Christian Retailing

Church Bookstores
Don’t lose business during your store’s remodel PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rachel Savage   
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 01:44 PM EDT

How to serve your customers well during a major transition

RachelSavage-NoCreditThe large banner across the papered doors announced, “In late November ~ The Chapel Store becomes Watermark Christian Store. Visit our temporary location in the Chapel.”

‘Small store with a big heart’ offers enjoyable customer experience PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 09:28 AM EST

Houston’s Encouraging Word welcomes shoppers with focus on ‘ministry and love’

Encourager-ChatChurchgoers and community members regularly gather at Encouraging Word Bookstore in Houston, not only to shop, socialize and relax, but to benefit from the store’s ministry.

“Members of our church love to come in here, grab a cup of coffee and hang out while they are waiting for the next service, or they meet a friend in here,” said Jodi Jones, store manager. “It’s a connection point a lot of times.”

Complete with a Keurig drink maker in a coffee nook as well as comfortable chairs, the store provides a place to chat.

“Our assistant manager, Anne Marie Herzberg, is very outgoing,” Jones said. “This is something that has evolved and grown naturally. It’s not something we dreamed up or that was part of a business plan. We started in a room about the size of a bedroom, and we have continued to grow. We’ve more than doubled our space, and the church has provided us with a location that is right off of the sanctuary with glass windows and more visibility.”

The store serves Encourager Church where Fernando and Angie Ruata are senior pastors. With about 900 members, there are two services Sunday morning and a prayer-and-worship service Wednesday. The store is open those two days, with sales on a typical Sunday ranging from about $750 to $800.

“If you think about our priorities, it’s about ministry and love,” Jones said. “That’s the vision of the church, too. Visitors come in, and they always make comments about how friendly our church is. We know that we are often the first place they stop, and we’re the first people visitors talk to even before they get to the information desk or to a greeter. We’re a small store with a big heart.”

Herzberg agrees.

“This is a very nonthreatening place to meet people,” she said. “Guests come in and strike up conversations. It’s a good beginning to being part of this church.”

Jones and Herzberg believe the store should be more of a ministry than a retail outlet.

“Everything in our store is discounted 20%,” Jones said. “So, people know when they come in here that they are going to get something that can help them with their walk with the Lord, and we are not trying to make money off of them.”

Herzberg added: “The bottom line isn’t the bottom line for us. It’s not about the sales; it’s about the connection. The sales are a byproduct rather than it being the other way around.”

Volunteers build a strong ministry PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rose Seeley   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 09:26 AM EST

So you want to build a volunteer team? Or perhaps you already have a team but seem to be stalled in the areas of growth or motivation and commitment. Maybe you’re not sold on the benefits of using volunteers but are compelled by church culture or your bottom line to do so.

While there are many challenges to working with volunteers, the benefits are definitely there and worth considering. Besides inventory, staffing can affect your store’s bottom line more than any other item. It’s also a blessing to work with so many brothers and sisters in your church family, see them thrive and grow, and become more connected to their home church.

RoseSeeleyBuilding your team can start with something as simple as just asking for volunteers. There are many ways to do this, but one of the most powerful ways is to ask personally. Many people have not stepped out to serve because they’re undecided where to serve or may be a little timid. Approaching someone in a friendly, no-pressure way and asking them to volunteer is often just the push they need to finally jump in and commit.

You may want to get others to ask on your behalf. Your current volunteer staff is a good source of recruiting new volunteers. There are other ways to ask; just use your imagination!

When asking for volunteers, one thing to keep in mind is that often friends and family prefer to serve together because it’s more convenient and fun.

Once you have identified new team members, get them signed up and started quickly while they are still eager. If their enthusiasm wanes, they may change their minds or be snatched away by another ministry.

Keep your team growing and thriving with ongoing training. Create a positive, fun environment in which people can serve. Make certain to be generous with appreciation. Training is a continual task, and gestures of appreciation will build confidence in your volunteers.

A positive environment keeps them looking forward to serving, and knowing how much they are appreciated keeps them from leaving.

Working with a volunteer team can be limiting but often is necessary. It’s a big job to do right. But the rewards—from the relationships you build to the opportunity to increase profits—can make the challenge well worth it!

Rose Seeley, retail services director, Cottonwood Church, Los Alamitos, California

Denominational store opens mall location PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 09:22 AM EST

Success with kiosk leads to larger shop to broaden community reach

WhiteWing-MallDenominational bookstore White Wing has expanded its presence to a Cleveland, Tennessee, mall. The move came about after first proving its success with a mall kiosk rather than opening a full store right away.

White Wing held a grand opening Aug. 16 for its new Bradley Square Mall store, which  measures about 700 square feet. The store drew traffic with free food and a radio station remote event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We stayed packed all day long,” said Rachel Cartwright, bookstore manager of the White Wing Christian Bookstore and White Wing mall store.

Gene Browning, director of White Wing Publishing House and retail operations, said the Church of God of Prophecy’s 5,000-square-foot headquarters store has been serving Cleveland since 1968.

“A lot more people from the community were coming in,” Browning said. “But we felt like, because we were at the denominational headquarters, that there were some people that still didn’t feel comfortable coming into our store.

“That’s one of the main reasons we wanted to move into the mall. We felt like we could reach out to the community much better than we could at the headquarters location. We are also able to reach out to our Church of God of Prophecy members who are shopping in the mall. It’s more of a convenience for them.”

The mall store also draws Lee University students and other young people.

“By going into the mall, we’ve exposed ourselves, our witness and these Christian resources to people who don’t normally shop at a Christian bookstore,” Browning said.

The mall store is selling more titles from popular authors and top-10 books than the headquarters store does.

The mall kiosk operated for just under two years but was closed once the permanent mall location opened. Sales success has followed.

“Compared to the kiosk, our new mall store is more than doubling sales each month,” he said. “I think that will continue to grow.”

Gifts are the top-ranking sales category, followed by books and Bibles. Top-selling items include Kerusso T-shirts, books, Bibles, gifts and jewelry. Cards are also selling more with a more expansive DaySpring display.

The store also has a new P. Graham Dunn laser engraver and a wide variety of products to personalize.

“We gave away silicone wristbands that we personalized for free that [grand opening] day,” Cartwright said.

Grow your store with church supplies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 01:54 PM EDT

Connecting with local congregations spells ongoing business for retailers

Dightmans-BulletinWallChurch supplies remain a steady source of sales for brick-and-mortar stores willing to stock up even as some product categories have seen serious shrinkage at Christian retail in recent years. Retailers pursuing church sales of everything from pulpits to pews and from communion wafers to choir robes report that this department not only can hold its own, but also even grow when handled with care.

“Church supplies could be anything from ministry resources, Bible studies, small-group materials, welcome and outreach products, office supplies, bulletins, certificates, record books, communion products and so on,” said Mike Meadows, director of product marketing for Warner Press. “These aren’t items your average parishioner is going to be shopping for. The list is varied, but think about who the customer is, and that will help narrow down what products would fit into church supplies.”

Innovative Inc. has done the research, and results are encouraging.

“We did a report earlier this year that showed the two areas of growth for Christian stores are church supplies and gifts,” said Troy Hurst, director of church sales and marketing for Innovative. “But I think a lot of churches still don’t know that Christian bookstores have church supplies. It’s important to have a section specifically for church supplies—even if it’s a small section. One of the biggest challenges for retailers, from a church standpoint, is that stores carry so little of it that churches don’t know they can get things from the Bible bookstore down the street rather than ordering online.”

Stores that are successful with church supplies keep in close contact with congregations in their area and ensure that they have plenty of consumables on hand for last-minute Saturday shopping.

Tampa Christian Supply has seen such a downturn in sales of Christian books, music and gifts that the store recently announced it will sell only church supplies, a few gifts and Bibles, and the top 10 or 15 best-selling books and DVDs.

“That is the category we have seen the least amount of shrinkage in,” said Patrick Pelizze, the store’s vice president. “Church supplies and Sunday school materials will now be our main thrust, as well as things that you can’t buy anywhere else locally, like anointing oil.”

Jack Savage ran the Christian gifts and bookstore Jack’s Religious Gift Shop in Maryland for 50 years before closing the store in early 2010 when he planned to retire. Instead, Savage found himself in the church-supplies business.

“Every church needs communion cups and candles,” Savage said. “Those items get customers into your store, and then you can sell them other things.”

Savage keeps the consumables readily available but also stocks a selection of choir robes, chairs, communion tables and clergy shirts for browsing by appointment.


B&H-FellowshipCommunionCupsOne way to get repeat customers in this age of online buying is to carry consumables. Communion cups, seasonal bulletins, offering envelopes and candles get used. When they’re gone, churches need more. They can order them with the click of a button, but shipping often costs extra, and the time it takes to receive what they need can keep a church heading to their local Christian retailer.

“Stores need diversity in this category, and they need the new products like the latest bulletins,” said John Whitaker, vice president of Anchor Distributors. “It’s a nice category because so much is consumable. Communion cups, prefilled communion sets and offering envelopes are consistently in our top 20 items for this category.”

Staying well-stocked is critical.

“When a church goes to the local bookstore to pick up their monthly supplies or quarterly supplies, if the store doesn’t have a good amount in stock the churches will start ordering online,” said Ed Barber, church accounts sales manager for Send The Light Distribution (STL). “Churches need to be able to run down to their local Christian store on Saturday if they are out of communion bread and pick up that communion bread.”

Today stores may be picking up communion bread that is gluten-free. Swanson Christian Products is one company that offers gluten-free, organic, kosher wafers.

“We sell communion bread, including some of the gluten-free, and our biggest thing is communion cups,” said Donna Dightman Baker, owner of Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma, Washington. “We get them from Broadman and go through a ton. We have used some of the other ones, but our churches really like the Broadman ones best because they have a deluxe cup that has a lip that is a little heavier and not as sharp. The biggest problem with the plastic communion cups is that they get broken in shipping sometimes. We’ve had some disasters, but Broadman is good and will always replace them.”

ChristianBrands-Candlelight-WCF016-WCF018Prefilled communion packs like Compak’s Celebration Cup (with grape juice and communion wafer) and Broadman Church Supplies’ Remembrance (with grape juice and communion bread) and Fellowship Cups (grape juice with communion wafer) are seeing sales increases, as churches like the convenience and the ability to easily carry communion off site or take the elements with them on mission trips.

“We sell a ton of those prefilled communion sets,” Tampa Christian’s Pelizze said. “The all-in-one Remembrance cups—we are doing a lot of those.”

Some stores also are seeing a rise in sales of certificates, offering envelopes and bulletins.

Dightman’s in Washington state has a reputation of carrying the largest variety of bulletins on the West Coast.

“We do carry and sell a lot of Warner bulletins,” said Baker, noting she stocks hundreds of designs.

Meadows said the ongoing popularity of Warner bulletins remains in part because the company regularly updates the designs of its paper goods, often with the advice of retailers.

“We are regularly seeking their input on new ideas, and working with them to make the church resource lines both attractive and profitable,” Meadows said. “We’re in regular contact with stores throughout the year.”


Beyond the consumables, church furniture is becoming a growth category for some Christian retailers, in large part due to Blue Ridge Church Furniture, the largest American manufacturer of church furniture that does not sell directly to churches, but works only through vendors.

“Churches in the United States spend more than $100 million on furniture annually,” said Blue Ridge owner Scott Gabrielson. “We’ve had a lot of stores tell us that church furniture sales are what kept them open this last year.”

Gabrielson said Blue Ridge partners with STL for distribution, and stores can become dealers without carrying bigger pieces in stock. Blue Ridge creates pulpits, chairs, communion tables and baptistries, and also refinishes and reupholsters church furniture.

“Just place the order with STL, and everything is handled from there, right down to the delivery,” Gabrielson said. “And when you are talking big-ticket items like pulpits and pews, stores make a nice commission.”

While Savage could stick with showing brochures to his customers, he feels it’s important to have one or two pieces on hand, especially sample chairs.

“They need to be able to touch it, sit on it, see the color,” Savage said. “I had a church member take a chair to a board meeting the other day, and now the church is buying 75 of them. You get a pretty good return on them too.”

“Seeing is believing,” agreed Gerald Derreberry, owner of the 15-year-old Living Water store in Murphy, North Carolina. “You have to have one or two of the items in stock. It makes all the difference in the world. We’ve been doing some small church supplies, but what is beginning to help us is the fact that we have started carrying church furniture. Communion tables are a big trend, and we have many churches that need chairs. We can even help get pews reupholstered.”


Innovative-2015CatalogChristmas and Easter call for extra communion supplies and candles for most churches. These holidays present an opportunity for retailers to introduce themselves to church leaders, reminding them that they can buy local. The stores can send out extra discount flyers and coupons to church secretaries during these times of year.

“Church supplies have always been a staple part of our business, but in the last couple of years in particular we have noticed a fairly sizable increase,” said Brian Schroeder for Phoenix-based Christian Brands, a manufacturer and distributor of church supplies and Christian gifts. “Where we have seen a lot of growth is in the candle business. A few years ago, we acquired Will & Baumer, a candle company that has been around nearly 160 years. It is a quality brand that has been really good for us.”

Schroeder said that almost every church uses candles for many reasons during the holidays, from filling candelabras to decorating communion tables to using small tapers during candlelight services.

“Churches need congregation candles because everyone uses them for Easter and Christmas,” Schroeder said. “We have seen that grow significantly in the Protestant market. And the beauty of candles pieces is that they are completely consumable. They need to be replaced year after year after year and season after season. By carrying these items, you can make your store a destination.”

Another item that may be needed for the holidays is new clergy shirts or choir robes. Christian Brands recently acquired R.J. Toomey, billed as “the oldest and best-known” clerical apparel firm in the United States.

“We felt like there is a shortage of good-quality clergy shirts in the marketplace,” Schroeder said. “These are great shirts in the $50 range. With our lines, we want to offer great quality at a great price.”

Savage gives an added bonus to churches that buy shirts and robes from his store. If a church spends $200, he gives them a store-branded robe bag. The bags cost Savage less than $3 each, and the choir then carries Savage’s store name wherever they travel. If stores want to buy the bags separately, he sells them for $7.95.


Retailers reported mixed results selling curriculum to churches, with increases in small-group studies for adults and decreases in children’s and VBS overall.

“Standard lesson commentaries in the King James sell the most for us,” said Baker of Dightman’s. “A lot of our black churches are using that as the curriculum because they had trouble getting curriculum from their denomination. We only stock limited curriculum now and make sure we are very careful to call all the churches two-and-a-half months ahead and confirm their orders, then we consolidate orders to get free shipping.”

Case Bibles do well, as well as DVD-driven products for small group studies, Baker said.

Savage has seen Sunday school curriculum sales drop.

“We are selling less and less Sunday school for children,” Savage said. “We still sell books for adult Bible studies and small-group DVD studies. We’re seeing more of that.”


Christian retailers hear it all the time, but in church supplies—as with most categories—nothing brings in sales better than by building relationships. In order to reach churches new and old, that may mean pounding the pavement, visiting churches face to face to introduce the store and what it has to offer. Smaller stores can work the phones when there is a lull in traffic. Hosting an annual pastors’ breakfast can break the ice, and inviting secretaries and board members may broaden retailers’ ability to reach decision makers.

Retailers can always make sure they are getting to know every customer who walks into the store.

RJToomey-ClergySummerComfortShirts“What we are finding is that pastors and lay leadership are shopping in Christian stores, but a lot of the time we just can’t identify them anymore,” Hurst said. “Their clothes don’t set them apart. They look like regular guys. If a retailer doesn’t have the time to go out to the churches, he can get the contact information of everyone that comes up to register buying communion cups in large quantities. Chances are they are not taking them home for a project. Stores should start putting a notebook together of their different contacts, engaging people in their stores in conversation and being more precise with the questions that they ask.”

Another way stores are reaching congregations is through joining marketing groups and programs to take advantage of discounts as well as catalog and coupon promotions. Innovative’s Church Marketing Solutions offers a comprehensive program with an annual church supplies catalog and three seasonal catalogs. The catalogs are custom-branded with the store’s information.

“We work with about 50 different vendors and work very hard to build and grow our church business within the retail industry, not only with our catalogs, but through our more than 200 Signature store websites,” Hurst said.

Munce Group offers a new 16-page church supplies catalog, featuring eight pages of standard items and eight pages of small group, Sunday school/children’s ministry and pastoral items.

Covenant Group and Christian Brands each offer an annual church supplies catalog. Covenant publishes a 400-page catalog for the category each September that goes out to more than 60,000 churches. Covenant provides its member stores and Parable franchise stores with the catalog. Christian Brands produces a 135-page spring church supplies catalog that is not branded, so that stores can put their own sticker or stamp on it.

Another way for stores to participate in deeper discounts and promotional materials is through STL’s Premier Partner Advantage Program. Stores that join the program receive an extra discount on more than 200 church supply items in 16 categories from vendors such as B&H Publishing Group, Abingdon Press and Swanson.

“I worked in church supplies with Broadman & Holman for 27 years before I came to STL, so I know what items are consistently in the top 50,” STL’s Barber said. “I thought we could take those top items, expand them and pass an extra discount along to the retailer when they sign up for this program.”

In addition, Premier Partner Advantage participants will receive specials on certain seasonal and best-selling products. They also will receive downloadable marketing materials like videos and brochures.


Some Christian retailers are going to new churches as well as visiting current customers, reminding them of all the ways their store can benefit congregations.

“Relational shopping is huge, much larger than people realize,” said Richard Hauhuth, director of online sales and marketing for Innovative. “That’s why we think of our websites as more of a tool to drive people to the store than as e-commerce. We offer a lot of different programs so stores can have as many lines in the water as they can. Print catalogs are still very important, but a store also needs to frequently email promotions. A lot of stores feel like all they need to do is put up a Facebook page, but they need to be able to communicate in many ways.”

Barber also encourages building relationships with churches.

“In our Premier program, I plan to give retailers tools that almost force them to get in front of church pastors and church secretaries and decision makers—those that are making buying decisions for local churches,” he said.

“I think for bookstores to survive and thrive, they need to know where new churches are starting in their area, whether at the local elementary schools or YMCAs. They are going to need consumables and curriculum. Get some face time and say, ‘Hey, here’s a 25% off coupon. Come see me.’ Be proactive, and you can use these catalogs like a calling card.”

Retailers also can build relationships by promoting the “Shop Local” theme and partnering with other businesses such as audiovisual equipment dealers that work on church sound systems or dry cleaners that handle choir robes. Offer to cross-promote each other’s businesses with flyers and coupons.

“We are right down the road from Lewis-McChord Army and Air Force base, and they are great at shopping local,” Baker said. “They buy great big cartons of bulletins.”

Derreberry reminds his fellow retailers of how important it is to simply get the ball rolling in the right direction.

“We are going out to the churches, handing out flyers and getting business now by word-of-mouth,” he said of Living Water’s recent church furniture sales. “If you can just get that one church to buy, everybody else starts to follow.”

Sagemont Bookstore welcomes new director PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 04:00 PM EDT

Retiring teacher begins new ministry at Houston store

BeckyFrenchSagemont Bookstore welcomed Becky French as the new director of the bookstore and café in June. A retired high-school English teacher, French assumed her new role in June after responding to an advertisement in the church bulletin at Sagemont Church in Houston.

 “I was teaching, and I was about ready to retire, but I didn’t want to just retire,” French told Christian Retailing. “I was looking for something, and this seemed like an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I finished teaching on a Friday and started working at the store on Monday.”

From working at a bookstore in college and serving as a missionary in Japan to teaching, enjoying good books and discussing the truth of God’s Word, French’s background and skills have helped to prepare her for the new post.

“It’s the right fit,” she said. “I really feel like the Lord opened up this opportunity for me and helped me to see it.”

French saw the opening in the bulletin while visiting her daughter’s church.

“When I saw it, it immediately connected with me,” she said. “I felt like it was the Lord nudging me, saying, ‘This is for you.’ I have a confidence that God does know what He wants us to do, and He has a plan for us.”

The store has one full-time employee—the director—and one part-time employee. Additionally, the bookstore and café are staffed by a volunteer team of about 30 to 50. The store is open six days a week, serving a church membership of more than 19,000 as well as surrounding communities. Led by Senior Pastor Dr. John Morgan, with two Sunday services, the church sees an average of 6,000 attend each week.

In French’s new position, she hopes to continue to successfully support the store and its ministry. She brings to the role a desire to learn new things and discuss ideas with the store’s customers.

“I hope to keep the ministry going as strongly as it has in the past and make it even better, but I believe the store is already quite attractive and running well,” she said. “So, I hope to keeping it going as well as it has been.”

In its 10th year, the 2,500-square-foot Sagemont Bookstore stocks a mix of books, Bibles, greeting cards and gift items. The store’s best-sellers include Bibles, church-branded T-shirts and jewelry. The café occupies an additional 500 square feet.

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