Christian Retailing

Church Bookstores
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.

New Hope finds success with low turnover rate of volunteers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 03:58 PM EDT

Church members are encouraged to use their gifts by serving in the Southeast Texas store

NewHopeStaffNew Hope Church Bookstore in Manvel, Texas, depends on a committed team of volunteers to keep its store operations running smoothly.

“We use volunteers for 99% of what we do, especially when the store is open,” said Director of the Welcome Ministry Jeanne Terrill for one of the church’s four campuses. “It is staffed by volunteers and merchandised by volunteers.”

With a team of about 70 regular volunteers, Terrill said several factors contribute to the store’s low turnover rate.

“We’ve had the same volunteer base for almost nine years,” she said. “We have a very low turnover in our bookstore, probably less than a 10% turnover rate.”

The church store recruits recruit volunteers, typically by word of mouth.

After a volunteer is recruited, they fill out paperwork, complete an online orientation and go through formal training, then the volunteer works with a team leader who is an acting manager.

The store uses a hands-on training process, and volunteers spend the most time learning how to help shoppers select a Bible and working on the store’s point-of-sale system. Initially, a volunteer will work as a greeter, then will graduate to the P.O.S.

Terrill said the store looks for individuals who are friendly, outgoing and helpful.

One volunteer by the name of Jess described her experience: “There is a unique element to volunteering in the bookstore, which is the level of interaction with church members. You are forced to learn a few things and have more time to share and interact. And, of course, our current teams are fun to work with.”

Another team member, Leslie, added: “For me, I am a conversationalist, and this service allows me to talk. I also can make small contributions for Christ. Mostly though, it is easy, challenging, fun, flexible and filled with welcoming team members—plus I get to shop!”

New Hope is a multi-site church with three stateside campuses—the 288 Campus, Alvin Campus and East Campus—as well as one in Haiti. Each U.S. campus has a store, which range from approximately 200-1,000 square feet. Combined, the church has 11 services each weekend, and each service has a different set of volunteers for the store locations.

To keep turnover down, Terrill and her team operate under these guidelines: Schedule volunteer time to coincide with when volunteers attend church; listen to their story and help them serve in an area that best suits their gifts; have volunteer team leaders that act as liaisons between church staff and the volunteer team to share information about new products, weekly promotions or resources that complement the weekend lesson; schedule annual P.O.S. training; offer volunteers a store discount as a way to thank them; and be sure to have fun.

United Methodist bookstore modernizes Houston store PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 03:55 PM EDT

Restyling at Chapelwood church store brings new and functional update

IMG 2073The Bookstore and Coffee Shop at Houston’s Chapelwood United Methodist Church is  refreshing its look. The store has been given a boost with slatwall to hang wall art and a modern core-board menu sign above the café counter.

“The bookstore was designed so it’s also available as a seating area when the bookstore is not open, so I have bookcases that have glass doors on them that close and lock. The wall of the bookstore is a tile wall that curves in, then has the coffee shop cut out with a counter area,” said Kris Jodon, bookstore manager and librarian.

Prior to the redesign, the flat tile wall had a menu on it, but that left little or no room to display wall art, which sells well at the store.

With the renovation, the menu was removed from the tile wall, and the space was covered with approximately 15 feet of slatwall for the display of wall art with products from vendors like P. Graham Dunn, Carpentree and Glory Haus.

Jodon said the new and improved 3-by-5-foot café sign will work better because the menu is positioned above the counter directly in front of customers who are ordering. She collaborated with the church’s communications department to create the new menu sign.

“I think it will get noticed,” Jodon said. “With our new pastor, Rev. Dr. John Stephens, we have a lot of things that are being done differently. For example, about three years ago, we changed our colors to using different tones of green. Keeping in line with that, we got new signage last fall to bring the bookstore up to date.”

The store uses signage and placement to showcase the books and studies that are planned or are in progress at the church so people can find what they need to participate.

“Anytime you do something new, your customers will respond,” Jodon said. “They’ll look up and they see that there’s been some change, and it gets them a little more interested in what’s happening.”

The floor plan for the store and coffee shop includes an approximately 720-square-foot area. The space features an espresso-drinks bar, nine bookcases, a center display area that can showcase 90-100 books face out, three small slatwalls, a Kerusso T-shirt spinner, a book spinner and three card spinners.

“This is all in addition to three coffee-shop tables and chairs, two sofas, four easy chairs and two ottomans,” Jodon said. “We make excellent use of the space.”

The manager described the store as a warm community space. It is an open space that remains usable even when the bookcases are closed and the gifts are put away. Team members also pray with and minister to their customers.

Chapelwood has five worship communities—Mercy Street, Center for Christian Spirituality (contemplative), Upper Room, three Sanctuary services and Esperanza—each unique and serving somewhat different congregations. The communities bring a variety of customers into The Bookstore and Coffee Shop—and the need for a variety of products.

Dare to make over your store PDF Print E-mail
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:44 PM EDT

Promises-SawhorseUse these five keys to create a fresh new design and layout

Online shopping may be one popular way to buy today, but a recent study shows that in-store experiences are still more valuable to customers—if the store makes them feel like they are getting a customized shopping experience.

Consulting firm A.T. Kearney recently studied the shopping patterns of more than 3,000 U.S. and U.K. consumers and found they spent 61% of their shopping time in stores.  Even better news for brick-and-mortar stores: 40% of the in-store shoppers spent more than they had originally planned, while only 25% spent more than expected when they shopped online.

Customers today have limited time and budgets, so what compels them to drive to their local Christian retail store instead of ordering online? A personalized, positive experience.

Today’s consumers head to the store for the instant gratification of taking an item home, but also to experience products and to socialize with friends and family. They want to shop in welcoming, inviting retail spaces that engage their senses. That’s why it is critical for retailers to take a good hard look at their stores and see if it’s time for a makeover.

“We are constantly moving things around, creating new displays,” said Susan Lewis, co-owner of Logos of Dallas, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this summer. “I see a difference when I do. I think it is a big deal. When I change things up, I see more movement in product. If something doesn’t work, we move it somewhere else. Just like in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. I may have an art canvas that’s been on a wall for six months. Then I move it to a new spot, and it sells in one day.”Elynn-IceCreamJewelry

“What Christian stores need to do is make sure they are rebranding themselves as current, not stuck back in the 1980s and ’90s,” said Emily Fielitz, visual merchandiser and owner of Elynn. “You do that with new colors and signage and by creating display tables. It doesn’t have to take much time or investment. You can do it by reutilizing items that you already have.”

With reality television shows, websites and hundreds of thousands of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects on the Internet offering step-by-step advice on everything from complete makeovers to the most detailed displays, design experts say there is no excuse for any store to look dirty or dated.

“We move our store front to back and back to front at least quarterly. That includes books, Bibles, everything,” said Danni Schneidt-Hill, owner of Promises in Billings, Montana. “You know the retail rule: 80% of your customers only see 20% of your product. Just by moving the same product around, customers say, ‘Oh, look at all the new stuff you got.’ It’s not new, but it’s new to them because they are seeing it for the first time.”

Consider the following five keys to learn how you can refresh your store’s visual appeal to new and longtime customers:


“Retail lives and dies based on the answer to the question: ‘What’s new?’” said Bob Phibbs, retail speaker, expert and consultant known as The Retail Doctor. “If a store has not updated in years, I would tell them to do the same thing you see on reality TV shows. Haul it all out. Take everything out of their store and clean it. Clean the whole thing. Honestly, that’s where it all starts.”

Phibbs says the advantages of emptying the store completely are many, including the chance to see old things in a new light, the opportunity to find things you didn’t even know you had and a way to give a fresh look to the store because it sparkles again.

“After that, you can add a new coat of paint or new carpet, but really cleaning everything out is the best first step,” Phibbs said. “Then we take some of the items that were in the back and put them in the front, move the shelves around, replace all the lights. Start with a clean slate, and suddenly you’ll get more optimism about your place.”

Stores should be painted at least once every three years, Fielitz suggests, because of dings, chipping and fading by sunshine and fluorescent lighting. When you paint, stick with the basics on your biggest walls, like an off-white with a little bit of gold in it, a slight brown-beige or a true beige.

“The color of the year, like this year’s Radiant Orchid, is always a fad color and will only last a year or a couple of years at the most,” Fielitz said. “You want to use really good, neutral colors on your main walls and then add what I call ‘super neutrals’ on the smallest wall or an accent wall. Make your accent wall the easiest one to paint, like a wall between two columns. Then you can change it more frequently.”

Super neutrals include true navy blue, vivid red, chocolate brown and deep gray, like the colors Ralph Lauren is known for, Fielitz noted.

“These are consistent colors, year after year,” she said. “Then you can use fabric on a wall or paper accents on displays to add in trend colors like orchid.”

Another key to freshening up your store is to make sure the light fixtures are appealing to the eye. Lights should be clean and bright enough to illuminate, but not glaring. Get to know the pros and cons of different kinds of light bulbs—fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and CFL (compact florescent light bulb).

Light fixtures can easily be created by painting old lamps or lampshades to give them a new look, hanging several shades together (like a mobile) or even making a light fixture from crib springs hung with mason jars or wrapped in Christmas lights.


Once your store sparkles, it’s time to put it back together. If you can’t empty the store, you still need to move fixtures, displays and products often to give customers something new to focus on every time they visit.

Phibbs notes that directing traffic flow with design is important. In North America, people walk into a store and turn right, then walk counter-clockwise.

“If your cashiers are in front and on the right, you have a situation where your customers who want to pay constantly have to cross through other customers just entering your store,” Phibbs said. “This limits and degrades the shopping experience.”

Keep crowding down by creating lots of open spaces and aisles. Break up your bookshelves into smaller sections. Four-foot sections are ideal, with focal points of color in the middle.

“You want to think about the 4-foot space,” said Sherry Morris, marketing manager for Carpentree. “Think: ‘How do I design this 4 feet?’ rather than just having rows and rows of bookshelves. You can add garland, Christmas lights, something to draw the eye.”

“Often, the gifts area of a store is so distinctly different than the book section that it looks like two different stores,” Fielitz said. “Break it up, have callouts. Sometimes the gift side looks like so much more fun, while the book side looks like a library. You don’t want to buy gifts at the library. Make it easier for customers to walk between your rows by adding a little seating area, or hang artwork on the ends.”

“If you never do anything else in your rows and rows of books, redo your endcaps,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Put a chair on the end with a night table and a candle with an open Bible or a book. You can do so many fun things with your endcaps.”


Rustic and vintage looks are extremely popular, and experts predict the trend will stay due to tighter economic times, a concern for the environment, the popularity of DIY and the nostalgia factor. That makes it easy for retailers to create new displays without a lot of cost or time by simply using things they already have or buying inexpensive items at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores.

One example is turning wood pallets into walls, stacked displays and backdrops. They also can be cut to make shelves, tables and benches.

“We have stacked pallets and made a garden area, screwed them to the wall, painted them and done all kinds of things,” Schneidt-Hill said. “We’ve taken springs from a baby bed and hung them from the ceiling, then hung items from it. You can use old boxes, books, just about anything to add interest to a display.”

“Right now, everything is rustic, very vintage,” agreed Vicki Geist, co-owner and buyer, Cedar Springs Christian Stores, Knoxville, Tenn. “We have a little area upstairs where we just keep everything we might use. We have a little school desk and other things we can bring down as we need them.”

“You can get old books [or magazines], like Reader’s Digest and encyclopedias, and use them to display jewelry and gifts,” Fielitz said. “You can stack a few and hang them as a shelf. Hang them like a mobile with a light in the middle, and you have a new fixture.”

Fielitz said Goodwill stores and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores can be treasure troves for retailers wanting a new look. Old plywood, lumber, windows, doors, dressers and drawers can be converted into shelves, tables, signs, room dividers and jewelry display cases. Buckets, wooden boxes and crates of different heights add depth and interest to tabletop displays. Ribbon, greenery and floral arrangements also can add warmth and color.

“A lot of stores still have the glass with brass or chrome shelving units and display cases and those just look outdated,” Fielitz said. “Sell them on Craigslist and use the money to buy some antique night tables, end tables, cabinets or fireplaces. With things like that, you can spray-paint them and do just about anything.

“Take a log and cut it into 8-inch, 6-inch, 4-inch and 2-inch risers to use as jewelry displays instead of putting it under glass,” she added. “Customers really need to see and feel the merchandise. When it is under glass, the perception is that it is too expensive or that it is cold, not inviting. It will sell better when it is more accessible.”

“A lot of my display pieces are antiques or garage sale pieces,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Right now I have two really rough sawhorses. I took an old door and put wooden boxes on top and greenery around it, then added cross vases and picture frames. It didn’t cost me anything. The old door was in my garage.

“I use accent pieces, like a guitar sitting in my music section. I’ve used badminton or tennis rackets, baseballs and footballs during sports seasons. I have a little plastic basketball hoop I put on the back side of the door, then put a table in front of the door and add a sports devotional on it.”

Schneidt-Hill says even if a retailer is extremely design-challenged and feels like he or she doesn’t have any artistic talent, simply try something new.

“You don’t have to do the whole store,” Schneidt-Hill said. “Start small and you’ll find it is easy to do. Get your staff to help. We’ve had contests for the one who can bring in a certain item from their house.”

Geist agrees that even little changes can make a big difference.

“I went and bought some paint rollers, and we turned them on their side and put bracelets on them,” she said. “Last year, we had some pieces of plastic grass and put that on the table with the jewelry on it for spring. At one of our stores, they put gift bags with the tissue paper already fluffed up in them on display right near the registers. There are about 12 different ones, and they sell constantly. We also bought some big white frames with no glass or back, and we hang those on the wall behind the registers and highlight a book or CD or DVD inside to draw attention to that product.”


A splash of color often helps sell product.
“Color is king,” said Rick Segel, owner of Rick Segel and Associates and author of The Retail Sales Bible. “Just look at a presentation of towels in a big box store. It’s the color that sells you and not the product.”

“Add color touches to displays to bring out the colors on books and CDs,” Geist said. “Keep colors together and give it a clean look, not jumbled. You can buy wrapping paper and tear a little bit and put it on table displays.”

Wrapping paper, tissue paper and fabric are great ways to add color that is cheap and temporary. Gift wrap can be wrapped around flatwall, put in picture frames, torn into confetti and taped around endcaps. Tissue paper can be transformed into flowers on the wall, stuffing for gift bags, padding inside boxes and used in many other ways.

“All of my flatwall has some kind of something on it—paper, material, tissue, those kinds of things are easy,” Schneidt-Hill said. “And if you already wrap gifts for customers and have that 495-foot bolt of wrapping paper, how much energy does it take to use some on your flatwall and then put holes where you hang things? There you have it, a new look for nothing.”

“Last year I decided turquoise was my color, and I used just plain wrapping paper with a sheen to it,” Logos’ Lewis said. “I bought rolls and rolls of it and put it behind displays, under countertops, behind plexiglass. I covered pedestals with little splashes of color throughout the store. It was a fun way to refresh things.”

 “I just spent time in Branson (Missouri) and walked a row of gift stores, and I went into one where everything was just kind of stuck out there,” Morris said. “Then I went into a really beautifully arranged store, and the difference was amazing.

“The store was filled with what I call ‘vignettes,’ where they started with a framed-art piece on a wall or table or easel that set a color tone, then brought in all kinds of product—lotions, scarves, jewelry—all done around color. It was just beautiful and felt good. People wanted to shop, and they were buying. The other store had basically the same things, but all they were selling was candy and some lower-end trinkets. You need to do some vignettes that set the stage with the products you have.”


While it’s easy to get ideas and step-by-step instructions, especially with the advent of, it can be more difficult to create your brand. Your design should tell your story, with the emphasis on the categories that are your specialty. Customers should be able to see and hear your story, to experience your mission and ministry through signage, products with a message and personal touches.

“The two biggest trends in the world are spirituality and giving back,” said Steve Slaughter president of gift company Halle Joy. “That’s why we create products with a message with every piece. When a customer sees our jewelry, it tells a story of hope or a story of grace. And when they wear it and someone notices it, it is an opportunity for them to share the message.”

Slaughter said Christian stores who see their story as their brand and develop their strengths and specialties can offer a more customized experience to their shoppers.

“Instead of chasing promotions, stores should be building their brand,” Slaughter said. “When you go into Home Depot or Fossil or Pandora, you recognize the look, the brand. When a store starts pulling together fixtures and creating their own look, they are developing their brand. People say not to sweat the small stuff, but when we design a new line, we sweat everything. We want our pieces to look good from the front, the sides, the back. We have an eye on the current trends. We pay attention to detail, and everything has to be inspired by Scripture.”

Slaughter said customers are attracted to messages of hope and grace, and Christian stores give that hope when they share their story through inviting displays.

“Stories unite people, stories create multiple sales, stories create loyalty,” he said.
Retailers should know their community’s story too.

“Know your community, so you can do lifestyle events,” Schneidt-Hill said. “If you live in a golf-loving community, set up a mini putting green and let customers try to get a hole-in-one for a coupon. Have a basketball shoot on your lawn during basketball season. Figure out what your community loves, know its story, so you can bring them in.”

“I let local artists tell their story by bringing their pieces in on consignment,” Lewis said. “There is no financial risk to me, and it gives the artist a chance to display their work. It also freshens up the store.”

Giving a store a design overhaul can be work and fun, retailers agree. And it is crucial for any store wanting to stay competitive today.

“It does take effort and energy,” Lewis said. “I look at the industry magazines as often as I can, and I am always looking for new ideas wherever I am. Whether it’s the mall or a restaurant, I look for creative ideas. I always have my antenna up.”

Lewis said if you can’t do it yourself, enlist help. She gets assistance from a designer she met at church. Other stores use community college fashion and design students who want to add new displays to their portfolios.

“I also seek the help of my staff,” Lewis said. “I will ask my younger staff what appeals to youth. I try always to be open because I feel like with merchandising and displaying things, it can always be done better.”

“Change your displays once a month,” Morris said. “Try to look at your store with a fresh eye. Go for that quaint factor, not the ‘typical’ Christian bookstore.”

“A common mistake is thinking a business has to be in dire shape to need a makeover,” Phibbs said. “That isn’t true. Stagnant sales show up before declining sales. You want to make changes while customers are still coming in the doors. As long as you are thinking forward, that’s fun. If you’re not thinking forward, you can’t compete.”

Vineyard store offers training for disabled PDF Print E-mail
Written by Production   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:08 PM EDT

Vineyard-Columbus-2Vineyard Columbus Bookstore in Westerville, Ohio, recently reached out to members of their community to provide a job-training program for the disabled. Teaming up with Central Ohio’s Greenleaf Job Training Services, the store was able to train several individuals in the work of a bookstore clerk.

Bookstore Ministry Coordinator Jeff Baker said he and his staff were able to offer job training skills, which included dusting and cleaning the store, alphabetizing books by author’s last name, burning sermon CDs and mastering basic computer skills.

“I was approached by a Greenleaf job trainer, who told me about their company that helps Ohioans with disabilities to get training for jobs,” Baker said. “They weren’t necessarily training for a job in my store, but we were training them to see what it would be like or to see if they could function in a role of a bookstore clerk.”

Greenleaf is a for-profit social enterprise that serves a niche segment of the Ohio population. The organization’s clients include veterans, individuals with learning disabilities, those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, people with visual or hearing impairments and others who face significant barriers in gaining employment.

“I thought this was a good way for us to reach out to our neighbors and to be a light in the community,” Baker said.

Baker and his staff worked with each individual and his or her job coach. Each training period lasted two weeks, but didn’t require a lot of time from the manager.

“We trained them on each function,” he said. “The job coach and the person we trained would then go and complete those particular jobs in our store. It turned out to be a win-win situation. We got to know them, and they had the opportunity to ask questions and finish each of the tasks. It went really well.”

The 3,200-square-foot store typically employs one full-time staff member along with four part-time clerks. A team of 37 volunteers assist the store staff.

“The main role of our bookstore clerks is to have a heart for discipleship and the gift of hospitality, to be warm and welcoming to people who come into the church and into the bookstore,” Baker said.

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