Christian Retailing

Canada’s Christian retail landscape loses more major stores Print Email
Written by Rhonda Sholar   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:24 PM America/New_York

Customer shopping habits, distributor duplication named as significant factors in changing environment

HouseOfJames-Sale// CANADA

Canada’s Christian retail landscape is experiencing a sea change. In the first six months of 2014, three major retailers in three large cities have closed or announced their plans to do so: Hull’s in Winnipeg, Manitoba, after 97 years in business; Speelman’s in Toronto after 52 years; and Cameron’s in Windsor, Ontario, after 52 years.

The latest casualty, Cameron’s, was to close its doors June 14. The store was founded in 1962 in the basement of Glen and Dorothy Cameron’s home.

“While we still consider the products that we sell to be life-shaping, the ‘local Christian bookstore’ is no longer the primary place to purchase them,” said Stuart Cameron, son of the store’s founders.

Hull’s Family Bookstore shuttered two of its three stores in March. A 50% drop in customers prompted the Winnipeg store to close in March, one month after its Thunder Bay, Ontario, location closed. The Steinbach, Manitoba, store remains open.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, the evolution of digital technology has produced profound changes in the bookselling environment,” said a letter to Hull’s customers. “Today, there are many options available in terms of where and how books are purchased and even how they are read. Bricks-and-mortar stores contend with showrooming. All of retail is grappling with global competition. The largest online booksellers are fast and efficient, and prices are often below our cost.”

Hull’s remains optimistic that its “right-sized” location will re-emerge in the future.

In February, the closure of Speelman’s Book House represents the end of a retail and a wholesale remainder business. A third stream that involves wholesaling Dutch-themed gifts, books and music will continue to operate.

These closures are not isolated, said Mark Hutchinson, president of the Blessings chain. “The key thing that retailers must focus on in Canada today is streamlining and wherever possible, looking to vertically integrate.”

He noted that one challenge is that there are too many distributors serving a niche market.
“There is far too much duplication which leads to additional costs being born by the retailer,” Hutchinson said.

“Publishers can help Canadian retailers by feeding them the latest information on their products so they can buy wisely and give their Canadian distributors good margins so they can pass those on to stores,” said Lando Klassen, owner of House of James in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Although approximately 40 stores have closed in the last six years, some diversifying their product mix are finding success, Klassen said. For instance, Verses in Lloydminster, Alberta, has become the number-one Canadian outlet for Duck Commander merchandise. Christian Book and Music Center in Victoria reduced its rent by moving to a smaller location and added a coffee bar and clearance center. Faith Family Books & Gifts in Scarborough, Ontario, added a women’s clothing boutique to its 10,000-square-foot store.

At the House of James, Klassen has increased sales by offering a used book center, general gifts, live music on the weekends, a coffee bar with an expanded menu and a summer reading club for kids.  

“Sometimes I do feel like I’m running a circus though, doing all these extra things just because I still want to keep selling Christian books and Bibles,” Klassen said.  —Rhonda Sholar