Christian Retailing

Retail Successentials-Easter Needs January 2015: Finding the best ways to serve your customers’ needs this Easter PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Friday, 05 December 2014 01:59 PM EST

It’s time to get ready practically and spiritually for the season

Independent Thoughts-Discoverability-January 2015: Mining for hidden gems PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dave Sheets   
Friday, 05 December 2014 01:54 PM EST

Create an exciting sense of discovery in your store as customers learn of independent books and authors

Retail successentials December 2014: Make your retail life easier by avoiding supply chain pain PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:28 AM EST

Employ these simple steps for handling product for your store

BillNielsenInChairAre in-bound freight costs killing your store? Do you know how much it costs to cut each purchase order, receive against it and pay the invoice? How much are vendor returns costing in terms of labor to process and the cost to ship the goods back? Have I got your attention yet? If so, it’s time to examine some of the Retail Successentials of managing your supply chain.

Once upon a time, retailers talked about J.I.T. or just-in-time inventory management: Order less product more often. But for many stores, not having the right technology and replenishment logic meant that J.I.T. stood for just-isn’t-there.

There is a fine line between the two. Step too far one way and you’ll find that you cannot sell what you do not have. Wander the other direction and you drive freight costs through the roof. Move too far and you kill your inventory turn and tie up too much stock, which can starve your business of much-needed operating capital.


Working toward an optimal supply chain is tedious, but remember the old adage: “Retail is detail.” Since we live on pennies of profit per dollar, remember that this will help you find another penny or two for every dollar of sales.

First, know your costs. You cannot make smart supply-chain decisions until you know how much each option will cost you. On average, in-bound freight costs will run 3-4% of retail. Creating a purchase order may only take 15 minutes of labor, but receiving it can take much longer. Processing the receiving documents and paying the vendor also creates some cost for every purchase order you cut.

With returns to the vendor, outbound freight costs can run as much as 6-8% of the retail value of the goods. The costs of hunting and finding the goods, removing price labels and processing the return are also much higher than the labor to simply receive goods.

Last, but not least, what discount and other purchasing terms—like freight, billing and co-op—does each vendor and distributor offer? Getting an additional 30 days of dating on every purchase order can add as much as 2/10 to your inventory turn, freeing up cash flow and building profits.

Estimate your costs for these functions, as this data will help you make the best possible supply chain decisions.

Next, examine where and how your products are coming in and going out. Break down your shipments by carrier. What percent of your purchase is made directly from the vendor, and what percent is made from each distributor? Be sure you also have a good handle on minimum-order thresholds from each vendor and distributor.


With this data in hand, begin to develop your supply-chain strategy. Answer these questions:

Where is the best source for me to order each vendor’s product? Ordering directly from the vendor may or may not be the lowest-cost option. Since free freight is worth approximately 4% of retail, consider the terms each vendor offers, and think about saving by ordering from a distributor all at once versus placing multiple smaller orders from a number of vendors. A distributor order will save you money when the vendor offers you less than the 5% more than you can get from the distributor. I say 5% because you can often get free freight worth 4% from the distributor, and by consolidating your order, you certainly reduce the number of invoices you have to process, and you may even qualify for other distributor incentives such as additional dating.

When should I replenish each item? While the answer to that question varies, here are some common practices:

Stock your never-out items deep enough that you have an eight- to 10-week supply. Set your reorder point when you reach a six-week supply.

Stock your remaining core assortment in quantities of one, or two as sales permit. Reorder as soon as you sell one.

Seasonal items are best bought one time only with no replenishment. Many of these items are nonreturnable.

Promotional items should be ordered four weeks before the start of the promotion and be replenished until you are 25% through the promotion. This will help you stay in stock but not have an order arriving late.

How can I best manage returns to vendors? The best return is no return. That’s said, if you are overstocked, the worst thing you can do is keep nonproductive inventory.

Before you pull the trigger on the return, consider moving the item to your sale table. Selling at cost is better than returning it for a loss just to get your cost back. You end up paying freight, spending labor and sometimes incurring a restocking fee. Many vendors will find creative ways to help you sell through the goods rather than return them.

Going through the above process not only keeps your cash flow moving, but also can help your store grow sales and increase profitability. And who doesn’t want that?

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Independent Thoughts December 2014: Greet, meet, write PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dave Sheets   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:23 AM EST

DaveSheetsNaturally, bookstores are a popular gathering place for book clubs. But have you thought about inviting writers’ groups to your store?

What’s more natural than for writers to come together within the walls of a bookstore surrounded, literally, by volumes of inspiration, to critique, share and brainstorm?

Indie bookstores are fast becoming the place for writers’ groups to meet. So, how can independent Christian retailers help tomorrow’s best-selling authors by offering them the use of their stores for meetings and, by doing so, also serve as a valuable resource for their customers who wish to purchase books on the craft of writing?


You can assess the interest factor for in-store writers’ groups in a number of ways, including via email correspondence with your opted-in customer list, through a poll on your website, as the subject of a blog entry or Facebook post, on a sign-up sheet at the cash wrap or simply by talking casually with your customers. You also could reach out to local churches and ministries to locate potential group members.

Hit the ground running with your writers’ group(s). Have an organized plan, including a schedule and a strategy for keeping group  members engaged—and for growing the group, too.

Recruit one of your team members, a writer/customer or a local Christian author to head up the group. Don’t forget to ask potential members if they’d prefer specialized groups or just one general group. Or start small and work your way up to additional groups segmented by genre.


If you’re getting active interest in starting—or adopting—a writers’ group, you’ll want to assess whether to start with just one general group that addresses multiple genres or offer a few smaller groups that focus on specific genres.

ABA bookstore Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, plays host to several writing groups, which the store locates strategically next to its café. The groups are free to attend and always open to newbies and drop-ins. The store has one person in charge of the groups and directs those with inquiries to that person’s email on the store’s website.

Village Books offers four writers’ groups organized by genre—Fiction, Nonfiction & Memoir, Poetry and Speculative/Science Fiction—with each group meeting twice per month. The store also hosts a special writers’ group for teens, Friday Night Writes. This group meets most every Friday from October to March in the early evening. Free to ages 15 to 18, the group is sponsored by a local young writers’ organization and includes a one-day teen writing conference in the summer. What a great way to get young people interested in writing!


Now that you’ve got a reasonable number of people interested in forming a writers’ group at your store (or an established group looking for new digs), what’s next?

First, make sure you have space for the group to meet. Perhaps you have a meeting room or a reading space already built into your store design. If not, locate an area of your store with sufficient privacy to allow the group to share and discuss without disturbing customers—or vice versa. One store in Copell, Texas, Corban Christian Store, made all of its shelving units, endcaps and most of the store’s displays mobile by installing wheels on them. Moving the displays to make space for meetings and other events in this small store is a snap—and moving everything back takes mere minutes.

You also might wish to open your doors to your writers’ groups during exclusive times or days your store is not typically open. Of course, you will incur expenses for utilities and staff time, but if you also make it a time for the groups to do some shopping, you could definitely justify the cost—which leads us to the next step.


Now that you have a group of writers gathering in your store to “talk shop,” you need to be prepared to provide them with the resources they need to become even better writers. Explore the variety of books available that focus on the craft of writing. Consult with distributors and sales reps for their input on the titles that would be beneficial to your writers’ group members. Be sure to include other tools of the trade: dictionaries, thesauruses, quotation books, style guides, grammar and usage books, and so forth. You also may want to include curriculum from writers’ guilds and conferences.

Set up a display of these resources in a special section adjacent to where the group will meet. Offer special discounts to group members. Hang a bulletin board nearby to display information on upcoming writers’ conferences or college classes. Make your store a “one-stop shop” for all things writing. You could even include gift items that would appeal to writers such as mugs, pens and journals.

And if you don’t have a café, be sure to offer coffee and tea to your writers’ group members as a good host would.


Once your writers’ group is off the ground and meeting regularly, include its meeting information on your website. A separate tab or banner will draw more attention. Be sure to include your store’s appointed contact person’s name and email address so he or she can field inquiries. Include a picture of the group having a good time at one of their meetings!

If you have a Facebook page, share information about the group there as well. Ask members to comment on the group’s meetings, encouraging new members to join. Likewise, use Twitter and any other social media you’re tapped into.

Blog about the group, too! Invite members to talk about the group in their blogs. Since many writers have blogs, this is a natural. Employ grassroots marketing at its best!


Just as you may invite authors for in-store book signings or book club meetings, make the effort to invite authors, teachers, professors, journalists, publishers and those of similar professions to your writers’ group meetings as guest speakers. They will inspire, educate and draw new members to the group.


Think of how exciting it would be for your writers’ group members to be able to share their published books with your customers. Having an in-store writers’ group is a wonderful way to cultivate your own local authors and help build your sense of community (see last month’s column for more on that). Consider contacting a self-publisher to see if there is a way you can work with them to offer a program for your writers’ group authors once they’re ready to seek publication of their books. This will help bring the group full circle in your store—from book lover to book writer to published author.

When you think about it, isn’t it completely natural for an author to find inspiration, guidance, camaraderie and education in a bookstore? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to become a better writer surrounded by shelves of books from some amazing authors? Yes and yes.

Help make it happen in your store. Provide the location for inspiration for writers as well as readers. It just makes sense.

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at

Retail Successentials November 2014: Learn how to best employ your retail space to grow profits PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 01:23 PM EDT

Do the math to manage stock-to-sales-to-space in your store

BillNielsenInChairTake a look at your store through your customers’ eyes. See any empty or nearly empty spaces? Have you ever thought, or been told by others, that an area of your store looks too bare or another is crammed so full you need a shoehorn to restock?

Such observations can be a point of contention between store operating staff and those who handle purchasing. The typical scenario is one where the buyer(s) can honestly say that their stock levels are right in line with sales—stock-to-sales ratio is spot-on—but team members are frustrated by how there are empty shelves in one area of the store, while another area is overflowing. What’s missing in this equation?

The mistake many retailers fall into is buying to sales, but failing to align space to sales as well. Sales must be the driver of both, and a coordinated, ongoing effort to sync sales with the inventory plan and the space allotted for each department is required to make any given retail location more profitable.

Managing your stock-to-sales-to-space is truly one of the final frontiers of retail. It is almost entirely science. Let’s examine some of the basics that must be addressed before the stock-to-sales-to-space process will work.

Inventory Accuracy

One of the most common problems retailers face is the lack of accurate quantity-on-hand in their system. You cannot sell what you do not own. Solve this with a good annual physical inventory and periodic cycle counts.

Open Purchase Orders

It is not uncommon for every retailer to have older, unfulfilled purchase orders on their system. You cannot sell quantity on order. Solve this by looking at the dating of every open order and cancel the older orders that will not be filled by the supplier to free up open-to-buy dollars and enable accurate replenishment.

Fixture Audit

Walk through your average retail store, and you will find a bare spinner rack somewhere. Beyond sending a poor message to your customers, this is weak stewardship of the 2-4 square feet each of these fixtures takes up and on which you are paying rent. Solve this problem by making a list of every approved vendor-provided fixture or those you plan to replenish and then get rid of any fixture that is not on the list.

Sales History

Secure sales history by year for the past two to three years. Do this for each department at a minimum. This will give you the sales data you need to sync your assortments and store space.


Secure by department your inventory dollars and subtract any returns in transit while adding any open purchase orders that remain after the cleansing process. This will reveal your current inventory commitment.

Space Audit

Obtain a layout of your store that shows available square footage on the sales floor as well as measurements for each major department/category.

Having completed all of the above, it is time to sync your inventory and space to sales. To do so, follow these steps:

First, take your annual sales and multiply by your average cost of goods percentage.

Next, take your annual cost of goods and divide by the inventory turn goal you have set. Remember, some products naturally turn faster than others, so be sure to have a separate turn goal for each department or category. The resulting number is your inventory budget for each area. The difference between your budget and current cost of goods on hand plus any open orders is your open-to-buy for each department. Staying within this budget will ensure that you do not under-buy or over-buy for each area.

Lastly, divide the above inventory budget by the average cost per unit for the product in that department. This will tell you how many units of product for which you need space. Divide this number by the average number of units that fill a shelf and you can quickly calculate how much space you need for each department. Once you have this number, allocate space and fixtures to each department based on how much inventory you expect to find.

The process can be daunting, but the disciplines of living by sales data for planning inventory levels and space allocation can yield significant incremental sales over not doing so. The upside of right-sizing may make it worth it to some retailers to reach out to a company that can help. Keep in mind, however, that this is not about a remodel, but rather a re-utilization of your space, so select outside help carefully.

Practice these Retail Successentials, and like Goldilocks, you will find your inventory levels to be just right.

NEXT ISSUE: We will look at how to optimize your supply chain and flow of goods to maximize sales and reduce freight costs.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

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