Christian Retailing

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Written by C. Britt Beemer & Carol Schroede   
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 03:33 PM America/New_York

Two experts offer tips for your Christian retail store


Looking to learn from the broader retail environment, we asked two retail experts to answer some key questions for Christian retailers. Consider how these responses from Britt Beemer of America’s Research Group and Carol Schroeder of Orange Tree Imports might apply to your store.


What are one or two things Christian retailers can learn from the larger market about key retail practices?

BEEMER: The area where most smaller stores fail is [that] their store layout/store displays never change and the store always looks the same inside—nothing new or different is there. The end result is consumers don’t return because the store looks old. Younger shoppers hate old-looking stores, so they shop once and leave.

The other big point is the lack of “new” tags or signs on the most recent merchandise. The two strongest words in retail are “new” and “free.” When there are “new” tags on the merchandise, it gives store employees something to talk about!

SCHROEDER: Keep in touch with your customers at all times (their needs, interests and buying habits), and keep an eye on your inventory and expenses to maintain profitability. While I acknowledge that for many of us—even with stores that are not based on a religious belief—the bottom line is not the main reason we are in business, you can’t go on doing good through your business if you don’t stay in business!

What selling tips will help Christian retailers move more product?

BEEMER: Treat old merchandise as promotional objects. By offering “buy one, get one free” or “buy one, get one half-price,” you can “trade trash for cash” and then replace these “dogs” with good-selling merchandise.

SCHROEDER: Staff training takes many forms, starting with getting a new employee acclimated to the store, its products and policies—and continuing with ongoing product training. A well-trained employee can tell the story behind each product effectively and also see opportunities for additional sales. Good customer service skills include listening to what shoppers are saying and trying to fulfill their needs.

How can managers get their frontliners to feel more comfortable with add-on sales?

BEEMER: When you have “new” items or special “sale” items, you have given the employees something to talk about. Some Christian stores sponsor activities outside the store, which is something else they can mention, but I would do one other thing. Rearrange the displays in your store so employees can ask returning customers what they think.

One of my favorite Christian retailers has six private sales each year, and their employees ask if they have the right contact information to receive these private sale invitations.

How can Christian retailers best draw more traffic to their stores?

BEEMER: Your most effective vehicle is likely direct mail to your customers. Some retailers advertise on cable targeting Christian broadcasting, and buying ads on Christian radio stations also has been successful. People want deals, so you need to create a vehicle to tell the world: “We have deals.”

SCHROEDER: You need to make sure that potential customers know that you serve all denominations by advertising in church bulletins and donating to church fundraisers.

Offer special events, such as author appearances in your store, to draw people in. If you have room to host a book club or children’s craft activities, that is another way to get customers to come in for the first time and then to return.

Don’t forget to get contact information for email blasts so that you can keep in touch with shoppers at a low cost. A frequent-shopper rewards program or a birthday gift the month they were born is a good way to acquire email addresses.

How can Christian stores broaden their appeal as “local” retailers?

BEEMER: At least 60% of your store’s marketing image is the outside of your store. Does your store’s exterior appearance show up in your market, or is it the same old, tired store you built 15 years ago?

The vast majority of Americans, 85%, don’t know where there is a convenient Christian retail store. That is a recipe for disaster.

SCHROEDER: The “buy local” movement has been essential to the success of independent retailers. If your community doesn’t already have an organization banding together to get the message out that it’s important to support local businesses, you might think about starting one. ... We don’t want our customers to think of Amazon before they think of patronizing a shop in their own area. CR