Christian Retailing

Church Bookstores
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.

Celebration Church expansion leads to store move PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:04 PM EDT

TheLoft-EntranceNorth Florida’s The Loft bookstore relocates as congregation led by Stovall Weems grows

The Loft Café & Bookstore in Jacksonville, Fla., now occupies a new facility—a move necessitated by the expansion of Celebration Church. After the 2013 move, the church campus doubled its seating capacity to about 3,000.  

 Trevor Olesiak, The Loft Bookstore & Café Director, said the store operated in a 250-square-foot space on the old campus.

The new store-café operation “was something that was designed and built in a three- to four-month period, and that really speaks to our incredible designer, so we’ve been operating in this new location for a little over a year,” Olesiak said.

The store and café share the same space, and a storefront roll-down gate leads into the church lobby.

“When we put that gate down and our doors are closed, the bookstore and café are modularly shut off from the rest of the building,” he said. “It allows us to do private events without having to open the entire building. It also enables us to be extremely connected to the building during a weekend experience.”

The café and store share the same colors, with uniform cabinetry and mobile fixtures.

“The vibe of the café and bookstore really matches the entire vibe of the whole campus,” the store manager said. “That’s something I’m really proud of and enjoy. It makes a big difference for us. It doesn’t feel like one environment in the church and then you walk into the bookstore and it seems totally different.”

The store has a youthful, nontraditional feel. Unlike many stores,  there are no endcaps, for instance.

“It’s all cabinetry and shelving that was designed to fit within the environment and theming,” he said.

The store is named The Loft because the space is two stories with an upstairs area. The second floor features open seating for about 250.

“It allows us to do cool events and things like that, from author events to summer movie nights,” Olesiak said.

One recent example was the launch of The God-First Life (Zondervan), the latest from the church’s pastor, Stovall Weems.

The Loft is primarily open Sundays and Wednesdays to meet the church’s needs.

The store’s philosophy is “to resource the kingdom, but we also want to fund ministry, so most of our items are set at retail price,” he said. “We do different promotions and sales, but we don’t do a lot of heavy discounts. Part of our story is that by shopping here, it’s maybe a dollar more expansive than it is on Amazon, or at Walmart, but you’re funding ministry.”

California church store rebrands, builds sales PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Monday, 09 June 2014 02:54 PM EDT

Crossings-HuntingtonBeachNew focus highlights service, marketing and connecting with customers

First Christian Church of Huntington Beach recently relaunched and rebranded its bookstore and coffee shop, which was formerly a combined concept called Main St. Coffee & Books. Now, the California bookstore and café are two separate entities—Crossings Christian Books and Gifts and Red Car Café.

Jon Michell, director of retail and food services, believes that branding the store and café separately gives them their own identities. The rebranding started last fall.

“In the random conversations that we’ve had with guests as they are walking through, they love the change, the fresh idea and the new look,” Michell said.

Michell said the changes are subtle with new graphics and logos as well as fresh paint. A three-quarter wall separates the two spaces, which make up an approximate 1,000-square-foot area.

Crossings stocks a mix of Bibles, study tools, devotionals, fiction and nonfiction titles as well as music and gifts.

When the café and store were one entity, “they had the same hours, and one crew did everything,” Pastor of Communications Matt Walker said. “We had cross-trained baristas that were also working in the bookstore, and we felt like they both needed their own identity to excel with what we are trying to do, so we split the two entities.”

Now, anytime anyone looks up a product, whether online, on social media or by phone, they are dealing with two separate places, he said.

Since the relaunch, there is one part-time bookstore manager who oversees the store along with a dozen volunteers that act as frontliners and handle day-to-day operations. In the café, there are about five paid hourly employees.

The store serves as a central location for staff and volunteers aiming to impact the community.

“People can go anywhere and buy books,” Walker said. “They can go online to websites like Amazon. They can find it at other retailers they like, but we’re offering those connection points for our guests. We are their local bookstore. We offer a level of service and kindness that we feel really goes a long way for what we’re doing at Crossings.”

Walker said that the church as seen a “huge difference” with the rebranding.

“Because we are branding our bookstore as a bookstore and a gift shop, we are gaining higher traffic, people are more intrigued because of the separate branding, and we are finding people are seeking out a bookstore that is an actual facility rather than something that’s online with no connection points,” he said.

The rebranding also allows for more direct promotions for each fan base such as a customer loyalty program in the café or a newsletter with new releases.

“We’re finding with Red Car Café that our coffee and café business is also increasing, due to the fact that people are finding what they want where they want it,” Michell said. “We felt like we were trying to do too much with one staff. By separating the two, we are able give them more individualized attention and the community is definitely responding.”

Living Word, church radio outreach work in tandem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 04:20 PM EDT

LivingWord-CashWrapSales at Southeast Christian’s store increase as listeners tune in on air

Readers of the Zondervan best-seller Not a Fan may be acquainted with Southeast Christian Church, where author Kyle Idleman is teaching pastor. Messages from Idleman and Senior Pastor Dave Stone are heard regularly on three local radio stations—with revenues from The Living Word store supporting the radio outreach. 

“We are on three different radio stations, WHAS Radio, WFIA and Shine,” said Dena Meade, ministry leader at The Living Word Ministry. “The intent is to get the gospel out into the city.” 

Throughout the week, messages are broadcast on air during morning and evening drive times, reaching commuters.

In part because of the radio ministry, The Story (Zondervan), subtitled “The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People,” has moved very well at the store. The Living Word sold and gave away more than 10,000 copies when Southeast went through an eight-month, church-wide study.

“There are people who have come by The Living Word bookstore as a result of hearing a message on the radio or on television,” said Cary Meyer, director of communications and creative arts. “They wanted to pick up a book because they wanted to follow along. These are people who aren’t church members, or attending, but they are listening to the radio.”

The store at the Louisville, Ky., church was built out of the vision of Judy Russell, former president of The Living Word. It opened during the Christmas season of 1998, after the church moved into its third and current home at 920 Blankenbaker Parkway. Russell and her husband, founding senior pastor Bob Russell, retired in June 2006, and Stone now serves as senior pastor of the 22,000-member congregation. 

Under the leadership of Pastor Russell, the radio ministry was established in the early 1980s and was followed by the opening of the store. 

Prior to the store’s opening, the church operated a resource ministry, which funded all of the radio broadcasts. The resource ministry sold recorded sermons and was able to generate ongoing funds to cover the radio costs. 

“Even if listeners never walk in the doors of our church, they will call in or get online to order a sermon to give away,” Meade said. “We have also seen a lot of people come forward, visit our church or come to know the Lord through our radio ministry.”

Seeds store supports guest speakers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 04:18 PM EDT

GiftsAtFrontResource center builds on interest in Willow Creek’s visiting authors

Church bookstore founder George Lindholm had a passion to get Bibles, books and other resources into people’s hands to help them grow spiritually. Planting and nurturing new life in Christ was the idea behind the name of Seeds Resource Center, a ministry of the Chicago-area multi-campus Willow Creek Community Church.

Seeds is managed by Bookstore Director Jennifer Acanfora. A 5,000-square-foot location with an extension called The Branch that operates in the church’s main lobby Saturdays and Sundays, Seeds blossomed out of an increased need for Bibles and messages by Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor.

Serving a congregation of more than 20,000, one of the store’s key ministries is to support guest authors who speak at the church. 

For instance, when the church focused on a series called “Celebration of Hope,” highlighting compassion and justice issues, North Park Theological Seminary professor and author Soong-Chan Rah spoke. 

“He had a brand-new book out, The Next Evangelicalism from InterVarsity Press,” said Receiving Manager Brad Lasater. “We were able to get that in, feature it and have it for sale. We try to feature what is both new and relevant.”

When an author visits, the store finds out what books have been released on the topic the author is addressing, including the speaker’s recent titles. 

When Gateway Church pastor and author Robert Morris came to speak, Seeds had a big promotion with several tables set up in the lobby. 

“Fortunately, his church was able to get us a large quantity of four of his titles,” Lasater said. “One of them focused on the message he was speaking about and he gave quite an inspirational message. We were able to offer the congregation a good price, at a discount, and we sold quite a few of them.”

Willow Creek is bringing in several guest speakers this summer, including Craig Groeschel, John Ortberg and Henry Cloud, so the store will be fully engaged in helping to sell their books.

<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 Next > End >>

Page 1 of 3
Read the Vacation Bible School 2014 guide