It’s Time To Say Something
We don’t talk about it much, but most of you know my husband and I own a Christian bookstore and have been operating it in our community for over 28 years. The largest chain of Christian retailers in the Country is going away and all that’s left are the independently owned or Denominational retailers. So many of you have been asking questions, I’ll attempt to answer your concerns by offering my personal insider’s perspective.
Six reasons the Christian retail industry is struggling:
1.) A lot of consumers don’t understand the importance of support for local establishments. Some people think it’s “cool” to shop online without realizing that every purchase is the equivalent of a vote. When people shop online, they are voting for their local shopping options to vanish and to send their prosperity away from their communities.
2.) Some vendors circumvented “brick and mortar” by going direct to the end consumer instead of using locally established outlets. It is impossible to stay in any business when the same folks who make a product are enticing consumers to shop direct with them and using financial incentives as a lure. Fly-by-night internet opportunists and volunteer-staffed church bookstores eliminated jobs by competing with local businesses.
When we joined the Christian Booksellers Association in 1988, we were required to have a location open to the public at least 40 hours a week in a downtown or retail area. Most companies we bought from required us to be a legitimate business with standard operating expenses. The direct-to-consumer sales diminished the demand that drove customers into our stores for products and services. Filling the needs of the community made it possible for local bookstores to pay rent, utilities, wages and taxes. Distribution is one thing, but undercutting and shutting out local businesses to support mega-operations in a distant location destroys the community spirit as well as the local economy.
3.) Message erosion—lack of trust in the integrity of the message. Is it worth buying if it may not be good? Our store has always tried to stock the best values and faithful messages, but the spiritual junk food is giving folks cavities.
4.) An abundance of information everywhere. Many consumers now expect everything to be either cheap or free. Instead of enjoying the Bible, they would rather spend an abbreviated amount of time on Google or YouTube.
5.) Younger shoppers, from middle age down, are adopting online shopping as a way of life. I’ll never forget the hurt I felt when I realized my churches were shopping online. When people support Amazon, they’re also supporting the distribution of pornography, violent video games and all other forms of anti-Christian godlessness. Christian consumers are spending their hard-earned money to make Amazon prosper, to the destruction of their fellow Christians’ businesses.
6.) Publishers implemented uneven scales by giving better terms and discounts to the “big box” retailers. There was no voice to demand the same deals for the independents. The FCS chain was considered “too big to fail”, so their creditors let them have the longest leash in the industry and they failed anyway. It’s as if the independent local retailers were invisible.
So what can we learn about this?
Honor God. How we live our lives, treat our vendors and our customers and everyone in our communities reflects our belief system. If God is not first, nothing else matters.
Debt is bad. Spending money you don’t have and failing to pay your obligations is not wise. I have a hard time calling it “Family Christian Stores” because it’s not owned by a family and it’s not Christian to not pay your debts. The only part of the name that is accurate is “Stores”. When it went bankrupt two years ago, a judge expunged $127 million dollars of debt owed to their vendors. Considering there were about 266 stores at the time, that’s around $612,100 in debt per store! The chain was bought in 2012 and organized as a non-profit organization with the benefit of more tax advantages. This makes it more difficult to understand how the debt could have gotten so far out of control. (Their records show they had gross sales of $230 million—averaging nearly $900,000 annual sales per store. So the amount of debt would have been more than six months of gross sales!)
Charity: If you want to donate to a charity, donate out of your own bank account. If you buy because you thought the business was donating to charity, it is a marketing manipulation. FCS advertised they gave their profits to missions projects and widows and orphans. That sounds noble enough, but cheating a company out of payments due so you can donate to a good cause is not right or honorable. By other calculations, the amount donated was .01% of gross sales. That means if you spent $100.00, about one penny was donated to charity!
Fairness: Buy something for what it is worth and sell something for what it is worth. I have had customers come into my bookstore asking for special discounts. For one person to get a discount means others must pay more to make up for it. This results in a “thumb-on-the-scales” effect. We don’t get discounts off our electric bills or tax bills, so it’s better for everyone to charge a fair price for everything and then everybody benefits.
In the statement to their customers, Family Christian Stores blamed the publishers and gift vendors for not giving them big enough discounts and more time to pay “so they could remain competitive.” Competitive against what? FCS located their stores in market areas that were already served and fought against independent Christian bookstores by undercutting the pricing integrity.
As long as the publishers cooperated with their strategy, our industry was doomed. The publishers could take a lesson from Lifeway Publishers. If you have a good book, you don’t have to degrade the suggested retail price to get people to buy it.
It’s been said that competing on price is the worst strategy because you lose even if you win. This chain ate others in the industry and ultimately ate themselves. Selling for the cheapest price is not a ministry. Competition in our industry is not just harmless “fun and games”.
We didn’t realize how badly we were being oppressed until FCS went away. The upper-level management of FCS did a great deal of damage to the Christian retail industry. We were so mercilessly undersold, we shouldn’t have continued to exist this long. FCS tried to break the backs of the local independent Christian bookstores by competing in these ways:
1.) They opened up in areas served by other Christian bookstores.
2.) They created a mentality in our customers to always wait for a coupon.
3.) They trained customers that everything should be on a $5 sale.
4.) They created a false perception that purchasing from them is the same as donating to charity.
5.) Many Christian bookstores were so demoralized, they lost the desire to compete because the marketing conditions were stacked against them.
6.) This aggressive behavior caused the demise of hundreds of local independent Christian bookstores.
Is there a future for our industry? That depends on whether the Christians want us enough to support us. The marketplace is defined and shaped by the need. Everyone seems to love the ministry aspect of our position, but even ministries must have a financial foundation in order to continue. It is up to the customers to decide how to support a brick and mortar presence in their communities.
People frequently come into our store looking for donations for their charitable events. If they shop on Amazon, why are they not asking Amazon to donate to their events? A business in the marketplace is part of the community. A relationship can only work if it is mutually beneficial. The customers in a community where a Christian bookstore exists will write the rest of the story.
What are your thoughts on the purpose or the need for local Christian bookstores?
WHAT YOU CAN DO…
1.) If you still have a Christian bookstore in your community, shop there. Even if you just need a card or something very small. It may surprise you to find that some local stores have better prices than the internet! You will encourage the people working there and bless yourself at the same time.
2.) If you are a pastor or a leader of any ministry, you can have a major impact by encouraging those under you to support your local bookstores. Don’t act surprised when your Christian bookstores are gone if you have not enlightened others about the importance of supporting your fellow Christians. Keep the money in the family! This will make a difference!
3.) Invite me to speak. If you have an event where you need a speaker, please let me know. I am dedicating my energy on the places where I can make the greatest difference. Please let the meeting organizer know that I can help your group understand the intersection of government and families in a way they may have never known before. If you want me to come and help your efforts to educate and motivate your network, please click this button here:
4.) The mission of Home Front continues. We need your involvement to fund our ongoing efforts, research and equipment. If you want to continue to support us in this effort, you can mail a check to this address:
Cynthia Davis, 1008 Highway K, O’Fallon, MO 63366.
Click here to listen to this informative podcast, or subscribe on:
iTunes / Google Play / More Optioins
A LITTLE BIT OF HUMOR
May God continue to bless your service to the Christian community through your store!
David G. Baugh, 80 Liberty Road, Steelville, MO 65565 573-775-2109
Cynthia, if you expect to be competitive in the market place, you must have an online presence for your Christian bookstore. You need a web site and the means to promote your books and products on that web site.
It is good that you have a local business, but you must expand your marketplace online which is where most all business is going.
I once owned and operated two businesses and built them through word-of-mouth from satisfied customers and attending shows displaying my work and products, and the yellow pages.
Now the yellow pages are obsolete and if one wants to be successful, one must have an online presence no matter what business you are in. Providing this along with all the tools and techniques is what I now do.
For as little as a dollar a day, you can have everything you need at your fingertips. By the way, this system is owned and operated by a Christian man. Check it out here: http://www.anyonecandothisnow.com which is my own URL I use as an affiliate marketer.
I didnt know you had a bookstore bu, for the record, I have only bought something in a Christian bookstore once in my 74 years.
One of my cousins runs a bookstore in Baker City, OR.and I know they have been hard hit by internet sales.
We have bought very few items through the internet. I had 1 experience with Amazon a couple of years ago -my 1st and last. I needed a battery for my aging laptop and locally they were $50.00 + so checked online and found one for about $10.00 with 2 day delivery. It did not arrive in 2 days. It was more like 10 and I called the vendor many times and left polite messages. Finally an oriental male called back but he could not speak English. When I called Amazon to explain what was going on the “customer service”person could speak very little English and after about 3 calls to her I asked to speak to her supervisor due to the language barrier. The super.
visor called a day or so later but she could not understand what I was saying and was quite rude.
When the battery finally arrived it wouldnt fit in my laptop so I had to have my son-in -law grind the plastic case down to even get it into the laptop.
Amazon later sent me a survey on their “service”. I completed it and gave them a piece of my mind pointing out politely that no one I had spoken to from their organization could speak or understand the English language and I rated their service poor or worse.
Supposedly all of the survey results were published on their website so I checked and mine was not to be found. I sent yet another email and was told I was a racist, etc so that was my 1st and last dealing with Amazon
Thank you so very much for your article. Very good. In NW Arkansas which is most prosperous area of the state, there used to be 3 or 4 independent stores. Family moved in Fayetteville. Lifeway came in with a store in Rogers. Lifeway tried 2 church stores for 5 years then closed them out. I managed both storrs for our church after that and still do run our church bookstore. Now there are no others here. Lifeway main stire is one mile from our church so we are only open on Sunday morning. We are 35 miles away from Fayetteville. I am the only employee. I used to be sn on the road rep and in Arkansas there were 65 or so independent stores. Now there might be 10. So sorry for the industry that should lead people to Jesus. Suppliers really did us in in my opinion
God Bless you in your ministry
We had a bookstore in our area for 30 years, with a good credit record. It survived having Joshuas. Family, and Lifeway in the same 2 mile stretch of road. Joshuas and Family closed their doors and we had a working relationship with Lifeway…sending customers to them when customers had a “gotta have it now” need. Then music downloads began, and Amazon began pulling away sales…our best selling books were at Sams Club down the street (at 25 cents over our wholesale cost) and at Barnes and Noble across the street. We were struggling with decrease of nearly 30% in sales. Churches bought on line or at their denominational store or their in church store. Then Mardels moved in up the street. We ended closing the store in 2007 after our ownership of 24 years(we bought it when I was an employee of the two wonderful ladies who started it)…..Its been ten years and I still see customers who say how much they miss our store . so…you who still have stores….honor the Lord in all your dealings….pray for your community, customers, churches, trust the Lord in all things, and if you can keep on, keepin’ on…. do so. I sometimes wish we had downsized and tried to stay open, but I was in my late 60’s and it seemed the best thing to do at the time.
Wow. I thought the profits went to charity. How deceptive.