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Retailer Bio: Bill Ballou PDF Print E-mail
Written by Production   
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 11:13 AM EDT

BillBallou-TheSolidRockBill Ballou owns The Solid Rock in Kearney, Neb., with his wife, Ila. In 2012, CBA presented the store with the community outreach award for efforts that included supporting relief projects in Haiti and raising funds to enable a disabled teen to attend college.

How long in Christian retail: Since 1974, I owned a store. I was also in retailing with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and with Word of Life.

How you first came to Christian retail: In the year I came to know the Lord, 1963, that fall I went to Bible school and took a job with BGEA working in their book department, mainly in mail order and retail, in Minneapolis.

First job of any kind and your age then: Besides working on a farm, I worked in a grocery store in Rapid City, S.D., sacking groceries, then I was head of the candy department.

Describe yourself in three words: Fun-loving, encouraging, networker.

Favorite hobby: I am a professional yo-yoer, and I enjoy woodworking and flower gardening. 

Favorite place: I am so adaptable, so it’s really where I am at the present time. I’ve had many wonderful experiences traveling.

Favorite verse: Several in Galatians 5 reminding us of our freedom in Christ. Verse 1 says in part, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Pet peeve in retail: Somebody who doesn’t stand behind their products.

Mission in life: I want to be a positive example of a Christian and not to bring a reproach to Christ and the gospel by what I say or do.

Mentor or role model: Randy Alcorn, for a positive stand on Christian issues, and Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, for his humanitarian efforts. In general, people who have a positive influence.

Share a recent idea or event that has worked in your store: One idea that worked was offering to be the source for patriotic fan banners for the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Lincoln Highway that was held in Kearney, Neb., from June 28 through July 3. I was on the planning committee and suggested the banners to dress up the main street for this historic event, one that USA Today put in their top five for the summer as a “event to see.” We sold about $2,000 worth of goods (150 banners approximately) while offering fellow merchants the quantity discount that the manufacturer offered. We gained a good sale and good will with our business associates—many of whom are seldom in our store.

How about one that hasn’t worked? One thing that didn’t work was a coupon offer in two neighboring newspapers offering gas money of $5 for a $15 sale and $10 for a $50 sale. Christian bookstores in the two areas had closed within the last two years and we want to try to bring people in—at least for the “first time.” Once they visit our store we feel they will come back. We had three $5 and two $10 redeemed. We are going to try another approach with the same intent. It may have just been bad timing as we felt it was a fair coupon offer. 

Which soon-to-come product are you most excited about? I am excited about the plethora of new study Bibles the suppliers are offering with some exciting features. Several would tie for my top appeal. Also, Barbour has a new author, Lance Easley, who wrote Making the Call. In our football-crazed world, this might generate some sales.

How can our readers pray for you? That I would be a mentor. My wife, Ila, and I want to represent Christ daily with our employees, customers, community and family, to be a positive influence for Christ in all areas.

Store website:

Should the Christian retailer sell romance novels? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristen Heitzmann   
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 08:38 AM EDT

KristenHeitzmannChristy Award-winning novelist believes romance is an ‘essential’ genre for believers

Some may think the term “Christian romance” is an oxymoron. Not at all. While for some, the word romance conjures steamy covers and pages filled with less than edifying prose, committed readers know that that stereotype is a gross misrepresentation of the genre. As a writer of Christian romance, I can assure readers and retailers alike that this genre is not only appropriate, but also essential—and it’s important that Christian retail stores “buy in” and support the category.

In brick-and-mortar or online stores, a great percentage of books that sell fall into this category because they have the relational elements readers want. That does not mean all romance novels follow a single formula, however. Considering only the categories that fit the Christian market, there are historical, Amish, dystopian, comedic, legal, medical and suspense—to name a few. Each category brings different aspects to the experience that attract readers with various interests and preferences. That said, the core of the romance genre is the relationship between the characters.

Whether it is falling in love, rekindling love or restoring love—what every Christian reader of romance wants and expects are a man and a woman whose love story will be the driving force of the fiction experience. In great works like Gone With the Wind, with its sweeping scope of the Old South and the Civil War, the most burning (forgive the pun) issue was not Atlanta, as in the great cinematic event, but whether Rhett and Scarlett could ever find happiness. For most women and a surprisingly high number of men who read this genre, the relationship of the characters is the foundation around which the plot and setting and theme occur. In this way, the love story is the avenue for everything else the author wants to convey. 


Unlike secular versions, Christian romance novels include faith elements. With other writers, I have discussed what part faith plays in our novels and to what degree it is, or should be, included. For some, if the expressions of Christianity, i.e. prayer, church attendance and discussion of beliefs were taken out, the story would not stand. In others, the story provides a clean reading experience with no overt Christian lingo or practices that might offend non-believers while offering a wholesome alternative to less edifying reads. Both serve a purpose intended by the author and appreciated by the reader.

In between those two, or maybe on the edge of both, I like to make it messy. Life happens in relationship. In my writing, I find it important to incorporate the grit of living a Christian life in a fallen world. For some characters, there may be a yearning for meaning. For others, life events have made it hard to believe in or trust a God that lets bad things happen. Some characters might be embittered or afraid, or are my personal favorite—the rogues. What makes a reader want to journey with these people? The love story. Even if both characters are damaged, as so many in our real world are, they find hope in opening themselves to each other and to God. 


The beauty of the Christian romance is that we have the freedom to involve all elements of the human experience. The emotional element—with all those great feelings that get tweaked and tugged—engages the readers’ own sympathetic responses. Readers tell me they laughed and cried, cheered and raged, and even found themselves praying for the characters because the story evoked such a powerful response. They went without sleep, left the house messy and read straight through to the end because they felt so much for the characters that applied to their own lives. 

In the stories Jesus told, he engaged the crowd by triggering their emotions, often by shocking their foundations, but always by touching something personal to them. In a similar way, a Christian romance can impart a message of hope and healing between the characters that translates to the reader. It can present a call to perseverance for those in difficult circumstances, to forgiveness for the wounded or to trust and belief that God is essential. All these things can penetrate by the engagement of the emotions in a way that a didactic lesson might fall short.

The second part of our human experience is physical—yes, Christian characters are flesh and blood. They experience temptation and desire. They feel the pleasure of touch and the joy—and angst—of attraction. God built us to delight in each other. Portraying that realistically in a Christian romance lends credibility to all the other aspects. In the words of one reviewer: “Heitzmann is one of the best at depicting sexual attraction between characters in Christian fiction—and the women are as capable of passion as the men” (

The spiritual aspect threaded through and underlying the other elements is the third and pivotal reason that Christian romance is sought by readers. A character’s relationship with God, even if it is adversarial, brings a depth to the love story that secular novels lack. Within the context of the male and female characters seeking and finding love for each other, there can be spiritual impediments or connections that either threaten or enhance that process. Readers often tell me that going through this process with the characters brought them to a better understanding of the impact of faith in their own relationships. 


In creating the fabric for my stories, I include subplot relationships that readers want featured in new novels. This brings up another element in Christian romantic fiction that is the potential for sequels or series. As retailers know, one book that leads to another is a good thing, though I think it is important to remember that readers really want the continuum available. 

Whether in historical or current time, Christian romance deals with real-life aspects of relationship that lend themselves to book club discussions. 

One consideration for bookstores is to encourage these discussions on their websites or through in-store handouts. When readers attach to an author, book or series, there is a great potential for continuous relationship between the author, the retailer and the reader.

Industry Forum: Are you taking the road-less-traveled for Christmas? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lorraine Valk   
Monday, 08 July 2013 03:06 PM EDT

LorraineValk2010Thinking differently can make this holiday season a big winner for your store

As retailers, we have all seen the traditional list for getting your store ready for the biggest retail season of the year, so here are some ideas to challenge you to think differently.

Display products in an unusual way. Today’s society is accustomed to fresh and outlandish ideas. Showcase your store this year by giving shoppers the gift of the unexpected. Pinterest could be your new best friend when looking for display ideas. Shop garage sales and pick up poinsettias and an extra Christmas tree (yes, this time of year is perfect to find bargains) and figure out a way to wow your customers with limited funds. Create excitement so your shoppers can’t wait to come back next year! Use your old props in different ways. Use color creatively. Who says Christmas can’t be lime green instead of evergreen? Put up an extra tree and decorate it uniquely that people can’t help but stop and look. Entice them. Follow up their “This display is great” comment with “Wait until you see what we are doing for Valentine’s Day and Easter!” I’ve added an old-fashioned wood sled, antique ice skates and a unique wreath this year—what’s in your attic or at your adult child’s house that you can use?

Change your thinking. Be intentional about markdowns. We all purchase items that don’t fly off the shelf, so give them a helping hand. Move them, mark them down or bundle them with something else. If your calendars aren’t moving, start at 10% off, then 20% off fairly early in the season to get them moving, depending on how you purchased them. If you take markdown credit from the vendor, this doesn’t apply. If you purchased at higher discount, the object is to have few remaining in January, same with boxed Christmas cards and ornaments. Minimize what needs to go 50% off the day after Christmas and protect your bottom line. Think ahead by taking notes and photographs of leftovers for next year so your ordering is more accurate. Try a two for $10 or two for $19.99 specials to get multiples to move. We only had 12 calendars that we had to mark down to 50% off this year; the rest sold at 25% off. We ran a 20% off special for all ornaments several weeks before Christmas because we felt we had too many.  Much better to sell them at 20% off than 50%!

Build on the family shopping experience. Suggest additional items that go well together. For instance, if mom is buying dad a Bible, suggest that son or daughter pick up a Bible cover or marking pens. If dad is buying a necklace for mom, suggest a music box from their son or daughter to go with it. Get creative. Our No. 1 suggestion for elderly relatives who don’t really need anything is a box of cards or fancy notes. Suggest a personalized or scriptured pen to go with them. Suggestions are big this time of year, so practice with your staff to make sure they embrace the concept—and feel comfortable using it. Suggest books in a series and recommend that they return for the next title for Valentine’s Day. Plant the seeds for a return trip! 

Showcase departments to optimize sales. The status quo isn’t working, so I am using this slower time of year to reset my store into more of a lifestyle setup. Stagnant sales may be due to a lack of energy focused on refreshing my store. My favorite grocery store took out a huge area of tall fixtures, replacing them with more fresh produce crates that have a lower profile.  It’s fun to shop, so why not carry that into my business as well? As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I think this concept holds true for our stores as well. Repurpose, reuse, repaint and refresh for more impact! It’s amazing how many people think you have new product, when all you’ve done is moved it to another location. A side benefit to shifting items around is that they get cleaned better and look fresher. The time to do it is now, not once the season is upon us. I’ll be glad to share pictures if you share yours.  I love getting fresh ideas from others!

Make a flexible but thoughtful plan. What can you do to generate new customers? My No. 1 technique has been to place a sideways or upside-down tiny ad in our local coupon booklet. Note the key words for these kinds of ads—inexpensive and large demographic. At Christmas, I place an ad for a “FREE GIFT FROM BENEATH OUR TREE.” Then I watch with amazement at how many people stop in to pick up a freebie. I purposely purchase closeouts for promotions throughout the year, and the leftovers are wrapped during the year and tossed in our Christmas box. Everything from promise books, bookmarks, necklaces, notecards and CDs are wrapped and ready. These items cost under 50 cents each, but result in goodwill and new customers. Yes, you get a few that stop by only for the gift, but it’s a win if they come into the store. I’ve even had people thank me with tears in their eyes because they didn’t have anything to give a loved one at Christmas. Lavish the love without breaking the bank! Think also of those vendor dollars available for advertising and how to use them. Research now how much is available, and make a plan to use them.

“Let us wrap it for you!” Consider offering gift wrapping for free. We move gift wrapping to the front of the store and offer only one type of wrap at Christmas. Men, especially, love to do one-stop shopping! I’m not sure anyone else in our town still offers this service; does anyone else do it in yours? Make your store stand out as the top place for gifts. Online won’t offer free gift wrap, and neither will Wal-Mart. Buy a huge roll in the off season, so for about $100, tape and a little labor, you can add the grand finale to your customers’ shopping experience. Be sure to get inexpensive adhesive bows. Hopefully you don’t have a lot of time to mess with tying ribbons! This is a crowd-pleaser. Free wrap can make even the discontented shopper smile!

Have gift cards at the ready. They’re a popular and easy gift when a shopper is uncertain what to choose. Be sure to stock them in a prominent location near your checkout. Having a nice little folder to put them in adds to the perceived value.

Focus on the true reason for rejoicing! What we do does make an eternal difference. Be light and salt in this dark world. We are here for a purpose. Let’s do our job well and bring glory to God by having stores that are welcoming to those who haven’t yet found Him, and embracing and encouraging places to those who have. My prayer for you is that God will provide everything you need this coming season, so that He is glorified. 

Industry Forum: Gift and lifestyle offerings build profits PDF Print E-mail
Written by Randy Maricle   
Wednesday, 29 May 2013 09:41 AM EDT

Maximize your store’s profits in order to boost and broaden your mission field

With sales of music and books trailing off in today’s Christian retail store, we must face reality. In that light, there are two approaches we can take—give in or continue to serve our communities, but in a new and different way. 

Industry Forum: Selling to Spanish-Language Customers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Julio Vientos   
Tuesday, 02 April 2013 04:06 PM EDT

JulioVientos-CreditSeanRobertsNeeds of this growing demographic remain unmet in certain areas of the country

The world of Spanish-language Christian books is expanding not only in the titles published, but also in the number of distribution outlets. Companies like Editorial Vida (Zondervan), Grupo Nelson (Thomas Nelson), Editorial Unilit (Spanish House), B&H Español (B&H Publishing Group) and Casa Creación (Charisma Media) understand the importance of the Spanish market.

At Casa, we have published many of the Spanish titles that have become best-sellers with authors such as Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, John Eckhardt and Jentezen Franklin. These authors understand that Hispanics follow their ministries, watch their television programs and read their books. 

Customer demand also means that we need bookstores like Christ Centered Life Store in Fort Myers, Fla., and Christ for the Nations in Dallas, as well as distribution centers like Fuente de Vida with offices in Miami, Texas and California. Miami-based Luciano Distributors distributes nationwide in the U.S. and to some Latin American countries.


There are 51.6 million Hispanics in the United States, according to the 2010 census. Hispanics have a purchasing power expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2015, which would rank that demographic as the 13th largest economy in the world.

Hispanics are also the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., with growth no longer coming from new immigrants, but from U.S. births—one in four children today are born to a Hispanic mother. And more Hispanic women than ever before are going to college. This, along with population growth, is contributing to their fast-growing purchasing power.

No longer are the Spanish speakers in the U.S. confined to border states and big cities. Today, nearly all states have some sort of Hispanic population.

Our sales consultant for U.S. Spanish bookstores has received many calls from places like Kansas, Oregon and Washington interested in buying directly from us because of the lack of Spanish Christian bookstores in their states. This is an opportunity that Christian bookstores cannot miss. Consider reaching out to Hispanic churches and make it known that your store can provide the resources they need.


Proud of their cultural duality, Hispanics strive to communicate in Spanish and English and generally don’t favor one over the other as in the past. Therefore, a growing number of second- and third-generation Hispanics are seeking to learn Spanish and make certain their children grow up bilingual. 

For instance, I was born in Puerto Rico, and at the age of 10, we moved to New York. My mom always said: “At home, we speak Spanish. English is only when we are outside.”

 Of course, this was a great benefit for me because being bilingual has opened many doors, for which I’m grateful. Now I use this same principle with my own children.

With so many Spanish speakers in the U.S. and with more than 40% of population growth among Hispanics, the stage is set for an enormous increase in Spanish usage. This has sparked greater interest among U.S. citizens—as well as some backlash among English-only activists—but interest in learning Spanish is expected to rise. 

With more than 50 million people speaking Spanish in America, the United States is fifth on the list of countries with the most Spanish-speaking people. As a result, there is significant demand for Spanish literature—which is a big opportunity for Christian publishers and retailers. 

In fact, it’s not only in the U.S. where Spanish is popular. Spanish is an official language on four continents and is the mother tongue in 21 countries. In Europe, Spanish is the second most popular second language, after English. For example, TMC Communications in London reports that the Spanish market is growing, and spiritual revival is taking place among Hispanics in the United Kingdom.


People are defined by the books that interest them. When such books are written in their native language, they are not only preferred, but often treasured. Our Casa Creación sales are increasing wherever there is a population density of Hispanics in the United States. 

We have  also had great success with our partnership with Hachette Book Group and with licensing opportunities. Vida partners with Editorial CLIE, which is one of the largest publishers in Spain that provides resources such as Bible dictionaries, commentaries and more.

Christian retailers will want to consider whether Spanish products will sell in their particular store. Let me offer some recommendations:

  • Create a separate section for Spanish books so your Spanish customers know you are committed to addressing their needs. Keep in mind that when you say no Hispanics enter your store, perhaps they are not coming because they don’t know you sell Spanish books!
  • Find out how many Spanish churches and Bible institutes are in your city. Have an employee who speaks Spanish visit Spanish-speaking churches and schools and start a relationship with them. To be successful in this market, you have to be relationship-driven. Ask the Spanish community what they need in books, Bibles, church supplies and gifts.
  • Connect with them through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites. Our marketing department is committed to helping our stores and distributor spread the word of our products through social media. Any store that needs assistance with this can contact our marketing coordinator, Tony Rivera, for resources to use online.

So, I challenge you to start carrying Spanish products in your store. With the growth of the Hispanic community, not only will reaching out bring in additional revenue, but also a significant ministry opportunity.

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