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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.

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“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?

 

Canadian Pastor Offers Strong Apologetics Title

Mark Hildebrand from HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada just called to tip me off about new title by a new author which is performing extremely well. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity by Mark Clark is released through Zondervan in paperback and retails for $21.99 

Publisher marketing:

The Problem of God is written by a skeptic who became a Christian and then a pastor, all while exploring answers to the most difficult questions raised against Christianity. Growing up in an atheistic home, Mark Clark struggled through his parents’ divorce, acquiring Tourette syndrome and OCD in his teen years. After his father’s death, he began a skeptical search for truth through science, philosophy, and history, eventually finding answers in Christianity.

In a disarming, winsome, and persuasive way, The Problem of God responds to the top ten God questions of our present age, including:

  • Does God even exist?
  • What do we do with Christianity’s violent history?
  • Is Jesus just another myth?
  • Can the Bible be trusted?
  • Why should we believe in Hell anymore today?

The book concludes with Christianity’s most audacious assertion: how should we respond to Jesus’ claim that he is God and the only way to salvation.

Mark Clark is the founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada. Starting in 2010 out of a school gym, it is now one of the fastest growing multi-site churches in North America. Mark combines frank and challenging biblical preaching with real-world applications and apologetics to speak to Christians and skeptics, confronting questions, doubts, and assumptions about Christianity. His sermons have millions of downloads per year from over 120 different countries.

Zondervan | 272 pages | 9780310535225 | 17.99 USD 21.99 CDN

Eric Wright Completes Mystery Trilogy

I’m not accustomed to the place where I grew up figuring into books in my store, but there it was, a Toronto reference to a character “driving down the Don Valley Parkway.” But the story gets even closer to home because author Eric Wright is also a customer at my store and his daughter and her husband attend the same church as we do.

After a series of non-fiction works, Wright switched to fiction and while the three stories have quite different settings, they are linked through Toronto reporter Josh Radley. Here’s how our local paper introduced Rust Bucket, the latest book in the series:

The very real issue of human slavery is told through the fictional adventures of protagonist Josh Radley in Eric E. Wright’s new novel Rust Bucket.

Interviewed recently from his home, Wright pointed out this is the third story in a Josh Radley trilogy, following The Lightning File and Captives of Minara.

In The Lightning File, Radley is a reporter for a Toronto paper.

“In the course of it, he gets fired, so he goes on to work freelance,” Wright said — and this freedom gives him ample scope to get involved more deeply in the adventures he encounters.

In Rust Bucket, he puts off urgent cancer treatment in order to pursue the story of a beached freighter that contains not only an alarming cache of explosives and drugs but also a human cargo bound for enslavement in factories, farms and brothels.

The press release for Wright’s book said that an estimated 24-million people worldwide are exploited by unethical businesses of all kinds. The human cargo in the freighter Josh Radley investigates includes a tribal girl from Pakistan whom Josh and his wife happen to know.

As it happens, Wright and his wife lived in Pakistan for 16 years, while he worked as a missionary teacher.

“Although we normally think of Pakistan as a Muslim country, there’s a minority of Christians who need ministry,” he said.

“I started an extension training program and, in the course of that, I learned more about their culture.”

The slave-labour problem seems to be much more widespread than one would like to think, Wright said. “Probably not as much in Canada, although criminal elements are realizing — you sell cocaine, you sell it once. With human beings, you can use them again and again and again, and it’s very profitable for business owners and brothels. There was a lot of it in Pakistan, landlords taking advantage of poor people who were sort of enslaved.”

His dedication is “to all those who struggle to end human trafficking as well as the victims of this horrific crime.” …

…continue reading the second half of the story at Northumberland Today

For order information visit www.countrywindow.ca


We previously covered releases of other books by Eric Wright here including Riptide and Captives of Minara.

When White House News Leads The National

Some days it’s hard to tell if you’re watching a Canadian newscast or have accidentally switched to a U.S. channel. Several times this month, a story pertaining to the White House and the American President have led The National on CBC. I am quite sure they agonize over whether to choose developments there over Canadian or overseas stories, but clearly we can’t get enough of the continuing developments south of the border.

As a bookseller, whenever a product is presented to me that would be considered “U.S.-interest” I instinctively pass. It’s hard to sell a book with the U.S. flag or the Capitol building on the cover, certain Joel Rosenberg fiction titles notwithstanding.

This time it’s different.

I think there might be a considerable interest in these parts for a book releasing by Baker in early October, Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope and Why Christian Conservatives Support Him by Stephen Mansfield, who has considerable experience writing the biographies of U.S. Presidents. My reading has been constantly interrupted, but the introduction alone is probably the most succinct summary of Trump’s rise and conquering of the White House I’ve seen in any media, print or electronic.

This is a faith-focused story, not about the faith of the man himself — another book is tackling that topic for a January release — but an understanding of how Trump was able to galvanize support from the Religious Right after eight years of President Obama. In that sense, it’s a summary of how things work in a land where Evangelicalism is inextricably linked to politics.

And in that, there are many parallels and many lessons for us in this country.

I’ll have more to say to about the book when I finish it, but if you’re a Canadian store considering this title, don’t be too dismissive because it’s someone else’s political story. Order carefully, but my bet is that this is a story that some of your customers will want to read.

9780801007330 | 208 pages | hardcover | October 3, 2017

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 YourMusicZone.com — and presumably YourChurchZone.com 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.

Christian Publishing Companies Took an Enormous Loss on Family Christian Closing

In a presumably recent article dated “June 10th, 2017” World Magazine recounts the end of the Family Christian Bookstores closing in this article:

The news earlier this year that Family Christian Stores would close its more than 240 retail shops startled many of its customers. But it didn’t surprise anyone familiar with the company’s recent history. Despite receiving forgiveness for more than $80 million in debt two years ago, the company still couldn’t pay all of its bills.

The article later goes on to say:

Family Christian lost about $16.6 million over about 17 months during the bankruptcy, according to court documents.

That’s a million per month. The story continues:

In February Family Christian representatives called both Baker and Tyndale publishing groups. Lewis said they asked Baker Publishing for more time to pay invoices and for a 15 percent price discount, and Baker said yes.

But others, including Tyndale, had gone as far as they could to help the struggling retailer. “They asked us for humongous increases in the discount at which we were selling to them, and we just said, no, we’ve already given you our best deal,” Tyndale CEO Mark Taylor said…

…“This is the second time in three years that we’ve taken a big hit in bad debts because of Family,” Taylor said. (He declined to name the dollar amount of Tyndale’s loss.) Lewis said Baker Publishing expected to lose between $350,000 and $400,000.

Basically, Christian publishers bailed out Family not once, but twice.

Furthermore, the article doesn’t mention that many of those same publishers — in 2016, the year in-between the two crises at Family — took similar losses on the closing of Send the Light Distribution. Nor does it mention the many write-offs which a part of everyday commerce in dealing with individual bookstores that have closed in the Amazon era.

In this writer’s opinion, those losses might be represented by authors who were never signed, books that were never fully marketed, and development of new projects that were possibly curtailed. It’s entirely possible that publishing company staff were let go in belt-tightening at these various companies.

It’s a big loss for us all.

Mainstream Bookstore Notes “Thousandfold” Increase in Bible Sales Over 15 Years

The Saturday print edition of The Toronto Star profiled Squibb’s Stationers in Weston Village noting “it’s Toronto’s self-proclaimed oldest bookstore.” The article by reporter Jackie Hong coincided with the stores 90th anniversary.

Toward the end of the article…

Besides building friendships with customers, [co-owner Suri] Weinberg-Linsky said she’s been able to see trends come and go over the years, many of them unexpected — fountain pens have become a hot commodity again, no one buys ledgers anymore and Harry Potter’s popularity still shows no signs of slowing down — but the most perplexing relates to the explosion of sales for one book in particular.

“In the last 15 or so years, Bible sales have increased probably a thousandfold,” Weinberg-Linsky said. “We don’t go one day without selling at least one Bible . . . Honestly, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you why.”

From our perspective this is interesting on several fronts. First it confirms our observation, supported by anecdotal evidence, that stores like Chapters in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. are increasingly becoming the default Christian bookstores, especially as such stores close in many markets. B&N has always had a good handle on what “Religion – Christianity” books to stock, but Chapters was always hit-and-miss until about two years ago when their core inventory in this category seemed to undergo positive transformation.

Second however, it raises concerns that, much like shopping online, the customer is not afforded the benefit of experienced sales help in what is a very personal purchase. Most mainstream store associates can’t articulate the nuances of differences between the NLT, ESV or CEB translations, let alone describe the features in various devotional or study editions. Of course this places the onus on us to make sure that even casual part-time staff are well trained in this area. I’m happy that Squibb’s is seeing these sales, but I hope that each Bible is a ‘good fit’ for the intended recipient. Christian bookstores also need to encourage first-time Bible buyers to get in touch by email if there’s anything about their Bible they’re not understanding, and also see if they are connected to a local church or home fellowship.

Finally, on a more positive note, the experience of Squibb’s in Toronto shows that the Bible is very much in demand. In my own small-town store, we easily have about 800 units of Bible product representing at least 550 SKUs. It would be really tempting — especially with shelf space at a premium — to sit back and rest on our existing inventory, but we are always topping up products which make connections with customers. Currently, that includes the value lines of NLT, NIV and Message Bibles and just about anything that’s giant print.

How Much Catholic Merchandise Does Your Store Carry?

catholic-bookstore-3

Unless you’re working in a Catholic Bookstore environment — and this is true of a few of our readers — the Christian supply store is dominated by Evangelicals and Evangelical publications. Still, we want to able to service a larger market and not alienate our Roman Catholic customers with a smug, “We don’t carry that;” type of attitude.

Here are some things we do and do not carry in our store. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on these.

  • Rosaries — We have at least 20 in stock at any given time and about 50 in peak seasons. They are kept behind the counter, however.
  • Catholic Bibles — We have about 20 in stock including the NAB, NRSV with Apocrypha, Jerusalem Bible, etc.
  • Crucifixes — These aren’t featured on our “cross wall” but are kept on display on a lower shelf with Confirmation and First Communion merchandise. Ideally about ten in stock at any given time. Years ago we discovered our Baptist customers were easily offended by them, so we went low-key. 
  • Books of Saints — We have a few and sometimes non-Catholics will buy them for their church history value.
  • Crucifix Jewelry — Probably about 5% of our fine jewelry which features a cross contains a design which has the corpus.
  • Missals — We’ll order these. There are so many ISBNs we ask the customer to let us know exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Medals — We have a few left from a purchase of inventory from a Catholic store which closed. We’re willing to do orders. Not really worth stocking, though costs would be minimal.
  • St. Joseph Statues — No stock, no ordering. This real estate superstition has no place in our store, and nothing to do with Christianity.
  • Angel Statues — We carry a few from Innovative Home, but they aren’t moving like they once did.
  • Scapulars — Only asked for one for the first time in 20 years last month. Fortunately there is a Catholic store in Oshawa and several in Toronto we can refer to.
  • Visor Clips — We got a few from a liquidator during the winter. Most sold, but I doubt we’ll reorder. Besides, I’m never clear if St. Christopher is in or out. (I think he’s back in.)

So what did I leave out?

How does your store compare with mine?

saint-joseph


Upper Photo: File picture we had of Broughtons in Toronto from a previous article.
Lower Photo: You buy the statue, bury it upside down (yes) in the backyard and your house will sell.

Worldwide Shortage of Book Titles Continues

September 13, 2016 1 comment

It sounds like a headline from Christian news satire site, The Babylon Bee, but the reality, as first reported here several weeks ago, has been noticed by Christianity Today at this article. There really are three books in current release with the same title, Unashamed.

unashamed

img-091316The confusion continues this month as the 2008 title about surviving an affair, Torn Asunder by Moody Press is being joined by a 2016 title from Eerdmans on helping children survive divorce.

Or is it? It was due out the first week in August. CBD doesn’t list the Eerdmans title, but Ingram does as well as the publisher website. But unlike the Unashamed confusion, this one is an academic book, publishing at $34.00 and probably won’t be stocked in too many retail outlets…

…Most retailers can handle books with similar or same titles. A bigger challenge comes when old books are released under new titles. Go to the popular online Christian book site and type “previously published as” (and its variants) and you’ll see just a few of these.

October’s Great Day, Every Day by Max Lucado is a reissue of Every Day Deserves a Second Chance. The original, despite the bright yellow cover, never reached its full potential in the market and turned up on overstock and remainder lists for several years. But I suppose every book deserves a second chance.

(Couldn’t resist.)


upper image: Christianity Today


Previously noted here in May: Two different CDs have similar titles, Where the Light Gets In (Jason Gray) and Where the Light Shines Through (Switchfoot).

Will the Jesus Calling Magic Happen Again?

jesus-alwaysOnly about three weeks away from releasing, HarperCollins Christian Publishing is deeply committed to the official follow up to Jesus Calling with an unprecedented one million copy first printing for Jesus Always by Sarah Young.

In our store, initial acceptance of the first title was slow. We monitored the U.S. statistics but weren’t seeing anything like what transpired there. Of course, conservative Evangelicals chose to keep their distance from this one because the format was different.

We posted something to Facebook to see if we could get a clear guesstimate of what the initial interest will be. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about it so far, but it tends to be customers more on the periphery who gravitate to this. Our regular customers aren’t fans. 

But don’t hedge your bets on this too long. It may be a million copy printing, but there are many different markets competing for those copies: Gift stores, airport newsstands, mainstream book market retailers, big box stores; just to name a few.

David C. Cook Canada Purchased by Senior Management Team

David C. Cook Distribution Canada of Paris, Ontario has been sold. The announcement came Tuesday (1st) afternoon in a press release from its former U.S. parent in Colorado Springs. Many of us had trouble opening the release so I’ve copied it here in full:

DAVID C COOK SELLS CANADIAN DISTRIBUTION OPERATIONS

Colorado Springs, CO (March 1, 2016) – David C Cook’s Chief Executive Officer, Cris Doornbos, announced the Canadian management buyout of its Canadian distribution division, located in Paris, Ontario, by Executive Director Greg Tombs and Financial Director Hardy Willms. The sale is effective February 29, 2016.

The Canadian distribution division has been resourcing Christian and general market resellers and the church for over 30 years and will continue to provide a national full service sales, marketing and fulfillment operation. David C Cook’s resources will continue to be represented along with the other partners in Christian publishing, music, media, cards and gifts the organization already serves.

Greg and Hardy have been competent leaders over the years. They have a real passion for the dissemination and distribution of Christian resources for the long haul. We are confident that this purchase by Greg and Hardy will result in a long term continuation of their effective service to the Canadian market,” Doornbos stated.

During this transition, we remain committed to each and every customer and client and will ensure the high level of customer service everyone has come to expect from David C Cook Canada. Every effort has been made to make this transition as seamless and successful as possible. A strategic plan looking forward to 2020 is already being executed Greg and Hardy.”

Tombs said, “Hardy and I are delighted to have the opportunity to continue to serve the CBA trade, general market and churches in Canada with the books, curriculum, music, cards, gifts and church supplies that Canada needs for ministry and discipleship. We are pleased that we will continue to have a great working relationship with David C Cook as we continue to distribute their curriculum, books, and Integrity music in Canada.”

This is independent of another story we reported on earlier the same day of the selling of Augsburg Fortress Canada to the same owners.