Christian Retailing

Reading is our industry's key to survival Print Email
Written by David Almack, U.S. Director, CLC International (CLC Bookcenters)   
Monday, 22 November 2010 04:14 PM America/New_York

Knowing and loving the books we publish and sell is essential to our success



Almack_DaveMany of us in the Christian retail world have viewed the advent of digital publishing as just another pressure to add to the competition from the general market—but it could turn out to offer us an unlikely opportunity.

Recent media reports about the struggles of the big, general market bookstore chains in the face of the growth of e-books have suggested that these outlets' decline could pave the way for the return of the independent bookseller, as consumers seek a place that knows and loves books.

I believe that is true, but as I considered this encouraging possibility, a terrible thought struck me. Are we independent Christian book retailers really going to be able to provide the experience that consumers remember and still long for?

With all the stores that have closed and with so many great long-term retailers having gotten out of the business, are we who are left really able to take up this mantle effectively? 

After about two minutes of wallowing in the possibility that we might be doomed after all, the optimist in me returned and I began to get excited again. But I believe that the potential will not be realized if we do not seriously take stock. 



Through the years it has been my observation that the Christian retailers who loved what they did and were successful were "book people" and hired "book people." To my dismay, however, on all too many occasions, I ran into colleagues who confessed that they did not read much. 

The two reasons that I was given for this surprising reality was either they were too busy running their stores or they actually did not enjoy reading. However, in our current economic environment I have come to the conclusion that we must all become avid readers or we will die—and maybe faster than Barnes & Noble.

For those who say they are too busy to read, I refer you to the excellent Bill Hybels' book Too Busy Not to Pray, and I would contend that we are too busy not to read. 

No Christian retailer worth their salt can afford to ignore this aspect of their business. We all need to commit to put down our iPods and cell phones, turn off our televisions and take a Facebook fast. 

Making time every day and certainly every week to?immerse ourselves in the books and authors that God has given us the privilege to represent has to be one of our biggest business priorities.

This may be a little harsh, but for those that say they really do not enjoy reading, I would suggest that maybe they are in the wrong business or they need to reconsider their priorities. 

For most of us who do enjoy reading, it is one of the greatest joys in our lives. If a person is running a Christian retail store and really does not enjoy reading and still wants to stay in the business, they must at least have someone on their team who loves to read and can help instill this passion in the rest of the team.



"Making time every day and certainly every week to?immerse ourselves in the books and authors that God has given us the privilege to represent has to be one of our biggest business priorities."




So why do I remain optimistic, after all?

This past summer, I had the opportunity to get to know a number of young college students who were interns with our ministry and discovered that they really enjoyed reading, were intelligent and longed to build the types of community settings that many believe consumers are still looking for.

We had lots of conversations about authors, ideas and books that were shaping their lives. These young people are the next generation of Christian retailers, writers, editors and Christian book consumers.

I firmly believe that they will work for current Christian retailers if we give them opportunities to take on significant responsibilities within our operation—and even for the modest wages that we can afford. Their enthusiasm will infect our customers and may even re-energize those of us who have been around for a while wondering if we can still keep going.

If you do have the time to read blogs by people who love books, you will see that there is a whole community of people online longing for in-depth conversations about ideas and willing to promote books and bookstores. 

Can we dream a little about creating those types of community discussions in our stores again? How many of us are sponsoring book clubs in our stores or simply are allowing others to come and use our space for discussion groups? 

These opportunities to share our passion for books face to face with other like-minded people are the reason that many of us got into this industry in the first place.



Is it possible that some of us have lost our first love in the process of trying to create a great Christian bookstore and are now trying so desperately to keep the doors open??

 After trying every new sales and marketing technique that has come down the pike, I am more convinced than ever that a return to our first love is the key to our future. 

Far too often in the past I only asked my fellow retailers what creative new ideas they had for attracting new customers or for cutting costs and becoming more efficient. 

My new question is this: what books have you read recently that you loved and that you think I should read and recommend? 

This issue reminds me of the accusation that some pastors' first question to their colleagues is how big their church is or what new growth strategies they are employing.

Really insightful pastors tend to focus on questions relating to what God is doing in your life these days and how that is impacting your community. We need to have to courage to ask that same question of each other, with a little twist. 

Next time you see a colleague in the Christian retail industry, consider asking them how God is using books to shape their lives and what authors God has used to significantly impact their lives. 

By changing the nature of the questions we ask each other, I wonder if we might actually make a difference in the impact we are having in our local communities. 

Reading is not optional for us as Christians and retailers; rather, it is essential. Praise God that He has gifted so many people to put words together in such a way that they can actually change lives. We cannot allow the realities of our daily lives to excuse us for not doing what may be the most critical thing that any book retailer should be doing. 

With the Holy Spirit's power in our lives, we must find ways to make choices that create margin in our schedules for this vital and renewing activity.?

I am eternally indebted to the writers who have affected my life, and I am committed to sharing this passion for reading with all who I come?in contact with. 

The next time that I am tempted to simply "vegetate" in front of the TV, I am going make sure that I have a book nearby that can help me to overcome that momentary and passing temptation.