Posts Tagged ‘Christian bookstore management’

Canadian Christian Retailers Facebook Group Launches

In the wake of concerns over direct-to-consumer marketing by Parasource, Canadian Christian bookstore owners and managers can now continue the conversation at a new* Facebook group, Canadian Christian Retail Insights. Administrators for the page are Lynda Schoffro of The Gospel Lighthouse, Canada’s largest Christian retail chain, and Tim Underwood of Graf-Martin Communications, who is also a frequent contributor of story leads to us here at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lynda writes,

We need to learn to carve out our niche in the industry by drawing customers into our brick and mortar stores. There are many things that the online shopping environment cannot provide and it is through this channel that we can grow stronger. In our industry, we have the advantage of having customers who are intentional and faithful to us. If we give them the experience they are wanting most of them are sure to choose the experience over the short term gain. One of the ways we can do this is by having well-trained staff who can engage and minister to our clients. Providing them with excellent and well thought selections when it comes to book titles, Bible selection, music, movies and more. I believe that we can be better at this by combining our efforts. Learning from each other and sharing in an open environment for all to learn from each others experience and knowledge.

To do this, we need a platform to communicate… I think that a Facebook group where only retailers are members would be a good way to communicate. I hope that you will feel free and confident enough to share your ideas with all of us.

There are many ways we can learn and grow, including:

  • Sharing book reviews (our favorites or new titles). We all love to read but it’s sometimes hard to find the time. A personal take of what the book means to someone can go a long way when recommending.
  • New product information
  • Display/ Creative in-store ideas
  • Product selection that sells well in our stores – we are all trying to find something new and great to offer our customers. It can be daunting when you start searching the internet for new ideas or walking the floor at the Gift shows. It would be great to offer ideas from experienced buyers.
  • Trade show information — maybe even having something of our own
  • Graf-Martin Communications will add new content to the page every week, including new book trailers, information about book launch teams, faith films coming to your area etc. This content (movie & book trailers) can also be shared on your store’s social media, making it easier for you to find content to share…

Lynda also outlined further the role Tim or Graf-Martin would play:

I’ve also been connecting with Ellen Graf-Martin and the Graf-Martin Communications team about how to better resource our frontline staff to be experts in our field. Her team has a genuine passion for Canadian Christian retail and a desire to keep us in the loop on new titles, faith/family-friendly films and other news pertaining to our customers with the goal being to educate and equip us. We’ve been talking about the best way to communicate this not only to our store, but to all Christian retailers across Canada – at no cost to us.

The Graf-Martin team has offered to send a newsletter once a month by email. The newsletter will contain key reviews from Canadian Christian bloggers, links to media interviews being done by authors, movie trailers, ARCs of new titles and opportunities for free movie tickets. They’ll also be sending content that we can share through our own store newsletters and social media pages.

Again, to join the group, visit Canadian Christian Retail Insights.

Unless something major is breaking, we’ll assume that readers here are also following content there. Christian Book Shop Talk will also continue to be a window into Canadian Christian Retail for our many industry insider friends and subscribers in the United States and abroad who follow this blog.

*The FB page was actually created a year ago, and already had 26 members before this week’s announcement or re-purposing. With this new membership appeal there are now already 45 members.


Report Card: A Self-Evaluation for Store Owners and Managers

In the course of any given week, we each wear many different hats. Here’s a look at some. This article is open if you think anything significant needs to be added. Please share this with your staff and people at other stores who might miss this. Send them this short-link:

A Self-Evaluation for Store Owners and Managers


Sales Assistance – Owners and managers can’t stay locked in back rooms. We need to be experiencing customer contact and also model for our employees how to serve and sell.

Customer Service – Problem solving responsibilities fall to us. We need to have fair policies in place, but also know our stores are supposed to be places of grace, so we know when to make exceptions.

Human Resources – More than just hiring and firing, it’s scheduling, setting wage rates and adjusting wage rates due to merit and in the interest of employee retention. In a Christian environment it can also mean caring for the spiritual nurture of staff in our care.

Buying – One of our most important functions. It may involve setting min/max levels for core stock, adding new releases, but also evaluating the sales performance of key departments and setting their overall inventory levels. Meeting with sales reps is time consuming but provides valuable input on new lines, and opportunity to send feedback with them to publishers.

Purchasing – This means overseeing all of the component supplies and services which keep the store running; from getting tissue for the restroom to choosing an electrician.

Physical Plant Maintenance – From sweeping to vacuuming to spreading salt on the sidewalk outside; you may not actually do this yourself, but you need to see that it gets done. Includes everything from safety checks of fixtures to setting heating and air conditioning levels to getting the garbage bins emptied. Also involves sensitivity to potential liability issues.

Merchandising – What’s the first thing people see when they walk in? Changing displays, end-caps and even shelving arrangements is necessary. One manual says the overall colour scheme should be changed every two years, though that’s rather daunting. Front-and-center displays should be changed every quarter, at the very least.

Marketing – This is basically anything that’s happening outside the store to draw people inside. Includes social media such as the store website, store Facebook, store Twitter, store blog and store email newsletters. Next is flyers; choosing them and doing the buying for them. Then there’s the often overlooked store window. (A drawback in our industry because books fade in sunlight; usually our windows contain giftware. Also, publishers no longer provide as many posters and window clings.) Finally there’s advertising in print and online newspapers and on Christian radio.

Outreach – This involves setting up book tables (or arranging stock consignments when it’s not practical to send staff) and also having a presence at community events. It can also include donating prizes for fundraisers, especially with churches and Christian organizations which do business with the store. If you have the gift of speaking, it might also involve speaking to a church group about your store or about recent books. (You might also want to visit some local churches on a Sunday morning periodically, or after each pastoral change.)

Financial – This involves working with the accountant or bookkeeper to monitor bank balances, oversee sales reports, make remittances to governments and suppliers and generally insure the store is hitting the numbers needed in order for the business not to be stressed financially. In periods of crisis, it may lead to some tough decisions as to who gets paid and who needs to wait.

Standards – Increasingly businesses are needing to devote some time and attention to WSIB and provincial standards, seeing that mandatory notices and policies are posted in staff rooms, that staff have completed basic safety training modules, etc. This also includes things like insuring exterior signage conforms to municipal standards, etc.

Product Knowledge – With an exhaustive list of things like this to do, when you do you get time to read? Ultimately, the stores that succeed are owned or managed by readers; people who love books and authors and want to share that passion with customers. If we lose that, we’ve lost a lot.

Christian Growth – More often than not, we can’t take our customers and staff past the level where we are ourselves. It’s therefore incumbent upon us to not let our own spiritual growth and formation get lost in the weeds of administrating and giving leadership to a small Christian organization. And prayer… lots of prayer.


Exclusive Offers and the Sin of Partiality

This article appeared today at Thinking Out Loud

Early in the week, I was contacted to see if I knew how someone could get their hands on a song by Casting Crowns titled Listen to Our Hearts. They believed it was on the album Come to the Well, but they couldn’t locate it there.

A little research later, I determined that the song was a bonus track which was only sold to people who pre-ordered the album on iTunes.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened.

In the past few years there have been entire albums by Christian artists which were only available at LifeWay stores. Here, I need to point out that there are no LifeWay stores in Canada or the UK, so fans of the artists in questions simply could not obtain the product, no matter how hard they tried.

There’s something about this that just strikes me as wrong.

I saw an article the other day about “The Sin of Partiality.” Not surprisingly it began in the book of James (2:1-4):

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

My brain connected the article with the song request.

I know Casting Crowns needs to make money, and I’m not saying they should give their songs away for free — the influence of Keith Green notwithstanding — but somewhere between open source and restricted access there should be a balance.

I posted a fan-posted YouTube edition the song on Twitter as a type of protest. That way some people got to hear it that day. I added that a year, or two years later, “the song never surfaced in any form.” That brought this reader response:

To which I responded,

I realize that Christian retail is fraught with moral and ethical perils. The one I hear the most is, “The Bible should be free.” (I always have free copies to meet that objection.) I don’t expect the people at iTunes to live by Christian standards, but surely the people at LifeWay must know, in the back of their minds, that at the same time they’re doing something for their customers, they are denying others, right? (In a future article, we’ll look at the related idea of giving greater discounts to people buying in quantity, which is always an ethical dilemma.)

I just think anytime you say “exclusive offer” you’re letting some people in and shutting some people out.

At that point, the connection to what James says about favoritism is valid.

Note: The song was a collaboration between three artists. The versions by Steven Curtis Chapman and Geoff Moore have proved equally elusive in 2018.

Shortening the Distance Between the Sales Floor and Management

As a long-time observer of this industry, I’ve been asked many times over the past decade about store closings, probably a key barometer as to the health of our industry. On those occasions, I’ve often remarked that in some regions, it’s been the large market stores which have taken the greatest hits. The major cities lose key stores while many small(er) town stores seem to limp along as always.

I was thinking of that in light of the Sears closings this weekend. Again, a massive chain that some employees felt put too much distance between upper management and what was being discussed on the sales floor. (See the Toronto Star interviews with staff published Saturday.)

We must be listening to our customers.

Before writing this, I completed an order with one of several remainder sources we use. It wasn’t anything special, and there weren’t any key titles I was after. Instead it was a topping up. We had a slow year, so I don’t need to top up anything necessarily. However, without exception, each of the 30 lines on that order was based on some interaction we’ve had with customers. One or two of this, one or two of that, but all of it entirely launched with feedback and inquiries from shoppers; many of which make us aware of where we’re either missing or light on product sub-categories.

Here’s the sum of this:

I believe every customer conversation produces fruit for store buyers.

Buyers, owners and managers: Let your sales staff be your eyes and ears. You need to know what’s being requested. You need to avoid the isolation which comes with having an office. Maybe that’s why the small(er) town stores survive, because there is no upper management; owners are serving customers themselves.

If those buying the product aren’t on the sales floor, they need to keep their office door open so that sales associates can stick their heads in the door and say,

  • A woman was just asking if we’re ever getting ________ back in.
  • We just had a phone call wondering if we carry books by ________ .
  • Did you know we only have ___ copies of the ____ translation in stock right now?
  • I just unpacked a shipment from _________ and immediately sold two copies of _______, I think we’re out already!
  • On Sunday at all three services at ________ church, the pastor recommended that everyone get _______ .
  • I just did a look-up and confirmed that ________ is going to be going out of print; it’s one of our bestsellers; can we get more right away?
  • A customer just walked in talking about a new song Christian stations are playing by ________ .           …etc.

That type of interaction is gold. It’s on the same level of why major retailers are willing to invest or pay to get customer preferences and profiles.

You want your staff to collect email addresses, right? Well, it’s winter; it’s a slow time; get them to start collecting something else! Train them as spies! Get them to gather information in the field and bring it back into command central where it can be decoded into valuable purchasing decisions.

Sound like warfare? It is!


Price Matching Amazon

Below is an amended version of some suggestions offered in a longer article at CBA Online. I didn’t want to steal the entire piece, so I encourage you to read it there, including the full introduction.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; right? Some of you are immediately thinking that if you start cutting prices you won’t survive. I would argue that if you don’t respond you won’t survive. We can’t pretend what we jokingly refer to in our store as “the A-word” doesn’t exist. Perhaps instead of worrying about our stores “showrooming” for them, we should see them as “creating awareness” of products for us.

Click the title below to read the article in its original form, with the full introduction.

How to Make Amazon Price-Matching Work for You


  • …Sue Smith, store manager of Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and current CBA chair: Don’t send away empty-handed a customer who is standing right there. “I always say to my team that it’s not about the transaction in front of you,” she explains. “It’s about the next one, and the next one, creating an experience where you are inviting them to come back again.”
  • Erik Ernstrom, manager of business intelligence at Parable, agrees that trying to price match is vital, without giving away the farm. Plus, he notes, making a sale even at a discount provides the opportunity to sell something else such as a case and highlighters for a Bible purchase.
  • “Take a 50 cent hit and upsell,” agrees [Christian Supply’s Zach] Wallington. “That’s something Amazon won’t do.” It’s also part of the appeal of the Get It Local program to suppliers…
  • When it comes to showrooming—when in-store shoppers use their phones to price match online deals—Baker Book House’s staff is encouraged to engage shoppers who are on their phones by asking if they can help and telling them that the store can match anything they might find.
  • One independent retailer who found he couldn’t price match an online Bible deal “shifted gears and discussed Bible cases, tabs, and other stuff, which she did purchase from me,” he says…
  • “You have to play the game,” says Smith. “Call the publishers and see if you can get a discount.” Many times suppliers are willing to work with stores as much as they can because of the potential additional in-store sales.”
  • An additional card that indies can play against Amazon is the community buy-local one. If you have a good relationship with a local church, Ernstrom says, you might be able to point out that your store not only supports it by resourcing its members, but sometimes indirectly employing them and making it possible for them to tithe.
  • Good merchandising is another effective anti-Amazon strategy because it can counter the perception that the online retailer is cheaper on everything. Actually, it’s usually only the top 150 or so frontlist items, notes Wallington.
  • “You always have to have things on sale; if everything is full price you’ll never win,” says Ernstrom. “You have to have sales throughout the store—every section, every endcap. If they get the impression everything is full price, they’re going to think they can get it cheaper somewhere else.”

Read “To Price-Match Amazon or Not to Price-Match:” Part 1 in the December issue of Christian MARKET, and Part 2 in the January issue.

The one thing I would hasten to add to this is:

  • Amazon has no built-in spiritual discernment. There are no filters; no vetting of what might be included in their religious, inspirational or Christian categories. It would be relatively simple for a customer who is just browsing to end up with Mormon or New Age content. (We recently had a case where a book ended up in a church library for just that reason: No discernment.)

and also:

  • The Christian store offers the opportunity to physically examine the product before purchase.
  • Your store offers simple over-the-counter returns or exchanges in the case of duplicate gifts, product not desired, or factory defects in printing or CD/DVD manufacturing.
  • Christian store associates can offer better informed suggestions of other products the customer might appreciate; rather than the “other customers also bought” generated by an algorithm.
  • Conversely, as we get to know our customers well, we can warn customers off titles which are not as suitable to their doctrinal position as something else might be.
  • Whether it’s on sale, or even full price, we don’t change prices every hour. There is a measure of price stability in our stores.
  • We’re customers of the products we sell. We read the books, we listen to the music, we watch the movies. We’re better informed. Many of us have had our lives changed by Christian books and music.
  • You never know who’ll you meet at the Christian bookstore. It’s a social gathering place, not like the isolation of purchasing online.
  • We support local events by creating awareness; we hang posters for church events; we sell tickets for Christian concerts; we donate prizes for Christian fundraisers.
  • Our profits are poured back into Christian causes. Our employees give to their local church and provide volunteer help or lead small groups.
  • We support and display books by local and regional authors.
  • We have products that online vendors simply don’t carry.
  • We refer people in the broader community to local churches, and refer Christians for Christian counseling.

We have a lot to offer. I would suggest that owners and managers go through both lists above at your next staff huddle, so that everyone is on point and passionate about what we can offer. You may even wish to post this list; there’s a store website version of many of these points that some of you have used. I don’t know which store I ‘borrowed’ it from, but it’s on mine and I’ll post it here if enough people ask.

The graphic at the beginning of this article is part of an infographic that is available for free distribution from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I’ll post the full infographic here tomorrow, but if you want to jump the gun, click this link.

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!

“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?


Higher Wage Costs Mean Reassigning Responsibilities

Concern with pending higher hourly wage costs in Ontario, especially when Christian bookstore employees somewhat ‘donate’ their time by working for minimum wage, means stores need to rethink everything in terms of how basic store assignments are carried out. If everyone is working for minimum, those stores are facing a considerable increase in wage costs. (This is why we do a 1% wage increase every 6 pays, or every 12 weeks. It also acts as a form of employee retention.)

Being in a small(er) market means we’ve been forced to operate on a shoestring for quite some time, though our staff — all part time — are better paid than many in our industry. With some input from some other stores I worked with, here’s what’s in our secret sauce.

  1. Efficiency is a must. Every decision is made with recognition of how it fits with the bottom line. There is very little expenditure that might be considered waste.
  2. If we’re in the store, the sign is changed to ‘OPEN’ even if we’re arriving early ostensibly to work on some other project. We want to capture every possible sale.
  3. On the other hand, our store hours are basic. We do 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I’ve been in stores that are open to 6:00 PM and watched them losing money day after day during that last hour. Our staff will stay late to help customers and people can phone to say they get off work at 5:00 and will pick up their order at 5:10. We’re fine with that and we pay the staff for waiting. Nobody gets chased out at closing time. Nobody flashes the lights. But we maximize those seven hours by focusing customers into a narrower time period. (This isn’t without precedent; last year we were made aware of a rather high profile store that was opening at 11:00 daily.)
  4. There is no back room. Only one of our stores really ever had one, though another one had a basement. But everything from administration to order check-in to packing parcels for mail-orders was always and is now carried out full view of customers. They know we’re there if they have questions, we know they’re in the store. (This also means more of our monthly rent goes to square footage which can be productive.)
  5. Orders are checked in within minutes of arriving. That means the knife is often already cutting the sealing tape before the UPS driver has typed in our information. Orders are retrieved first, and customers are phoned or emailed before we’ve even formally confirmed prices on the invoice or added price stickers. Merchandise is available for purchase immediately and only boxes for future sales or remainder shipments are allowed to be an exception to this.
  6. Staffing levels are minimal. Sometimes this means asking regular customers to come back if our usual service standard can’t be reached within the ten minutes following. In-store customers come first; phone calls are returned when there is a break.
  7. We avoid specialized job descriptions. Basically everybody does everything, with the exceptions being required to climb great heights or lift heavy boxes. I no longer feel I need the one to call in every order or deal with every damage or short-shipment claim.
  8. Advertising needs to be productive. That’s why coupon advertising is the very best; you get to gauge the results. Our primary product is print so we favour print advertising; newspapers, etc.
  9. We have a comfortable shopping environment, but we recognize that customers in bulky coats coming in from the cold will find the store warmer than it might appear to staff. We don’t wanting staff to get sick, but we scale back on heat. Similarly, in the summer we often hold back the air conditioning until noon. After rent and wages, electricity is our biggest expense.
  10. The money is in the bank at the end of the day. Many stores do a midday deposit the day following, but we pay our staff members a time and mileage allowance (consisting of one quarter hour) to deposit anything over $150 at the bank. When we had 3 stores that meant we had 11 bank machine cards in use. (Cards are set as deposit-only.) This allows us to make late-day (but on-time) payments to our various suppliers and utilities.

These savings allow us to pay staff well, and they also mean we can stock inventory carefully but more aggressively. (We’re known for our great selection on frontlist and backlist.)

The proposed increase in the Ontario minimum wage doesn’t scare us. The philosophy behind it is honorable; where the province has erred is in introducing too much too quickly. Would I feel the same if we still had three stores and more student help? First of all, I would not have hired students. Hiring mature staff from among our customer base has turned out to be one of our best decisions. It also means I have people better able to deal with the ‘issues of life’ that customers want addressed. In a multi-store environment with central receiving and pricing, it means that staff need to be busy and if they aren’t, it’s time to find out why.

Christian Bookstores are Department Stores

October 13, 2017 1 comment

While our motivation for unlocking the doors each morning may be that we see our stores as local ministry centres, we are also retail businesses, with the exception of a handful that are using a non-profit model. Our business sector is retail which puts us in company with every other type of retailer across the continent.

For that reason, the announced closing of Sears Canada should at least give us a moment’s pause. Perhaps not coincidentally, my UPS driver said something yesterday about the number of daily deliveries he’s doing is resulting in 12-hour days. Jokingly, I said, “So you’re working for Amazon;” to which he replied, “Well, I’m definitely not working for Sears.” No one reading this has escaped the reality of a changing retail landscape.

We are not only in retail, but like Sears, we are essentially department stores. In addition to books, most of us stock jewelry, t-shirts, wall art, greeting cards, DVDs, CDs, toys, picture frames, kitchenware and much more. Some stores are also, to varying degrees, still identifiable as Church supply stores, with non-consumer items such as bulletins, communion ware, and at this time of year, candles.

So we have to realize the vulnerability of the department store model. Looking at just Canada alone, consider the casualties of the last two generations in an approximate chronological order:

  • Eatons
  • Simpsons
  • Towers
  • Sayvette
  • K-Mart Canada
  • Bi-Way
  • Consumer’s Distributing (catalogue store model)
  • Woodward’s (western Canada)
  • Woolco (and Woolworth’s)
  • Marks and Spencer Canada
  • Sam’s Club (a division of Wal-Mart)
  • Zellers
  • Big Lots Canada
  • XS Cargo
  • Target Canada
  • Sears Canada

Frightening, isn’t it?  (See a more exhaustive list at Wikipedia.)  In terms of specialty stores, how many in your community have lasted more than 20 years? If we’re honest, we have to agree that new stores and restaurants popping up mean that old stores and restaurants closed.

So every time you read an article about what went wrong at Sears Canada, ask yourself if there’s anything there that might apply to your store.

I know in my case there’s a number of things in terms of visual presentation I’d like to update, but time, money and the constraints of the physical location make that difficult right now.

Related: The YouTube channel Retail Archeology looks at dying shopping malls and retail chains. This was filmed a year ago in reference to the U.S. Sears chain. If you have spare time (!) look around the rest of the videos on this channel.


Fresh Fiche Weekly

For some of you, this is like a picture of an old friend. If you’re new to the business, you’re thinking, ‘What the heck is this?’

If you’ve been around Christian bookselling for awhile; time to gather the younguns around the screen — already halfway to recreating the experience — and unravel the story of using a fiche reader to look up products for customers.

The Spring Arbor microfiche arrived in the mail weekly. As I remember it, Title (sets; usually 3 – 5 sheets) was weekly, Author was every other week, Music and Video were monthly, and I had a long wait for Category coming once every quarter. Actually, the Category sheets were one of my favorites.

Believe it or not, a small store like ours didn’t think we needed that data with great immediacy. So we shared a subscription with another store. They got them first and mailed them to us. Then we took our set and sent it off to one of our other stores. (We were a chain of three stores at the time, and libraries were always selling off fiche readers cheap.)

The ability to search online made the fiche redundant, as the ability to order online made the Spring Arbor Telxon unit redundant. But we’ll save that one for another day, since the kids probably won’t believe we placed a suction cup on our phone to place orders.


What’s New? For Stores Without Sales Reps or Catalogues, the Answer is Elusive

I think largely at our suggestion, Anchor/Word Alive started a new release page. It’s one of four windows in the carousel when you arrive at their home page. When first opened, it featured new releases for January and February, a 60-day window, just as STL had.

It still does.

It was never updated.

If they are going to impose a $250 net minimum order for Canadian accounts to get the 3% freight offer, stores need to be able to know what is available to fill out those orders. Remember, all the major publishers — Nelson, Baker, Tyndale, Cook, Zondervan, IVP — are already covered here so we really need to know $250’s worth of products which are unique to Anchor/Word Alive.

That’s easy if you’re dealing with a normal supplier. But with the intracasies of their backorder system — which we’ve already covered here — it gets much more complicated. Even the owner or manager of the largest stores reading this may have reason that they need to pad out an order to get particular items through.

…However, the problem is more systemic. As Parasource prepares to wrap up — and presumably is going with it — one of my key backup sources for knowing about new releases is going to be gone.

The Forthcoming feature at Ingram is probably the most accurate, but in order to make sure I covered July, for example, I need to read it by June 29th, or the data disappears.

CBD — normally a great source of information — is rather random in how it applies its ‘Sort by Publication Date’ feature. You get a mixture of forthcoming titles and things already in their warehouse.

The rundown sheets (Book 1, Book 2, etc.) at Parasource are also helpful, but as the company grows, there are pages and pages of .pdf forms, and no way to refine the data if I just want to look at books, or Bibles or giftware.

I know the Top 100 stores in Canada probably see sales reps regularly, but even there, I would suspect there are titles which get lost in the presentations.

I just want to know what’s new.

Categories with Short Shelf Lives

Even in the Christian bookstore market, where our core message is unchanged in 2,000 years, certain book genres have a short shelf life, such as:

  • Family life books on coping with technology. I write this just as a new one is releasing. I know the author (Andy Crouch) and am looking forward to stocking it. But in this category, anything five years or older is probably out of touch with whatever is trending, though the principles may still apply. Good luck if the book references “your AOL account.” Most of these fall into the marriage or parenting sub-category.
  • Prophecy titles. I don’t read a lot of these, but I notice some of them turn up on remainder lists after only twelve months. I suppose you only have to get it wrong on a single page and then they stone you. Okay, we don’t actually stone writers, but having the print copies turn up at 99-cents on CBD is probably just as painful.
  • Personality-based books. Have you noticed all the Duck Dynasty product that’s reduced right now? Also many times that “rising” Hollywood celebrity or sports star fails to achieve the fame that publishers promised when pitching the books. Or the book has sales potential in the U.S. that never successfully makes the border crossing, except maybe in Emerson, Manitoba, which doesn’t have a lot of bookstores.)
  • Youth Ministry texts. Remember that game where you pass the Life Saver on a toothpick? Well, if you wanted grow your youth group, it probably worked in the 1950s (at least in the more progressive churches of that day) but today it might even have liability issues. Even a year later, these books only work when student pastors take the ideas and modify them.
  • Too good to be true trends. You didn’t think the adult coloring book thing would last forever, did you?

Did we miss any?