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On the Smell of Books, and Bookstores

November 18, 2017 1 comment

If you’ve been in this business for awhile, you know there’s nothing like walking into a bookstore or book warehouse and breathing in the smell of books. Perhaps you’re one of the people who cracks open a recent arrival to the middle page and inhales deeply.

One of the units from Scentsy — not the one we were given — features a religious design.

Christian bookstores are also gift stores, so years ago we decided to buy some eucalyptus and spread it throughout. It overpowered the smell of books, but created the atmosphere we were intending.

Periodically, these need to be replaced, so as I was mentioning this to a customer last year, she said she was a Scentsy products dealer and would donate a unit to the store in exchange for us posting her business card. Deal.

But then there was this. Our roving reporter Tim Underwood (!) turned this up on the Facebook page of a newly opened store:

When I made the decision to move forward with opening this store, I followed my heart and incorporated a lot of my very own personal touches in the decor. I like my home to have a warm, cozy feel and I wanted the same for my store. My home also almost always has some kind of fresh fragrance flowing through it.

I want to express a very sincere apology to everyone who was uncomfortable with the fragrance I had in the store and I am very grateful that it was brought to my attention that not everyone shares my feelings when it comes to scents.

All scented products have now been removed from the store, and prayerfully you will find your next visit even more pleasant than the last…

Now I’m wondering if our store has ever driven anyone away. Both my key employee and my wife have sensitivities to scents — a growing allergy issue in North America — so I think the particular products we’re using are keeping us on the conservative side of the equation. But it’s something I need to be — pardon the pun — more sensitive about…

…This problem also exists at Church. My wife has guest-posted an article about this on my blog a couple of times. This was the most recent.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Burlington’s Family Christian Store Among Canada’s Finest

Yesterday we visited two bookstores in Oakville and Burlington, and at the latter, was able to spend time talking to Jack Huisman at Family Christian Bookstore on Guelph Line, just south of the 403/QEW. I love browsing their basement rooms especially; a large sampling of wall decor in one half and a well-maintained selection of used books in the other.

The upstairs ain’t too shabby either, but alas, this is what I took pictures of yesterday. I would rate Family Christian in Burlington my personal “top store” in Ontario. The main (upper) floor layout is neat and well cared-for without being intimidating. Listening in on several interactions I noted that the staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful; both of those values are necessary to great customer service.

Categories: Uncategorized

A Great Book for Guys Who Don’t Read Books

Godly men have been growing facial foliage since the beginning of time and church history is filled with Christians who glorified in male-pattern magnificence.1

Jared Brock and Aaron Alford’s book Bearded Gospel Men is about… well I think you’ve got it figured out. Every book needs a premise, right?

Your humble authors have experienced a vast array of diverse Judeo-Christian traditions and have discovered one powerful thing that unites the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox worlds: Follicle faithfulness.2

At first glance, the book is a collection of 31 extremely short biographies of 31 men — oddly not one single woman3 — who belong to the brotherhood of the bearded. Each is followed by a contemporary article with subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Billy Graham…preached the gospel to millions, famously ending every stadium-filled gospel crusade with the old hymn “Just as I am.” We love you, Billy, just as you are. But a Billy beard! What a sight to behold such a thing would be. Perhaps, however it was better this way. Thousands would have come forward at your meetings just get a closer look at the beard and may have caused confusion with the numbers of those getting saved.4

These short pieces are written mostly, but not entirely by the two authors. You may have seen the title before this as a web address.

The book’s history began with a Tumblr blog and Facebook page by Pastor Joe Thorn. It was a joke, really. Mainly memes about beards and good-natured barbs about the superiority of the unshaven.5

There are also a number of pictures with captions that I can only surmise either were are could have been the website’s memes, though the text font is different (see below).

Those biographed — hey, if I say that’s a word — include D.L. Moody, William Booth, Saint Patrick, Charles Sheldon (the original WWJD guy), G.K. Chesterton and Keith Green. There’s no time in those brief accounts to comment on the beards themselves. There’s even a chapter for Zacchaeus, but then didn’t all the males in the gospels have beards? The short synopses are followed by 3 questions for contemplation and a short prayer. In the case of Zacchaeus:

  1. Have you ever wronged anyone, even unintentionally? How might you make that right today?
  2. Is there anything in your life that me obstructing your view of Jesus? How might you see past these things to catch a glimpse of Jesus?
  3. Is there anything Jesus may be asking you to give up, specifically in regard to material possessions or money? 6

So with 31 biographies, 31 additional articles, various memes, etc. this reads more like a magazine than a book. Which is perfect. Because as of late, guys don’t read books. They will read this however, and Christmas is coming. (Hint!)

…The publicist who sent this book suggested it might be timely for No-Shave November.7 Perhaps, although the 11th month only has 30 days and the book has 31 sections. I still see this as a better Christmas gift, though the subtitle, The Epic Quest for Manliness and Godliness is a bit over the top! Consider this one; the guys will thank you for it.

W Publishing, 276 pages, paperback; 9780718099305; page at Thomas Nelson Publishing


1Back cover blurb
2Introduction, p. xiii
3Unless you count Agnes Bojaxhiu in chapter 20, which apparently we didn’t
4p. 41
5Intro, p. xix
6p. 123
7I guess I’m a couple of weeks late. Sorry!

Windsor Store to Close

After an exciting three year run in a city still remembered as headquarters for the Cameron’s Christian Bookstore Chain, Derek Oullette posted this notice recently concerning Inspired Christian Storehouse:

No exact closing dates were given.

Derek and staff: We feel your pain. We wish you God’s best in whatever he has for you next, and know that your efforts to reach out to other stores with help and encouragement over the past 3 years were appreciated.

Categories: Uncategorized

Taking the Show on the Road

You’ve bought the right merchandise. You’ve created eye-pleasing displays. The staff have had a product knowledge refresher. You’re offering some great loss leaders. You’ve done the requisite catalogues, newsletters and social media.

Now if only you could get some people in the store.

Today we feature two stores which are living out that great Biblical truth, “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.” On second thought, maybe that’s not in the Bible. But you’ll recognize the concept; this the “book table” idea on steroids!

Longtime Oakville Christian bookstore, Good Books is setting up shop in Orangeville,  Saturday December 2 to Sunday December 10 at The Centre Fellowship Church. As the map at right indicates, this is hardly a convenience for some local churches, but rather represents reaching out into a more distant market, the distance representing at least a one hour drive.

Meanwhile, Christian Books and Music in Victoria, BC is starting a six-day, four-location tour that would leave some musicians envious. The map below shows the relative distance of the four towns (we had to add one which doesn’t show on the basic Google map) and this should start to give you some insight into the costs involved in putting the merchandise and staff on the road. The schedule is printed below.

A tour of this nature must begin with establishing contacts in each location, many of which are probably existing customers of your store when they visit your community.

Next, you need to consider potential locations, which probably involves visiting in person.

Finally, you need to determine if the proposal is cost-effective (or if you’re willing to do it even if it isn’t!)

Key to balancing this type of tour is knowing how much merchandise to take with you and how much to leave at the store for your regular shoppers. This is both an art and a science!

…We’re in this business because we believe Christian products can change lives. This type of tour represents the highest level of missions outreach in some cities and towns which are probably most appreciative.


Thanks to Tim for a great story lead today.

 

Church: Misfits Welcome!

Brant Hansen’s second major book release is important enough I’m eventually going to devote another column to it here, but if you’re a retailer who hasn’t ordered it, I’d encourage you to have this one ready-to-ship to your store for the November 28th release. The full title is Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something (Thomas Nelson paperback, 9780718096311).

The target market for this is people

  • who are introverts
  • who deal with social anxiety; mental health issues
  • who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar)
  • who feel they are just different; they don’t see the world like everyone else does

and the people who love them because they’re a family member, close friend, co-worker, fellow-student, etc. It will require you to do some promotion to help connect the book to its target audience.

I’m about 65% through the book and will post a full review here and at Thinking Out Loud when it’s closer to the release date.

Here are some resources to help you promote the book on Facebook and Instagram. These are sized 500px x 500px; ready to post for FB and ideal for Twitter.

 

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

Give Customers Familiar Gallery Product Displays

The picture above is the hallway leading into our store. Because we occupy half of the former studios of CFMX-FM, you must go through two sets of doors to reach our store. This creates a mini-lobby which is great for posting notices of upcoming Christian events and instore specials.

I recently took the extra pages from my HarperCollins Christian Publishing list of themed specials — I have an extra copy in my computer — and taking out the header pages, posted the rest at the door to the store.

This creates an internet, online-shopping type of display, what I believe was originally called an image gallery, and allows customers to see products which I may not have shelved face out. Plus there are a few of these we don’t carry in regular inventory.

Another possibility that works well is when publishers list their bestsellers in similar fashion in the back of their print catalogues. I know that print catalogues are becoming a rarity, but we always cut up the pages at the back which may ‘recently published’ or ‘bestseller’ images. One of my favorites is the list of bestselling Bible studies in the back of the InterVarsity (IVP) catalogue.

You’ll also see a couple of charts from Christian Retailing showing as well as our own Top 40 book chart. 

Below what you can see in the picture, we have a display showing 9 of our $3.99 specials. This is a shared hallway, and the neighbours are open longer hours that we are in the morning. So I’m taking a chance of loss leaving that stock there overnight, but it’s a calculated risk. The opposite wall contains sell sheets for single titles from supplier catalogues and more local notices.

We’re also an outlet store, so we’re not looking for a shopping mall quality look. Our customers appreciate the information, so we can get away with what is essentially paper copies taped to the wall. If your store design is more high-end, you could do something similar on a video monitor.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

“Inspirational” Products are Ambiguous and Lack Reference Points

For at least the past decade you’ve seen them. In various types of stores. Perhaps in your own store. Plaques, frames and wall décor that simply say “Believe.” Recently my local hardware store circulated a flyer that had the piece at right. To me it begs all manner of questions:

  • Grateful to who?
  • Grateful for what?
  • Love directed to whom?
  • Love received from whom?
  • Believe in who or what?
  • Thankful to whom?
  • Faith in what exactly?
  • Blessed by whom?

I think it was Philip Yancey who quoted G.K. Chesterton: “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.” I’m glad the hardware chain’s buyers recognized the world of faith and spirituality, but I generally find that piece of wall art devoid of meaning; too lacking in specificity.

Does that mean everything decorative in a Christian’s home should contain a Bible verse or nothing at all? Not at all. If anything, we can be overrun with “Be Still and Know” and “I Can Do All Things” products. Furthermore the piece of merchandise shown might be a great compromise in a home where one spouse is a believer and the other is not.

But with limited wall space, I am determined to focus on the products that the hardware store isn’t carrying. The things you come into a Christian store expecting to find.

You can “Believe” just about anywhere. Why should I duplicate what others are carrying?

 

Footprints Sells Peterborough Location to FDI, Continues in Lindsay

Drive-By Shooting: Realizing we didn’t take a picture, we snapped this one from a moving car two days later when our journey took us back through Lindsay. The sign clutter is a challenge when doing retail on a tightly packed commercial street.

This weekend we stopped by at Footprints in Lindsay, Ontario. It was a bit of a rushed visit for us, and one that followed having driven by — for the first time in 12 years — the location where we ourselves had a Lindsay location.

Owner Pat Henderson, having retired from the insurance business, is now working the hours in Lindsay herself, partly due to the impending dramatic rise in the minimum wage in Ontario. When the store isn’t busy, nested into the corner by the cash register is a compact grand piano and she is continually booked to play at various churches on a regular basis. The piano is not full scale, but it’s the real deal, not an electronic instrument.

She’s noticed an increase in Catholic clientele and display space has been reallocated to reflect this somewhat. There’s also a large selection of DVDs. She said that sales have increased since she has been more physically present in the store. Sadly, we were on a time deadline, and a good half of my visit was interrupted by dealing with a situation in my own store over the phone.

The Peterborough Footprints location has been sold to Foundation Distributing, Inc. (FDI) which will operate in the same location under the Inspirational Value Centre banner, the same store identity used in Ottawa. In Ottawa, the store primarily promotes items from its own distributed lines, with a more reduced selection from the other three primary Canadian distributors; though pictures of the new store suggest a healthy selection of Bibles from HarperCollins.

The Peterborough location is already serving customers, but will have an official grand opening on the upcoming weekend (Saturday, November 4th).

 

Categories: Uncategorized

The Quirky World of Brant Hansen

With Blessed are the Misfits just a few days away from releasing, we realized we had never run the review of Brant Hansen’s first book here. So…

A Theology of Non-Anger

For some time now, I’ve ended the day unwinding with a 20-minute podcast compiled from excerpts of The Brant Hansen Show. Brant‘s a long-time Christian radio guy who has served with Air-1 and WAY-FM. He’s joined daily by producer Sherri Lynn to whom God has apparently given the gift of laughter.

On the sidebar of Brant’s website I kept noticing a reference to Brant’s book, but I figured it to be some self-published project, after all, these days everybody has a book. Only a few days ago did I realize it had been released through Thomas Nelson, and decided it warranted further investigation.

unoffendableUnoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better was actually released in the spring of 2015, so we’re over two years late! If you think that the people in Christian radio are somewhat shallow, you’re going to be pleasant surprised — perhaps amazed — at the substance in this book.

Basically, Unoffendable is a study of instances in scripture (and real life) where anger is a factor. You could call the book a treatise on the theology of anger, though I prefer to take a positive spin and emphasize non-anger. We can be so quick to assume, to lash out, and to hurt. Our knee-jerk reactions aren’t good for the people in our line of fire, and they’re not good for us.

The timing on this is significant as commentators are constantly reminding us that the hallmark of social media in particular and the internet in general seems to be our ability to be easily offended. At everything. We are an offended generation.

The book isn’t necessary a self-help title. You won’t find, for example, six steps to avoid getting angry. Rather, through personal anecdotes and lessons from scripture, proceeding through the book’s chapters instills a climate of non-offense as you read. There’s a sense in which the book has a calming effect.

In many respects, the book is an extension of and consistent with the radio show. There are sections where Brant quotes letters he received from listeners and in my head, I was hearing those as the phone calls he takes on air. Our ability with today’s technology to access spoken word content by authors means you can really allow your imagination to hear the author as you read. We found a station that streams the whole show — not the podcast — daily and listened in just to get the feel.

I encourage to get your hands on this. Read it for yourself, not just to give to so-and-so who gets mad so quickly. I think there is a sense in which we can all see ourselves within its pages; because we all have times where we’ve over-reacted.


More info at Thomas Nelson.

Thanks to Mark at HarperCollins Canada for the review copy.

 

Kitchener, Ontario Author/Illustrator Releases First Orthodox Graphic Novel

Most of us have recited “He descended into hell” at one point or another even if our churches don’t frequently recite The Apostles Creed. Kitchener, Ontario’s Michael Elgamal has illustrated this and other “descents” in a 54-page self-published graphic novel, Anastasis: The Harrowing of Hades. He calls it “the first Orthodox Christian graphic novel.

Here’s the publisher synopsis:

Anastasis: The Harrowing of Hades is a full-colour Christian graphic novel that explores what happened to the Old Testament souls in Hades, the emotional build-up to the fateful crucifixion and the consequences of Christ’s enigmatic descent into hell. You will find this book packed with Biblical references, writings from the Church fathers (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Ephrem the Syrian and more) and gripping storytelling. The hand-drawn illustrations pay homage to ancient Christian iconography and the resurrection narrative.

While we don’t have conclusive details on what took place over the three days Christ spent in the tomb, this book is an honest take on what might have transpired and what it means for us today.

As both a writer and a illustrator, Elgamal’s goal is to tell and retell stories of ancient Christianity. At his website, CreativeOrthodox.com, illustrations convey narratives known more widely among Orthodox Christianity, and probably little known by Evangelicals.

The book is available from Ingram, ISBN 9780995993006 $15 US, paper.