Christian Retailing

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.

Independent Thoughts November 2014: Show your hometown pride PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dave Sheets   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 01:14 PM EDT

Engage the wider community—not just Christians—with the help of independent authors and ‘shop local’ campaigns

DaveSheetsCommunity is about bringing people together via a common interest for the common good, taking pride in one’s hometown. Local authors can become “local celebrities” with the help of local bookstores that give back to the community by engaging its residents. American Booksellers Association (ABA) independent bookstores have been doing this for years, but Christian bookstores can use similar methods to bring their community together—and into their stores.

Host or Co-Host a Themed Event

Some books will lend themselves to specifically themed in-store events better than others. Take advantage of that and work with independent publishers and their authors who are local to you to arrange a special event that encourages your community to gather at your store.

You can also partner with other local businesses on events, thereby building a “shop local” mentality in your community. As part of their new “Book/Plate” series, Greenlight Bookstore, an ABA store in Brooklyn, New York, partnered with neighbor Peck’s Specialty Foods to host an event for Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit. The series features events that include dinner with an author and a copy of his or her book. Greenlight’s Jessica Stockton Bagnulo called the event “a super lovely evening of food, camaraderie, a brief reading by Francisco and lots of book signing and chatting.”

The point here is to get creative with ways you can help local authors build recognition and a following within your community, thereby helping you increase your customer base. Make it fun, educational, informative, relational—whatever works with the book/author you’re promoting.

Celebrate Books and Community

People love to talk about books. What better way to encourage foot traffic in your store than to open your doors wide to the community at large to celebrate books? Add to this a celebration of local and independent authors along with community goodwill, and you’ve got a great opportunity to share your store with locals, increase your customer base and become an example of Christian care and compassion within your community. In addition to inviting church groups, pastors, ministry teams, youth groups and entire local congregations, invite the whole community. Make it about celebrating the wonder of books!

BookPeople is a local independent bookstore in Austin, Texas, that focuses heavily on the community. On Aug. 16, during the store’s quiet season, BookPeople threw open its doors to the local community in celebration of all things books—and all things Austin. They offered entertainment, prizes, snacks, conversation groups, a literary trivia contest, story times, a movie screening, author appearances and more in their store. The store’s co-owner, Steve Bercu, worked with the local news media to ensure the community was aware of the event. The local response was enthusiastic, and the store’s typical Saturday traffic was up by more than 1,000 people that day—and sales were up by 35% for the day.

“In terms of our store, what matters is the enhanced connection with our customers that something like this allows,” Bercu said. “This is goodwill, and this is relationship building. The idea is that our customers participate in the fun and appreciate the store more because we did it. It’s not about selling stuff; it’s about having fun and liking this place because that’s what will bring customers back here forever.”

Honor Your Independence

Independent bookstores have every reason to celebrate what makes them different from other book sources. Perhaps one of the best reasons is the ability to share with customers the latest and greatest independently published books. To do this, though, booksellers need to build relationships with independent publishers and their authors.

What makes the independent Christian bookstore special makes independent Christian publishers and independent Christian authors special as well. We all have chosen to go our own route instead of the path of traditional publishing and corporate bookselling. We have the autonomy to make our own decisions based on our personal and professional values and goals. As a Christian retailer, you likely also have chosen this career to broaden your ministerial reach and help people find Christ-honoring books and resources that will enrich them throughout their life journey. Putting your customers and community in touch with independent authors of whom they may not otherwise have learned is a service you can provide as an independent bookstore.

Celebrate your independence by making it a point to connect with independent publishers. Work with them on programs to get their independent authors’ books on your shelves. Promote those books daily in a special section specifically for independently published authors, and expand that section with a “local authors” subsection. Share those books and authors with your community. Display them prominently in your windows. Show your community that you care about your local authors!

Get Involved in ‘Shop Local’ Campaigns

Don’t be the only store in the strip mall or on the block that doesn’t take part in your community’s shop-local campaign. As a matter of fact, make sure you’re one of the stores that is instrumental in organizing the campaign! “Community” doesn’t just comprise customers—it also includes your fellow business owners.

Such campaigns encourage people to keep revenue in their communities. By shopping locally, consumers are contributing to the economic sustainment—and, hopefully, growth—of their town or city. Shop-local events offer the perfect opportunity to promote local independent authors in your store.

Promote Community History

In addition to Christian titles, you may want to consider including books that provide information on your community’s people, natural environment and history.

The website for ABA store Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, sees independent authors as a plus in the community. The store site reads: “With technology giving us new ways to print, publish and promote books, there are more authors who choose to sell books individually or through small local presses. This is a great bonus to local communities, as more of our neighbors print their stories or delve into local history. But sadly, the reality is that these books are hard to find on the web because the large wholesalers who provide web databases for bookstores do not include them in their inventory. Good news! Here at Village Books, we carry many of these local, independent and small-press books. … Although not all books are listed on the web, all our books at Village Books are listed in our in-house inventory database (new and used), and we are always happy to look up a book or author you might find of interest. … We love to promote our local authors.”

Your bookstore exists to provide your community with the Christian resources they need. Carrying independent books and promoting local indie authors is a great way to become involved in your community. Be creative in finding ways to engage your community in your store. Your customers will come to appreciate you even more!

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

Ask the Exec: Selma Wilson talks social media, millennials PDF Print E-mail
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 08:03 AM EDT

B&H Publishing Group president settles into role at helm of Nashville publisher

SelmaWilsonClose-upOfficialPhotoChristian Retailing was privileged to chat with B&H Publishing Group’s Selma Wilson earlier this year. Wilson took the helm of B&H in 2010 and oversees the company’s products, which include the Holman Christian Standard Bible; B&H Books—fiction, nonfiction and children’s; B&H Academic; Broadman Supplies; and Crossbooks’ self publishing. A former social sciences teacher, she is married to a marriage and family minister.

CR: could you tell us about your publishing background?

We launched a women’s magazine [in the early ‘90s] and then shortly after that, they asked me to lead all of our magazine work. ... I love all that we have to offer today with our women’s Bible study leaders who are teaching, curriculum, and our trade books that are written by women for women—we’ve come a long way.

CR: How are you using social media?

I just recently launched a blog and Twitter and all that. ... I’m surprised at the influence. I’m now dialoguing with people around the world. I now hear back from just a diverse group of people, and it’s really made me a better leader because I’m in the space.

CR: what are your thoughts about  where our industry stands now?

It’s all in! You’d better be in shape spiritually and physically. But at the end of the day, what we do has never mattered more, and we have more opportunity than ever before. The needs of people haven’t changed. In fact, people are reading now more than ever. They’re just reading differently, bytes of information. Who would have ever thought Twitter would be such a powerful communication tool? Then what’s happened with blogs and just the power of that. Now the down side of that is people can say whatever they think without any filters, but I’ve found that takes care of itself. You don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

I think with our industry we have more opportunity than ever before. We’re going to have to adapt to the times that we’re in. I’m 58 years old. I boil everything down to [what’s] simple. I’m a simple country girl who was profoundly impacted by the gospel, and I haven’t gotten over it yet! If we really believe what God’s Word says, God’s not wringing His hands in heaven saying, “Oh my, the world is changing.” He is totally in control. He puts His people in every time and place throughout time to advance the gospel. So here we are today. The world is not too hard to God. I believe that He’s brought all this together. The vaults of content that this industry has, all the knowledge that this industry has, plus the digital revolution is going to give us opportunity to do more to advance the gospel around the world than ever before.

CR: “every word Matters.” how is that B&H motto put into practice?

One of our B&H logos for our team says, “Every Word Matters,” and I do believe that fundamentally. We have to be careful with our words and definitely when you cross cultural lines, you’ve just got to be sensitive to the words we use. To be careless with words can be so damaging to individuals, and I care so much that the words we say give people life and hope and help them, it’s so important.

We have to be very sensitive to think beyond ourselves. I really believe in diversity in the industry and on our leadership teams. We need gender diversity, age diversity, ethnic diversity. We need people who have been out in the world beyond Western cultural experiences. One of the things I love about the millennial generation—I love so much about them—[and] in my view, if you have any doubt about the future of the gospel, just go meet with the millennials. They’re worship-driven, they have a less-is-more mentality, they’re willing to sell everything to go, they just are bold in their faith, and it’s beautiful to see. We need those voices. They give us such hope. But the geographical walls have so come down for the millennial generation. It’s nothing for them to study abroad, to do mission work abroad, to go for years. I mean, it was kind of novel in my generation. Now it’s normal, and that’s a beautiful thing.

And the people groups that are here—I live in Nashville, Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible belt, as it’s been referred. We have over 100 different people groups in the Middle Tennessee area. The world is here. … I think there’s enough kingdom work for us to do, and we all matter. God gives us different assignments, different things that we’re good at. We refer people to other publishing houses all the time. We want to be good in the places that we’re strong in, but we don’t have to do it all.

CR: IS B&H moving more toward reaching millennials?

Yes, we’re partnering more and more with young pastors. I think about Matt Chandler, for example. We’ve just done a book with him, Recovering Redemption, such a powerful message of redemption, which is so central, but Matt’s a good example of how God has raised up someone in the millennial generation who is having such a huge impact in reaching many with the gospel. So we think about that intentionally. I think we in leadership who are older are going to have to be more intentional about developing and raising up leaders in the industry from that millennial generation so that we hand off the baton well. Our team has been doing that intentionally. You take the strength of those of us who have been in the industry for a long time—you don’t throw that out—but then you marry that with those who are passionate for the gospel, excellent in their space, and they just bring a richness to the team.

CR: LifeWay has its “groups matter” initiative. Does that tie in with what you’re doing at B&H?

We work strategically with our church resources partners. They have the primary assignment for doing the more in-depth curriculum for the church. … We know in trade publishing that a lot of people are not going to do the in-depth Bible studies, so we try to whet their appetite because we still fundamentally believe that it’s best for you to be in a group to study God’s Word. Yes, you can study alone, and we’re supposed to have our individual quiet times, but you just don’t get the richness of the group experience when you do a study alone.

CR: I’m not the first to ask about your being the only woman president in our industry, but what do you think about it?

Dr. Thom Rainer at LifeWay busted the glass ceiling for LifeWay. I’m the first woman in leadership in our history. Most of the time I don’t think about it. I’m aware of it. I’m honored. I do believe that we need more women sitting at tables. God has made us different and it’s in that different perspective that we’re better [together]. The men that I work with at LifeWay are incredible. They’ve taught me so much. I feel like an equal at the table. When you have to think about it, there’s a problem. When you can be yourself, [there’s not]. I had a dear friend who prayed over me when I got my leadership role at LifeWay. And one of her prayers, that word of wisdom, she said God didn’t put you in this role for who you’re going to be. He put you there because of who you are, so be yourself, and I love that. I’m a country girl; I was raised on a farm in eastern Tennessee.

CR: growing up, were you involved in a southern baptist church?

My mother was raised in a family where she didn’t go to church, and she came to faith in Christ at 15. She began to pray that God would give her a husband and that she could take her children to church. That’s my daddy. My mother loved the church with everything in her. We didn’t miss church, but I had the privilege of being discipled by Southern Baptist resources, and I grew up studying the Word, discipled in the Word from the time I was a little girl. [With] our missions emphasis when I was a little girl in this little country church, I learned that I was a part of something bigger, that we were united with other churches to advance the gospel around the world.... I had the privilege throughout all of my formative years of being deeply engaged with God’s Word, being a student of God’s Word and asking questions and digging deep. That’s my foundation, and I probably take it for granted because I’m so anchored there.  In God’s plan, here I am back in God’s institution that has provided those resources that impacted me.

Retail Successentials October 2014: How to plan profitable product assortments for your store PDF Print E-mail
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 07:58 AM EDT

Manage your product mix to maximize sales year round

BillNielsenInChairGMROI mystifies many a retailer, but the acronym stands for a factor so critical for your store that you should know what it is and why it’s beneficial. But if you don’t get it, you are not alone, as a large percentage of retailers do not fully understand its value. GMROI stands for Gross Margin Return On Investment and is the single most important metric to retailers.

Why is it so significant? At a glance, GMROI is a ratio that will tell you how healthy your inventory is and exactly how much profit you are making for every dollar of stock on your shelves.


Now that I have your attention, let me show you how to calculate your store’s GMROI. Follow these three simple steps:

1. Determine your average inventory at cost. Start by adding the starting cost of inventory for a 12-month period and add to that number the ending cost of inventory for the 12th month as well. The sum of these 13 values is then divided by 13 to get your average inventory at cost.

2. Calculate your gross margin for the same 12 months. Next, take your total sales number for the 12 months and subtract from it the cost of goods sold during that period. The result is your gross margin.

3. Divide your gross margin by your average inventory cost to calculate your GMROI. The result is a ratio that represents how much profit you make on every dollar of inventory you stock on average. The higher the number, the better you are doing.

So what drives GMROI? Even when customer traffic is down and sales are hard to come by, you can increase your GMROI dramatically and thereby improve cash flow and profitability by making sure you are managing your inventory effectively.


The best strategy for inventory management includes a careful combination of the following:

Your first return or markdown is always the cheapest. By this, I mean having inventory on hand that is not selling costs you money every day. Get rid of nonproductive stock as soon as you see it and as quickly as you can. Run a “not-sold-since” report that shows you how long a product has been sitting on your shelves. If you do not have a system that will do this, you may want to consider getting one, as such investment will pay for itself in short order by freeing up valuable open-to-buy dollars. Any item that has not sold in more than 90 days is suspect. Items that have not sold in more than 150 days need immediate action.

Don’t fear the cost of returns or even the pain of selling items at or below cost. You are far better off to take an item that cost you $1 and get rid of it for 75 cents so you can reinvest that same 75 cents in something that will meet the needs of your customers and make you money rather than stock items that no one wants.

Be sure you are in stock on what customers expect to find. Identify what products are hot or, based on seasonal reports, what is about to be hot, and invest appropriately in those items. Include advertised products in your focus as well. Keep doing this by stocking and replenishing fewer of the right products more often.

Trying to take these steps manually and consistently across hundreds or thousands of products is just not practical. The issue is compounded even more by the retail best practice of managing different classes of inventory differently. Consider the need to manage new releases, best-sellers, core items that sell well and seasonal items—all based on their unique and respective characteristics.

The good news is that the cost to have a world-class merchandising solution has come down dramatically in recent years. Small retailers can replace their POS and inventory-management systems for as little as $1,500 up front and $99 a month with a tool that will perform as well as the very expensive systems that could only be afforded by the largest of retailers in the past.

Take care, however, as replenishment systems are like shoes: Most look great, but not all of them fit well or wear well for the long haul. Be sure to do your homework and get the advice of someone who will take the time to get to know your business and has your best interests at heart. If you’re still using technology from five or more years ago, you will be pleasantly surprised with how investing in a new retail solution will pay for itself in a very short time and then drive incremental profits for years to come. Do your homework and don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional in your area, or email me at for fast and free help in finding a local provider. In the meantime, manually check for old stock by walking your aisles and noting the dates on the pricing labels.

Lastly, sell it before you own it. Taking orders and shipping product to the customer means you get paid before you have to pay for the inventory. Yes, your profit-margin percentages might be a bit lower, but such a strategy is the best and easiest way to generate profit-margin dollars, increase GMROI, and give your bottom line and cash flow a shot in the arm. To do this, you need to go back to being an omni-channel retailer and make sure customers can find and order products from you, be it in the comfort of their home or while standing in your store. Again, seeking help here and investing in the right business solutions can bring great returns on relatively small investments.

Most retailers have 15-25% of dead, nonproductive inventory. Implementing the above steps to ensure that 100% of your inventory is working for you is one of the top Retail Successentials for driving sales, profit and cash flow.

As you bring all of this together, take time to strive for balance in your assortment. An easy-to-use but proven blend of the following will serve you well.

Capitalize on core. Your core should be the best-selling items that you merchandise in-line. Generally I suggest to clients that they stock no more than one or two units of all of their core-assortment titles, knowing that they will be replenished weekly. Assuming two units of each title and a desired turn goal of three, any nonseasonal item that sells six or more units in a year would be a candidate to be in your core.

A subset of your core are the top-tiered items that we should plan to stock in great depth up to a four-month supply that will yield a inventory turn of 3.0. These are the items that customers count on you to always have in stock. Think bread, milk and eggs at the grocery store and apply it to your assortment.

Seasonal items help you be relevant all year long. However, the key is to order pre-season and stop replenishing four weeks before the season ends. For example, back-to-school items should be ordered to arrive by July 1 and should not be replenished after Aug. 1.

Each of these three groupings of products should be planned for the turn-goals mentioned since, of course, your actual turn will be a good bit lower since some items likely will not sell as planned. Do this well and your store can reach an inventory turn of 3.0 or better, which will generate a very good GMROI and positive cash flow for your business.

NEXT ISSUE: We will look at how to plan stock-to-sales-to-space in your store.

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 October 2014: Merchandising for Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dave Sheets   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 07:53 AM EDT

Be prepared to meet the needs of new and loyal customers coming to your store for unique gifts during the holidays

DaveSheetsChristian retailers who sell independently published books offer customers the opportunity to purchase unique gifts—and a huge reason for them to shop at Christian retail for Christmas. As such a retailer, you may feel you need some help with your sales plan, so here are 10 tips for merchandising indie books this special time of year.

1. Front and center

Don’t hide your indie books. Place them front and center in your store to draw attention to new authors and subjects. Play up the indie aspect with signage that not only identifies the books as independently published titles, but also as unique cutting-edge books.

2. Gift with purchase

Offer a gift with the purchase of a particular indie title—or a few. People love to get a little something extra with a purchase—whether they keep it for themselves, give it to the book recipient or use it as a separate gift. It doesn’t have to be big—maybe a special bookmark or a small plaque.

3. Gift baskets

Indie books are naturals for gift baskets—and shoppers love gift baskets around Christmastime. Having a pre-organized basket of goodies (including gift and food items) prettied up takes the pressure off and makes the shopper look like an artistic hero. If you’re not particularly creatively inclined, utilize the talents of a team member to organize baskets for men, women, teens, children, teachers, caregivers and anyone else appropriate. Make sure to label the type of basket for easy selection.

4. Hard-to-shop-for

Everyone has at least one person on their Christmas list who is difficult to shop for. These people are perfect candidates for receiving indie books for Christmas. Create an endcap or a table set aside for the hard-to-shop-for individual. Create your own shelftalkers to help match these people with book topics and authors.

5. Point of purchase

Obviously, you’re still going to have customers looking for a specific book or gift they know you carry, so introduce them to some eye-grabbing indie books at the cash wrap. Set up a small display of the books, with a thought-provoking shelftalker. You might also consider offering such a book at a discount.

6. Pre-wrapped

In your indie book section, pre-wrap a few of each title, leaving one copy out for customers to peruse. Don’t forget to label the wrapped books!

7. Signed, sealed and delivered

For the most part, indie authors are trying to create recognition, a buzz, for themselves and their books. As a result, they may be quite amenable to working out an arrangement whereby customers can “special order” a personalized, signed copy of an indie book for a friend or family member. This will require you to train your team to take the customer’s information, have them pre-pay for the book, send the book to the author for personalization and signing, and mail the book to the customer who purchased it. It’s a unique service not many big-box stores will offer!

8. Read and meet

Arrange with an author to have a book discussion/signing after Christmas, and sell copies of the author’s books beforehand, providing a certificate inviting the recipient to attend a special evening at your bookstore meeting the author and discussing the book—two gifts in one!

9. Gift certificate

For the shopper who can’t decide—and the recipient who likes to choose their own books—offer a gift certificate for use on indie titles. Be creative in its design, emphasizing the uniqueness of the indie authors and books you carry.

10. Like that, try this

Match up indie authors and book subjects with established, traditionally published authors and topics. Help your customers by creating signage that takes the guesswork out of which indie books to buy for gift recipients who enjoy traditional authors and books of a similar nature. This makes finding just the right gift easier.

These are just a few ways to help you merchandise indie books for Christmas gift-giving. Customers look to your specialty store to offer unique gifts and services. Use these ideas as a launching pad, and you’re sure to help your customers fly through their shopping lists this season.

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


Independent Thoughts September 2014:Five ways to drive store traffic PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dave Sheets   
Monday, 11 August 2014 11:15 AM EDT

Work with independent publishers to attract more customers

DaveSheetsAs a Christian retailer competing with a variety of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce competitors, you understand the importance of thinking “outside the box” when it comes to driving traffic into your store. Likewise, independent publishers typically have an entrepreneurial approach to handling their “traditional” publisher competition. Working together can be profitable for both parties.

Once you start to build relationships with independent publishers, see if there are ways you can partner with them on driving traffic into your store via their authors. Chances are they have some excellent ideas on events, merchandising and special offers that will pique your customers’ interest.

The following are five ways you can work with independent publishers on driving store traffic, but don’t be limited by these. Brainstorm with them to learn even more!

1. Get to know indie authors via their indie publishers. Your independent publisher contacts work closely with their indie authors and understand the importance they bring to Christian publishing. These authors provide new voices to an industry filled with established authors. Independent publishers can help explain their authors’ backgrounds and the types of customers who would benefit most from their books. All you need to do is ask.

You may find that independently published (indie) authors are more accessible as far as the time they’re willing and able to put into getting to know retailers. This gives you a great opportunity to build relationships with them. By and large, they are marketing their books solo (or with guidance from some indie publishers that provide marketing and publicity options), so they need you as much as you need them. Your common goal: to get their books into the hands of your customers who will benefit from their content. Independent authors need you, and your customers need their stories, information, inspiration and insights. Be the conduit that builds up tomorrow’s best-selling authors by connecting them with today’s readers.

2. Go local! Locate indie authors in your community and introduce them to your customers.

Today, creating a sense of community in your store is extremely important to the success and sustainability of your business. This is what keeps people walking into your store rather than purchasing their books via the Internet. They want to be a part of the community—the community in which they live and the community in which they gather. If you’re not instilling that feeling in your store, then you’re basically hanging a sign outside that says, “Stay away.”

A great way to build that sense of community is by seeking out indie authors who live in close proximity and who have become—or are in the process of becoming—active members of your community. Align with them to help build community in your store. If you expect your customers to “shop local,” why not exemplify that yourself by inviting local authors into your store and introducing them to your customers?

ABA booksellers have a long history of encouraging and building up new authors to help sustain and grow the publishing industry, most notably small and independent publishers. They “get” the importance of building a community in their stores, of being an inviting gathering place for people of like minds, of establishing and maintaining relationships with new and local authors. Take a mini vacation from your store and visit area ABA stores, or plan to visit an ABA store or two if you happen to be out of town at a conference or on vacation. Take notes. You may even want to introduce yourself to the store owner or manager and pick his or her brain for ideas. Borrow brilliance!

Likewise, work with your independent publisher to identify indie authors who live close to your store. They can usually help facilitate a meeting between you and the author. Again, you all—publisher, store, author—are indies who should be working together to bring these books to the industry through your store.

3. Invite indie authors to your store to talk about their books. Book signings are great, but independent retailers know how difficult it can be to get traditionally published authors to come to their stores to participate in one. And, book aficionados also are looking for more than just an autograph. They want to engage with authors—get to know them, their thoughts, their backgrounds. In short, they want to learn about what inspires them.

Let your independent publisher know that you’re interested in bringing authors into your store. They may have some ideas for you as far as authors who enjoy doing this more than others. You want your event to be a hit, so you’ll need to make sure the author you invite is dynamic enough to keep a group of customers interested, and wanting more!

Invite these dynamic authors to your store to talk about their books with your customers. Make it a special event. Send e-mailed invitations to your customer list. Put invitations in bags. Focus on the subject of the book if the author is relatively unknown. Make sure that the subject is a draw. Serve light hors d’oeuvres or dessert and coffee. Make it cozy. Encourage interaction.

4. Design a “Local Authors” and/or “Indie Publishers” section in your store. Once you’ve located and built relationships with some local writers, set up a special section, endcap or display table for local authors’ books. Celebrate them as members of your community. If they have their own blogs, include information about them on signage, encouraging your customers to check them out online and then purchase their books in your store.

In addition to your Local Authors section, consider building a new section just for independently published titles. This “Indie Publishers” section will draw attention to these books and authors and give credibility to the importance of independent publishing in today’s market. It may even encourage your customers to put their writing talents to work and attain their dreams of writing a book (see Tip No. 5).

Also, if you don’t yet have a “Pick of the Week/Month” shelf, why not institute one in your store? In addition to the Fiction, Nonfiction, Children’s, Young Adult, Theology and other such categories, add independently published titles to the selection.

5. Start a writers’ group and/or an indie book club. The attention you’re going to draw to indie/local authors might just inspire your customers to pursue their dreams of writing books. This presents a super opportunity to start a writers’ group at your store. Like a book club, a writers’ group brings traffic, sales and increased customer engagement. Be sure to stock books on writing to cater to this group of customers. Become their one-stop shop for all things writing and reading.

Speaking of book clubs, consider forming a club just for independently published books. This will also pave the way for more indie-author in-store events and appearances.

Indie authors provide new voices and books with fresh perspectives, and the partnerships you create with these authors and the independent publishers that work with them are vital to keeping fresh product in your store that will appeal to your community—product that is not as easily available via your competitors. Independent publishers have great ideas to help drive foot traffic into your store—to help you succeed!

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

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