court was especially troubled by a telephone call from Family Christian CEO Chuck Bengochea to FC Acquisition owner Richard Jackson during the sale auction, asking him to increase FC Acquisitions’ bid.

A third objection says that the debtors “failed to articulate a sound business justification for the sale to any of the bidders.”…

…The decision comes nine days after a 14-hour hearing in Grand Rapids on June 9 that began at 9 a.m. and ended just after 11 p.m.

A longer story appears at MLive (Michigan Regional News) and notes:

…The judge said the clock is ticking for the company if it wants to remain a viable business. It will have a “liquidity crisis” with cash reserves likely depleted by mid to late July.

…If Family Christian Acquisition’s had been approved, Bengochea planned to close 15 or 16 stores as part of a five-point restructuring.

With several bidders planning to liquidate the company, many creditors, including publishers who would lose millions in the bankruptcy, backed Family Christian Acquisitions’ bid as a way to keep the company afloat and continue as an important distributor of their products.

Family Christian Stores Stay Open

If you’ve been following the Family Christian Stores (FCS) saga since February, you know that two of the most authoritative sources on this — both of whom posted a summary of last week’s hearings — have been the West Michigan website MLive, and the publisher agent Steve Laube’s blog. From the latter, we get this summary:

  • Stores will stay open
  • Trade creditors will get 5% of what they are owed plus 100% for all of the sales made within 20 days of the bankruptcy filing.
  • Owners of consignment inventory will get paid for a percentage of their inventory, somewhere between 10-35%, depending on circumstances.
  • The main secured creditor will get paid 100%.
  • Another secured creditor will take a large write-off.

The decision reached last week is still subject to court approval, which includes a challenge by the second-place bidder; plus a stipulation that consignment vendors call off their lawsuit.

Steve Laube summarizes everything with much wisdom:

With any situation like this there is good and bad. The bad is rather obvious. A lot of publishers and vendors are severely hurt by this bankruptcy.

The good, if you will allow me to characterize it as such, is that if the bid is approved by the courts, the stores will stay open. That means future business will occur. In the long run, this may be a wonderful thing. Whether FCS can survive in that long run amidst the ever changing nature of retail is a different question entirely. This situation has demonstrated the fragile nature of the brick-and-mortar store. Unless some changes are made we may end up in the same boat a few years from now. But, in the meantime, having 266 places where books, bibles, music, and gifts are sold is a positive thing.

Unfortunately that “good” thing had to be rebuilt on the backs of hundreds of publishers, vendors, suppliers, authors, and artists. Many of whom will not have the ability to survive their own bankruptcy.

It is easy to create villains and heroes in any story we tell. Rarely, in a situation like this, do we know the full picture, the motivations, or what has been negotiated behind the scenes. My hope is that somehow something good in the long run will happen to turn this into a long forgotten bad dream.

For earlier reporting on his blog check out: blog #1 and blog #2. There is also a report at the CBA website.

Publishers Launch Lawsuit Against Family Christian Stores

The FCS case is confusing to most because of the mix of regularly purchased inventory and “consignment” inventory. The implications to the vendors involved however, are huge.

From World Magazine online:

…Twenty-seven companies filed a joint lawsuit in federal bankruptcy court Friday to protect products Family Christian Stores has on its shelves but hasn’t yet paid for.

The companies provided the so-called “consignment inventory” to Family Christian Stores (FCS) under a contract that required it to pay for their products after customers buy them from stores. Under a traditional retail arrangement, retailers buy products first, then resell them. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit—a who’s who of Christian publishers, including Baker Book House, David C. Cook, and InterVarsity Press—say they still own some of the books and other products in FCS locations.

The dispute arose because in its bankruptcy petition, filed last month, FCS stated it wants to include the consignment inventory—at least what it had on hand before the bankruptcy filing—when it sells off its assets to pay creditors. According to court documents, FCS owes banks and vendors about $97 million, not including the $20 million in consignment inventory.

…The plaintiffs have asked the bankruptcy judge to order Family Christian Stores not to include the consignment goods in its proposed asset sell-off and to either pay for the products or return them.

read the full article at worldmag.com

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Local Church Stands to Lose $8.5K in Family Christian Stores Chapter 11

This was left as a comment at Steve Laube’s blog article about the Family Christian Stores Chapter 11 filing. For some reason, I just felt I should share it here; I really feel sad for this church.

This hits all the way to the local church. We sponsored a music event, where FCS was a ticket outlet. They sold $8507 in tickets. Instead of getting the check, I received the official Chapter 13 notification in today’s mail. Our event was Feb 2-7. The filing was on Feb 11. If the handwriting was on the wall, they should not have accepted our tickets. They literally took our ticket money. A bitter pill to swallow!

Pastor Bill Bailey

I don’t think of any of us are prepared for the length of time and degree of impact of the various ripple effects from what has happened as FCS. No matter how successful they are at restructuring, our industry is never going to be the same.

Categories: Uncategorized

Clarification of Family Christian Stores Action

One time many years ago we flirted with the idea of closing our store, and as the word hit the street, the perception became the reality: We were closing. We’ve since learned to be very guarded about making statements, and until recently, we would get someone in every 4-6 months saying they thought we had closed. Eventually time proved us to still be in business.

So I worry about the widespread publicity being given Family Christian Stores move to Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It’s not the same thing as the type of bankruptcy that results in liquidation and closure, especially when a buyer is in place and you’re pledging not to close a single store or lose a single employee.

Steve Laube’s article goes into great detail on this. It’s been reprinted at Charisma and Christianity Today, and I thought of running it here, but it’s quite long.  There is a link to the 150-page .pdf legal document and it’s interesting to see the various suppliers, shopping mall leases, health insurance plans, web domains, etc., that all need to be named. He compares what’s taking place to what happened with General Motors, not what happened with Borders.

To read the article, click this link.

Categories: Uncategorized

End of an Era: LifeWay to Close All 170 Retail Stores

Breaking Story

On January 6th, 2018 the iconic James Draper Tower of the LifeWay complex in downtown Nashville was demolished. Thursday’s announcement of the closing of the retail chain sends even bigger shock waves. [Source: Tennessean – see below]

Religion News Service reported:

LifeWay Christian Resources announced Wednesday (March 20) it will close all 170 of its brick-and-mortar stores this year.

That comes as LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, shifts its resources online.

Local news media The Tennessean reported:

The company plans to shift to a digital strategy as consumers increasingly rely on online shopping, a challenge that retailers face nationally. LifeWay resources, such as online Bible studies and worship plans, will be offered at LifeWay.com, through the LifeWay Customer Service Center and through its network of church partners

“LifeWay is fortunate to have a robust publishing, events and church services business. Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” [CEO Brad] Waggoner said. “LifeWay is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”

At LifeWay’s Facts and Trends website, more details:

…The timing of store closings will vary depending on local circumstances. LifeWay expects all brick-and-mortar stores to close by the end of the year…

…In one month, LifeWay interacts with five times as many people through its digital environments as it does through LifeWay stores…

Unlike the 2017 closing of another Christian retail chain, Family Christian Stores, this is not a receivership. The FCS closing affected over 3,000 employees and also devastated publishers, music companies and giftware suppliers who were also sent reeling with the closing of Send the Light, a large wholesale distributor. FCS closed 240 stores in comparison to LifeWay’s current 170. In contrast, the website for Parable explains that, “Parable Christian Stores are locally owned and operated franchise stores run by people who desire to resource their community with Christian products.”

But there is no doubt the LifeWay decision will have an impact on authors, musicians, and a host of other creatives who make the products that Christian bookstores sell. It will also have ripple-effect repercussions on everything from how Christian products are marketed and promoted to Christian music concert tours. 

But not every author, musician, or film producer is affected as the RNS story reminded us that many had their products outright banned by the chain:

[Rachel Held] Evans said Wednesday that she doesn’t rejoice over any bookstore closing and she is mindful that LifeWay’s closing means many people will lose their jobs.

But, she said, “for too long Lifeway’s fundamentalist standards have loomed over Christian publishing, stifling the creativity and honesty of writers of faith.

“I hope this news reinforces to writers, editors, and marketers across the industry that we don’t have to conform to Southern Baptist doctrine and culture to sell books. Readers are hungry for literature that embraces the complexity, nuance, and ragged edges of real-life faith and for bookshelves that reflect the diversity of the Church.”

Other people on Twitter responding to the closure didn’t share Evans’ compassion and were outright gleeful that the chain, long known for its restrictive practices was shutting down. “News we can celebrate;” said one, while @SBCExplainer, an official SBC account, countered with, “[L]et’s band together to dispel any notions that LifeWay is ‘going under’. LifeWay will continue to be the largest Christian resources provider in the world.”

As the story broke in local markets where the company has locations, several reports indicated that store management knew their closing date was coming at the end of May. SBCExplainer also noted that campus bookstores operated by LifeWay at seminaries would also be closing. Also included in the closing is the new flagship store built less than a year ago in the new LifeWay building after the first property was sold and demolished. (See photo above.)

More information was being posted on the store’s FAQ page.

[Last updated 8:42 AM 3.21]

This is developing story; check back for updates.

 

Stores on Social Media

Full House: VBS Info Night held at Kennedy’s Parable, Saskatoon in January.

 

Lando Klassen eating all the profits at House of James in Abbotsford, BC.

 

A store within a store: Marja Fledderus on video inviting customers to visit the Used Books department in the basement of Family Christian Stores, Burlington.

 

Taking the show on the road: Shepherd’s Fold in Grand Prairie display at the town’s Catholic School Board’s Faith Day in January.

 

“Stack ’em high and watch ’em fly.” Stormie Omartian $4.99 clearance at Inspirational Value Centre in Ottawa.

 

I spent well over an hour preparing this, during the course of which I saw a wide variety of uses for Facebook by about eighteen Canadian Christian bookstores. It was an interesting study. One store simply automatically posts the daily devotional from Our Daily Bread. Another was a daily book feature, including a couple of titles I made a note to order for my own store. One store mostly posted the featured menu item in their café. (I also visited a dozen American stores which I frequent for comparison.)

Call me a literalist, but I think “social media” should be “social.” It should reflect the personality — the heart and soul — of your store. Customers should know your staff members’ names — and vice versa — and should feel a sense of connection to both the place and the people. The last two pictures above don’t show much of the store or the people that work there, but there’s a sense of story to what they posted; or to put it another way, they were easy pictures to caption.

I then took a look at my own store’s page to see how we compared. 

I really wanted to post more pictures. If you have something you feel should have been there, mention the link in the comments.

Categories: Uncategorized

On the Rumoured Death of Retail

Steve Laube is a Christian literary agent whose blog is tremendous source of information for prospective writers. It is always linked in the sidebar of this page. This morning he posted the article, “Retail is Dead! Or is it?” This is only a few highlights, for the full piece click this link.

…I suggest we need to look beyond the gruesome headlines.

For example, last week the entire bookselling industry ran the story in their news-feeds that Eerdmans Publishing was closing their in-house store. (The original article is here.) The article made this statement:

“The closing, which affects two persons, follows a retailing trend established earlier this year, when the nation’s largest chain of Christian retail stores, Family Christian Stores of Grand Rapids, closed all 240 of its stores in 36 states.”

Wait. What? Notice how many employees were affected. Two. And yet there is a jump to claim it follows the “retail trend” and compares it to the bankruptcy of the largest Christian bookstore chain.

If there are only two people running the store it could not have been a very large operation. It should not be compared to a chain of 240 stores with 3,000 employees (an average of over 12 people per store).

Yet the headline proclaimed or at least suggested more “bad news” for bookstore retail…

…We hear, “Everyone buys their books on Amazon. Bookstores are dead. Retail may have a heartbeat but bookstores need a postmortem.”

Then why is the Canadian bookstore chain, Indigo, expanding into the U.S. in 2018? They will be opening their first U.S. stores next summer in New Jersey.

What about the October 27th article in Publishers Weekly? They wrote about dozens of new Christian bookstores opening in places where Family Christian Stores closed! This suggests that those communities can still support a quality Christian bookstore. The problem for Family Christian Stores was their financial debt. I wrote about this multiple times in the past. Their financial debt stressed their ability to stay viable…

Again, the primary readership of the agency blog is aspiring writers, so the article continues more in that direction, but the sections quoted above ought to be an encouragement as you start your week. Here again is the link to the article.

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