Christian Retailing

[ STORE SUCCESSES ] Building a better business Print Email
Written by Deonne Lindsey   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 03:31 PM America/New_York

Make use of these 8 tips to improve your store—and its community reach

Virtually every retailer today is seeing changes to how business is done. Shifts in marketing and promotion, methods of delivering product, customer shopping preferences, and the length of time products are considered new are all changing the retail landscape. As Christian store owners and managers across the U.S. work to stay ahead, they have found some successes along the way, offering ideas that their fellow retailers may wish to try.

1. Be Willing to Try a Variety of Events.

When Jim Pitman, manager at the CLC Bookcenters location in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, realized that Thursday and Friday nights in the summer were slow times for his store, he started brainstorming. The result was a Karaoke Kids night, which he held Thursdays, 6-7:30 p.m. With a few soundtracks and a sound system the store already had plus a couple of microphones, the event was equipped.

“We thought that parents would like to give their kids a chance to perform, and we really wanted to create a fun family atmosphere, plus we thought that parents might likely invite family and friends in the area when their child was planning to perform,” Pitman said.

The store got the word out with a postcard mailing, an email blast and Facebook posts keeping the momentum going by posting photos or videos of kids who had performed and whose parents gave permission for their children’s images to be used.

Each child who performed received a gift certificate for $5 off a $10-or-more purchase. Most of the gift cards were redeemed, many used the evening they were earned, providing an immediate return on the store’s promotional effort.

Originally, Pitman said, the plan was to limit the event to kids 12 and under, but they realized early on that they didn’t have many kids in that age range coming so they opted to allow everyone in the family to participate. While the event didn’t break any records, Pitman thinks it’s worth possibly trying again with some modifications next summer.

“You have to be willing to do a lot of different things,” the manager said. “We do some things to appeal to teens, some for parents and families, and some that appeal to older customers.”

Another thing Pitman said boosted store traffic this summer was using 10-foot directional flags in the shopping center in which the store is located to draw attention to their store’s offerings that have broad appeal. In part, the flags helped to draw attention to the store beyond the daytime when that side of the shopping center is busiest in an effort to build evening foot traffic.

2. Embrace That Project You’ve Been Putting off.

Concert---Dale-Powers-&-FriendsAs with any project requiring renovation, this summer’s remodel of Wheaton Religious Gift & Church Supply in Wheaton, Illinois, started small, and the snowball just kept getting bigger.

“After almost 20 years, we knew that the carpet was basically shot,” said Joe Taschetta, store owner. “Then we started thinking that while we had the carpet out, we might as well do the fixtures and then came the lighting, some fresh paint and finally we decided to remodel the office and call-center area.”

One of the biggest changes was the removal of a staircase in the center of the store leading up to the office and call center. Since there were several other ways to access those areas, eliminating the staircase allowed much-needed space for displays. Also added were merchandising fixtures with greater flexibility that allowed for more seasonal cross-merchandising between departments. Now, Taschetta says the space is “less like an obstacle course.”

Another important consideration for the store, which is housed in a building dating from the 1900s, was finding a solution that worked with the uneven floor of the building and was much more maintenance friendly. Faux-wood flooring fit the bill, handling the high-traffic area and adapting to the building’s quirks.

Choosing August, the store’s lowest volume month, for the remodel also made sense. And the customer response? “All positive,” Taschetta said.

People tell the staff that the store smells nice, looks bigger and best of all, they comment about products the store has always carried, exclaiming, “I didn’t know you had that!” Taschetta also says he’s noticed an influx of new, younger customers browsing the updated space.

3. Build on Your Unique Shopping Experience.

Updating even small areas in the store tends to draw customers and often leads to sales of products that were not moving.

“We realized that retail is changing all around us, so we wanted to make sure we were keeping our look fresh,” said Heather Stofer, marketing manager for The Bookery Parable Christian Store in Mansfield, Ohio. For the store, that meant an updated image with new flooring and fixtures and an infusion of new gift items, including scarves and jewelry, as well as other gifts of interest to a broader audience.

But the choice of more product was more than just a cosmetic improvement.

“Even though we didn’t decrease books and Bibles, we also know that gifts are a category that people don’t buy online as readily,” Stofer said. “Even though the impact of downloading on book [and music sales] has leveled out for the most part, we know that music alone won’t draw people into the store. They may end up downloading what they want if they aren’t in the store for another reason.”

A changing gift selection also helps keep the store visually fresh and draws in those who aren’t sure what they want but know it when they see it, Stofer said.

Another way the team is keeping the store of interest to customers is through its events schedule. Throughout the year, the store hosts a variety of events like their pastor-appreciation luncheon and a Christmas open house, as well as events with locally and nationally known authors.

One new addition to the roster this year was a concert series with local artists, made possible because one of the store’s employees had a number of such contacts. The series was held the second Friday of the month year round, taking place in the store’s conference room in cooler or inclement weather and outside on the lawn during the summer.

Promoting the concert series through email and Facebook reminders drew in some new faces who Stofer says “may never have been in our store before” and netted a consistent audience of at least 50 people each month.

4. Brainstorm Your Way to Winning Ideas.

ChocolateFountain 0044At Arrowhead Parable Christian Store in Johnson City, New York, brainstorming has paid off.

“I meet several times a month with all the department heads, and we just started brainstorming things that would be fun to do and would draw people in,” said Paul Kuntz, store manager. “Some of the women there saw the movie Moms Night Out and liked it, so the idea of creating our own ‘Girls Night Out’ was born.”

The team at the store got busy contacting the movie’s distributor and other companies that could partner with them on the event, providing items for a goody bag for everyone in attendance, offering prizes and making plans for a chocolate fountain, homemade desserts and other perks. Knowing that they had space in the conference room where they planned to project the movie for 100 people, the team got busy promoting the event.

“We sent out an email on Friday, and all the slots were reserved by Monday,” Kuntz said. “We still had a lot of people calling and wanting to come, so the staff convinced me to do a second evening for the event, and we sent out word on Saturday. This time, it was full by Tuesday.”

While he was happy with a packed house each night, Kuntz is considering some strategic changes to such an event for the future. With roughly 20% of the reserved spots being no-shows each night, he wonders if charging a minimal amount returned as store credit toward a purchase the night of the event might be a better way of encouraging attendance by those who made a reservation.

“It’s sad because we had turned down people wanting to make reservations,” Kuntz said.

5. Employ Flexible Merchandising.

In 20 years, the Kregel Parable Christian Stores location in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has grown and evolved, but not all of that shifting was positive. As a result of years of small changes, the store lacked a cohesive feel and was in need of a makeover to bring its overall look up to date.

“I had jewelry in three different places,” said Kathie Kregel, the store’s co-owner. “Being able to organize the gift product and make the area more fluid were our primary objectives.”

The store’s carpeting had become stained through the years, so it limited the ways the floor could be configured. Replacing one large gift fixture with several smaller ones also made the gift area easier for multiple customers to browse at once. Introducing fresh paint, new carpet and more flexible fixtures in a few key places, the new look was complete in just five days.

6. Reimagine What Doesn’t Work.

Rainbow-West-photo4All it took to persuade owner Rick Adams to give Rainbow West in Albany, Oregon, a second chance in a new location was its history of more than 30 years in the community, an energetic store manager and a workable one-year lease—well, those factors and Adams jokingly admits he “got a little stupid.”

When his father had a stroke a year-and-a-half ago, the responsibility for the bookstores his father owned shifted onto Adams’ shoulders. He knew that the Albany store needed new life and wasn’t entirely sure what to do at first. There was a buildup of old, irrelevant stock; the store layout no longer had good flow for the customers; and something needed to change with regard to the store’s location. Content with the success of his other stores, Adams considered closing the Albany store at first. But Manager Connie Ayers brought her experience and enthusiasm to the table, which convinced him to formulate a plan for moving the store.

He culled fixtures from his other locations, sold outdated stock at a loss to clear space, expanded the Bible section and brought in more bargain books. He also reset music and DVDs on a wall face-out and strategically added to his gift and kids’ areas to capitalize on walk-through traffic in the store’s new mall location.

“I think we often underestimate how open the general population is to an inspirational message,” Adams said.

With a new lease on life, the store seemed to find its focus.

“One of the biggest changes that has kept us successful in recent years is developing better focus,” Adams said. “I used to think that the average shelf life of products like books or music was two years. Now I’d say it’s one year at the most because prices are changing as they are released. If it’s not moving, it’s losing.”

Keeping track of inventory is still a relatively low-tech task for Adams and his team though. Using peel-off inventory tags, they track what has sold and needs to be reordered in books and music, both of which are driven heavily by new releases. Adams looks at the tags each evening and places reorders as appropriate. He also doesn’t underestimate the power of simple observation. Doing so helps him make connections on what products might sell well at his other stores, which products have simply been around too long and which items are moving briskly.

So far, the store has been doing well in its new location, showing doubled sales the first month, but Adams admits its success remains to be seen. The mall the store is in has drawn Oregon’s first Hobby Lobby and is seeing its own resurgence with increased foot traffic. He’s hoping that rising tides continue to lift all ships.

7. Understand Your Customer Distinctives.

LightHouse-ExteriorWhen Scott Gabrielson, owner of Church Mart in Rocky Mount, Virginia, made the decision to open a new store by the name of Lighthouse Gifts and Books in Hardy, Virginia, he felt that there was a need in that area.

“There’s no bookstore in the entire county, and since it’s a resort area, the clientele was very different,” Gabrielson said.

While brainstorming about how to reach shoppers in the new location, Gabrielson’s daughter came up with the name Lighthouse. It was a nod to nearby Smith Mountain Lake’s 500 miles of shoreline, and it made sense in a Christian context, but without being a turnoff to those who are not regular church goers.

Gabrielson also has been intentional about carrying not just Christian books and gifts, but many titles from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists as well as popular gift lines to appeal to local customers.

“I think that it’s easy for us to get stuck on [carrying] items that have nothing to do with [a faith message],” he said. Yet in a town where there are few other sources for such items, choosing to do so represents a unique opportunity to draw people in for more than just one item.”

The store also uses special stickers that list the store name, Amazon’s price and “our price” on books. Lighthouse aims to meet or beat Amazon’s price, particularly on hardcover titles. While its pricing may not always have the store making money, Gabrielson says it does leave a critical first impression with customers that his store is competitive.

8. Tune in and Listen for the Lord’s Direction.

Even though Kitty Jones recently closed the doors of Spirit & Life in Cortland, New York, she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the store was successful in reaching people in her community. Despite having cerebral palsy, Jones came off of disability benefits and lived in faith starting just a few years after founding the store, which she operated for 32 years. She started it around the time that one of the factories moved out of the area, and the community saw an economic downturn.

At the time, Jones said she “had no experience and couldn’t have done it on my own. [Our store’s success] was only [because of] God.”

Jones said she initially resisted suggestions that she should get into retail because her cerebral palsy made it difficult to put product in a bag, and she didn’t want people to see her struggle. But when she felt God told her He was going to move in a mighty way and then provided the finances to purchase and later operate the store, she decided to take Him at His word.

Time after time, Jones said, God guided her through the challenges of learning how to run the store by sending people she could trust to help, and He spoke to her about the needs she and the store had. One day, Jones said she was faced with a stack of bills to be paid and no idea how that would happen. After her prayer time, she went to the store and remembers how people “came out of the woodwork” shopping that day. She was able to write all the checks that were needed.

Jones frequently felt she walked a tightrope between business and ministry, as many Christian retailers do, but she received good advice early on that she used as a guide for the life of the store.

“I had a gentleman sit me down and say, ‘You’re a business. Don’t give everything away,’ ” she recalled. “After that, I decided that if I couldn’t do something for everyone, I wouldn’t do it for anyone.”

Through the years, Jones always looked for ways that the store could invest in the community, from hosting Redemption game nights, a positive activity for kids, and holding other family activities. Now that the store has closed and Jones is adopting a less hectic pace of life, she’s more aware than ever that the community really was the heart of her store.

Jones said she doesn’t miss the stress, but she does “miss the people.”

Christian book industry addresses ‘gay Christian’ controversy Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:34 AM America/New_York

CBA retailers, publishers consider how grace and truth apply today in midst of escalating issue of homosexuality

Baker Book House has hosted discussions at its community forums on such controversial topics as author Rob Bell’s views on heaven and hell, the theology of William P. Young’s novel The Shack and the doctrines of Calvinism. But it wasn’t until its exploration of homosexuality in mid-August that the Grand Rapids, Michigan, store ran out of room for guests and was compelled to add a live webcam telecast.

Manager Sue Smith said these annual discussions allow the church a safe place to freely discuss current issues.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback, good and bad,” Smith said. “A few people said it was a gutsy move. I did get a few comments from customers who thought I was jumping on the pro-gay bandwagon.”

Some objected to the homosexual identity of both speakers. Wesley Hill is a professor at Trinity School for Ministry and the author of Washed and Waiting (Zondervan, 2010). Justin Lee is executive director of the Gay Christian Network and author of Torn, published last year by Hachette Book Group imprint, Jericho Books.

However, Smith said, the purpose of the forum was not to debate biblical views of homosexuality, but to help the church and the gay community to learn to listen to each other and still act in loving ways.

“How do we do that when we can’t even sit for a civil discussion because we are more concerned with who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong?’ ” Smith asked.

However, many in the Christian-products industry feel perspective makes all the difference when it comes to homosexuality.

The weekend after Baker’s forum, Creation House author and ex-gay Janet Boynes led her second Called Out conference at Charisma Media’s offices in Lake Mary, Florida.

“It’s not enough to share the truth,” Boynes said. “We also need to walk alongside those who have a desire to walk out of this life. We need to offer the tools and resources they need.”

One Christian retailer who refuses to stock any of the increasing number of titles with a pro-homosexual or more accommodating stance finds it sad that Americans seem to rationalize the matter.

“This twisting of the gender roles has been sickening to watch,” said Donna Baker of Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma, Washington. “Our store is a nondenominational store, and we do stock books which have different viewpoints, but I draw the line on things that clearly are not biblical.”

Like it or not, Christian store owners are about to face more controversy.

This year has seen the release of such pro-gay books as God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (Convergent), The Bible’s YES to Same-Sex Marriage by Mark Achtemier (Westminster John Knox Press); and A Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson (David Crumm Media).

This month, Howard Books releases Facing the Music, the memoir of Christian singer Jennifer Knapp. A past Dove Award winner, Knapp revealed her same-sex attraction in 2010 following a seven-year sabbatical from Christian music.

Howard’s publisher, Jonathan Merkh, said the Nashville house isn’t trying to take sides but chose to publish the book because homosexuality has “become an elephant in the sanctuary.”

“We hope that readers will take a moment and put themselves in the shoes of someone walking this path,” Merkh said. “We hope it will help them understand where someone may be coming from as they open up about their sexuality and their faith.”

In May 2015, Baker Publishing Group will release Hill’s next book, Spiritual Friendship, under Brazos Press. This follows the Brazos release last May of Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter.

Brazos’ marketing manager, Bryan Dyer, said both books encourage churches to respond to gays in a loving way.

“Wendy and Wesley are voices of reconciliation,” Dyer said. “Both seek to bring healing and unity to the church. No one questions that how the church responds to its gay and lesbian members and neighbors is of vital importance.”

While some don’t question the need for ministry, they insist on maintaining support for traditional marriage.

Moody Publishers’ October release, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor by Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family, embraces this view. However, the author advises avoiding the extremes of uncritical acceptance of gay relationships or hateful exclusion.

“We appreciated Glenn’s ability to courageously and compassionately share his convictions in public debate and his ability to make genuine friendships with folks from a polar-opposite moral perspective,” said Duane Sherman, Moody’s acquisitions editor.

Michael Brown is author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? (FrontLine/Charisma House). In Brown’s “In the Line of Fire” blog for Charisma News, he addressed the topic after Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching said she is gay.

“At any other time in church history, ideas like this would not been countenanced for a split second among committed followers of Jesus who were grounded in the Word,” Brown wrote. “But today, professing Christians are questioning some of the most basic scriptural truths about morality.”

Eric Opferbeck, owner of Life Resources, a Munce Group store in Amherst, New York, said that when a customer recently requested Making Gay Okay by Robert Reilly (Ignatius Press), he insisted on researching the author’s views first.

“We would not special-order a book just to make a sale,” Opferbeck said. “For us, that becomes a bit of a fine line because we try to be an ecumenical store, and there’s a wide range of beliefs. But when it’s in disagreement with Scripture, we can’t do that.” —Ken Walker

Gospel Music Association celebrates 50 years Print Email
Written by DeWayne Hamby   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:26 AM America/New_York

GMA aims to foster community, create cohesion in Christian music industry

GMA-Anniv-Final-1-boldThe Gospel Music Association (GMA) continues as a unifying force for Christian music as the Nashville-based organization celebrates 50 years in 2014.

GMA was founded in 1964 to bring “cohesion” to a diverse industry, said Jackie Patillo, the association’s executive director.
She believes this need still exists today.

“This group of Southern gospel music executives formed the organization because they wanted to centralize the resources and bring some cohesion,” Patillo told Christian Retailing. “They were concerned for the fragmentation of our industry. It’s interesting that 50 years later, we still need that.”

Patillo, who became director three years ago, points to the diversity of Christian music—which encompasses R&B, pop, country, bluegrass, Southern gospel, rap and more—as an example of an industry whose common vision is spreading the gospel of Jesus. She wants to continue to bring more people under the umbrella of the organization, reaching beyond Nashville, which has typically been considered Christian music’s headquarters.

“It’s important to us, we believe, that as a community, we are stronger together, and we represent all different facets and genres,” she said. “And becoming a member of the GMA keeps everyone connected.”

This diversity is best displayed at the GMA’s most popular event, the annual Dove Awards ceremony, which will take place Oct. 7 at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena in Nashville. Lecrae and Bart Millard (MercyMe) have been placed strategically as Dove Awards hosts to raise awareness of the category’s wide scope of artists.

“It’s the only platform that brings together all types of music,” she said. “To be able to reveal that onstage is our goal.”

The evening will include performances and appearances by artists Matthew West, One Girl Nation, Andy Mineo, Love and the Outcome, Erica Campbell, Hezekiah Walker and Bill Gaither as well as authors Rick Warren and Karen Kingsbury. Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) is this year’s telecast partner, helping the awards reach a potential 100 million homes in the U.S.

The awards are the best way of honoring what’s happening in Christian music, Patillo said, noting a Scripture verse she found when she first became director.

“The verse [Matt. 5:16, paraphrased] said, ‘Let our lights so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,’ ” she said. “That’s as relevant now as it was 45 years [ago in the early days of GMA]. We need to honor the current artists that are making the sacrifices that they make for our families and spreading the gospel through music.”

In an effort to reflect what’s happening in today’s Christian marketplace, a new category for Inspirational Film of the Year was added, with God’s Not Dead, Grace Unplugged, When Calls the Heart, Son of God and Heaven Is for Real as the inaugural nominees.

“God is using faith-based films to reach the world,” Patillo said. “More often than not, those films are including our music.”

At the same time, the organization celebrates what’s happening in today’s Christian entertainment world, it is also charged with honoring the heritage and future of Christian music through events such as GMA Honors, an awards night to honor GMA Hall of Fame inductees, and IMMERSE, a training conference for next-generation talent.

While GMA has been inducting artists and other leaders into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame since 1971, this past April featured the inaugural GMA Honors, this year celebrating the contributions of inductees Brown Bannister, Take 6, Rich Mullins and Gaither Vocal Band.

 “It was a great inaugural event, and it really emphasizes not only the talent and their hearts, [but also] how they’re walking out their faith in practical ways,” Patillo said.

IMMERSE provides training ground for upcoming artists and songwriters. Held in June at the LifeWay campus in Nashville, the event featured author Ed Stetzer, Christian pop artist Jonny Diaz and songwriter and worship leader Jennie Lee Riddle as speakers.

“It’s very pertinent that those of us that are seasoned begin to speak into the next generation,” Patillo said.

IMMERSE has been a success because of the organization’s partnership with LifeWay, which is one of several alliances Patillo said has helped the GMA “stabilize” its events, another being Lipscomb University’s hosting of the GMA Dove Awards.

Beyond the big happenings, GMA also hosts local networking opportunities for industry leaders such as NEXT and Band Wives for wives of men who frequently travel in the industry.

“Ministry and commerce live within our Christian-label agencies and what not, but at some point, we need to know each other not as competitors, but as people,” Patillo said. “We’re trying to encourage community.” —DeWayne Hamby

Dave Thornton named Gospel Light CEO Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:23 AM America/New_York

Executive has held variety of roles at several publishers

DaveThorntonGospel Light’s board of directors has named Dave Thornton as the company’s new chief executive officer.

Thornton joined Gospel Light in 2013 as director of church sales and most recently served as director of sales and marketing. He served 17 years at Group Publishing in a variety of roles, from director of product development to director of church leadership and finally director of global innovations. Previously he worked in marketing at David C Cook.

The board and CEO are refocusing the company on the mission given to Gospel Light’s founder, Henrietta C. Mears—to know Christ and make Him known.

“I dream of a day when Gospel Light will be seen as the trusted global leader in providing Christ-connecting, Bible-based, disciple-making resources to help the church reach children and their families for Christ through products and resources that are available anytime and anywhere around the world,” Thornton said.

Board members believe Thornton is the right man to lead the company.

“The Gospel Light board and senior management team are working diligently to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century, so that the new Gospel Light will be positioned to impact the church in the next generation,” said Kathy Rowland, chair of the Gospel Light board. “Our goal is to become the leading publisher of Christ-centered, biblically based Sunday school curriculum, VBS programs and other resources that challenge the next generation of church leaders to know Christ and make Him known. To this end, the board has appointed Dave Thornton as the new CEO.”

Rowland spoke of Thornton’s “proven track record as a CEO” and ability to “coordinate management and staff to create and execute a strategic plan to achieve corporate goals, to cast vision, to build a world-class leadership team and to hold the team accountable to performance objectives.” —Johnson

Author Philip Yancey explores questions of substance Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:06 AM America/New_York

Writer and fellow pilgrim provides Christian retailers with books on subjects that meet customer needs

PhilipYancey-PortraitWhen Philip Yancey writes a new book, his publisher and his fans gear up for the excitement. Yancey’s latest is Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, releasing this month from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace is his first book with Zondervan since Prayer in 2006, according to Tom Dean, senior director of marketing for trade nonfiction. Dean and his team have revamped Yancey’s website, are organizing a book tour and planning plenty of promotional materials to keep Christian retail stores happy and part of the launch.

“Philip is on a journey with the reader,” Dean said. “He says to them, ‘I have the same questions you do, so let’s explore them together.’ ”

One of the first things Dean and Zondervan did was a brand analysis of who Yancey really is. His website,, received a complete overhaul with his input an integral part of that work. The second thing was to plan a seven-city book tour from one end of the U.S. to the other.

Yancey will visit churches that seat at least 1,500 for each of the free events. Titled “An Evening with Philip Yancey,” he will speak for 30-40 minutes on the topic of “vanishing grace,” and after a musical interlude, take questions from the audience. He’ll visit San Diego; Detroit; Atlanta; Cleveland; Auburn, Alabama; Kansas City; and Menlo Park, California.

“We are taking the creative assets of our own marketing campaign and providing them to the churches, including printed pieces, eblasts, PowerPoint presentations and website materials,” Dean said.

Christian retail stores are also part of the design, with the author planning to visit several stores in the Denver area after the holidays and taking part in Skype interviews or book club gatherings via digital connection whenever possible.

“This is a key opportunity for Christian retail to step up, and we’re looking for our retailers to deliver significantly,” Dean said.

Merchandising materials provided to bookstores will mirror those provided to Yancey’s tour venues, with additional pieces such as artwork for bag-stuffers and website banner ads available on request. Zondervan also is releasing a DVD and study guide appropriate for group and individual use.

“This is our biggest budgeted book for fiscal 2015 and our biggest frontlist title,” Dean said. “It’s the book we have the highest expectations for this year.”

One of Yancey’s goals is to provide bookstores with titles that truly sell.

“I’ve published 25 books or so and cover a lot of different topics,” he said. “People come into the bookstores with a problem, and my books can offer help. So often Christian booksellers become counselors; I want to provide them with books they can give to customers who need them.”

Yancey has a library of around 5,000 volumes, the majority of which came from Christian stores through the years.

“I love Christian retail stores,” he said. “My mother made her living with the Bible Club Movement, now BCM International, so she would go into Christian bookstores and buy flannelgraphs and booklets. I would tag along with her.”

He acknowledges the struggles Christian retailers face, but also the good services they provide.9780310339328 image

“Christian retailers need that sense of mission as well as good business practices,” Yancey said. “One thing they offer is a personal, listening ear and knowledge about a particular book that might help. Many times a person wanders into a bookstore but doesn’t know what they want. Perhaps he or she has questions or knows someone with a problem. That’s where Christian retailers with a personal touch can fill the gap.”

Zondervan has been intentional about introducing Yancey to retailers, including meeting with Parable Group retailers and a visit with Munce Group retailers.

“When you hear Philip talk about the book, he’s got amazing stories of everyday Christians extending grace in amazing ways,” Dean said. “He truly has a heart for the church. General lay readers as well as church leaders will be interested in this book.”

To retailers such as Bill Ballou, who has owned The Solid Rock in Kearney, Nebraska, for 40 years, a new Yancey title means promoting the book via displays and handselling to customers.

Vanishing Grace is going to be a very relevant book, as Christians are becoming less relevant to our society and as we react badly when things don’t go our way on things like gay marriage, abortion and healthcare,” Ballou said. “We need to act like Christians.”

Zondervan’s David Morris, vice president and publisher for trade books, calls Yancey “a trusted fellow pilgrim who helps everyday readers put into words the things we’re all feeling. He captures the important human questions, shows how we might think about them as Christians and shows us the places and ways where the gospel message shines.”

Yancey is quick to say that he didn’t want to write a scolding book, but a soul-searching kind of book.

“I really want this to be a positive book that helps the church think through what we’re not doing right, and come up with ways to do it better,” he said.

The book’s beginnings go back to his earlier title What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan), which was first released in 1997. We live in a different world now, he says, than we did 20 years ago when Christians were more respected.

“People who are outsiders to the faith no longer see what we have as Good News, but as bad news,” Yancey said. “I decided to find out what happened and how we should respond to those opinions. I wanted to ask the questions, ‘Is it really Good News, both for me and at large?’ ”

Zondervan’s Morris agrees.

Vanishing Grace tells everyday Christians, who might feel a little embattled and lost in today’s religious climate, that nothing should stop us from taking an opportunity to show God’s grace,” Morris said. “My hope is that the book will inspire and equip us to do what Christians are called to do: show love toward others. It’s biblical, achievable and there for the taking if you’re courageous enough to answer that call.”

Even U2 lead singer and activist Bono endorsed Yancey’s latest work.

“It’s a lot to expect authors themselves to live up to the magic of their words, and it’s very special when they do,” Bono said. “Philip Yancey has a way about him that can only be described as graceful. Not vanishing at all … very present.”

Next year, Yancey plans to start on a memoir.

Moody scales back publishing program Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:31 PM America/New_York

Fiction and nonfiction affected in ‘reader-centric’ move

PaulSanthouseMoody Publishers announced in July its decision to reduce the number of titles the company will release each year, including fiction under the River North imprint. The publisher also plans to continue the acquisition of fiction, though fewer titles will be published.

Moody has published from eight to 12 fiction titles annually and will now focus on publishing three to four a year. Debbie Keiser’s position—associate publisher at River North—has been eliminated.

“We’re neither shutting down fiction nor selling our line,” said Paul Santhouse, vice president of publishing at Moody. “We’ve simply reduced the number of titles we release each year, which is why we’re no longer staffing fiction with a full-time acquiring position.”

“Many of our fiction authors contribute profoundly to the lives of our readers and the strength of our line, and I hope to continue partnering with them for years to come,” Santhouse added.

Newly appointed Audience Development Director Holly Kisly elaborated on the recent changes.

“We are reducing all title releases per year, not just fiction,” Kisly said. “And as the overall count is reduced, so will fiction. Now, why we are reducing is critical. A reader-centric publishing strategy focuses on real and accurate reader content, quantity and timing needs. Our new goals are intended to help Moody Publishers become more of a forward-thinking and well-positioned publisher.” —Johnson

Agency’s special marketing programs raise awareness of Christian products in Canada Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:28 PM America/New_York

Graf-Martin Communications had ‘strong retailer encouragement’ at development stage of consumer promotional campaigns

Canadian marketing and publicity agency Graf-Martin Communications has launched Spark, a new digital street team platform, and relaunched two of its consumer outreach programs, Nuts about Books and Resourcing Leaders. Graf-Martin offers all three services to new and current clients to augment and support public relations and marketing campaigns.NutsAboutBooks

“We’ve developed, refined and rebranded all of these programs because we know that as times change, we need to connect with consumers in new, strategic and creative ways,” said Ellen Graf-Martin, Graf-Martin Communications’ founder and president. “Our clients want to expand their reach across Canada, and we’ve created simple ways to do just that.”

Graf-Martin’s clients—including Baker Publishing Group, David C Cook, Ten Thousand Villages, Sony Pictures, Pure Flix, World Vision Canada and Focus on the Family Canada—have enjoyed access to these signature programs, but now the programs are being made available to the broader industry.

The communications agency has had “strong retailer encouragement in our development of these programs,” Graf-Martin told Christian Retailing.

In May, the agency piloted its new Spark digital promotion strategy to help launch across Canada films like God’s Not Dead. Unique to the Canadian faith marketplace, Spark Digital Street Teams give products or organizations the opportunity to create “online fireworks.”

Nuts about Books is a program made up of over 250 active bloggers who have been key to the agency’s successes in spreading the word on hundreds of product launch campaigns.

“No one else was hosting a uniquely Canadian, faith-friendly blog program available to all publishers, so we happily set out to fill the gap,” Graf-Martin said. “Nuts about Books is a staff favorite. We know our bloggers by name, we know their blog statistics and engagement levels, and we’re intentional about tracking them regularly.”

Graf-Martin Communications’ key influencer network, now named Resourcing Leaders, connects with 250 national leaders and influencers monthly or bi-monthly. The heart of the program is to see key Canadian church and ministry leaders well-resourced, while giving profile to excellent Christian curriculum, books, films and other media.

“In general, our experience is that much of the promotional and advertising activities that happen stateside simply don’t cross over the border, meaning that the burden to drive consumer awareness and push consumers into stores falls primarily on the shoulders of the retailer,” Graf-Martin said. “The Canadian distributors do some marketing efforts, but they’re also limited in what they can reasonably do at a broader level. Budgets are just tight everywhere. Our creation of these programs has been designed to help fill the gap—scaling the resources so that any publisher, distributor and so forth can access them, create product awareness and drive sales to retail.”—Johnson

Social-media leader Facebook tests ‘Buy’ button to benefit advertisers, small businesses Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:26 PM America/New_York

Veteran Christian retailer says many questions must be answered before she would take advantage of the new service

Facebook-IconFacebook is testing a new feature to help businesses drive sales through the site in News Feed and on Pages.

With the feature, people on desktop or mobile can click the “Buy” button on ads and Page posts to purchase a product directly from a business without leaving the page they’re on and without leaving Facebook.

Facebook is taking steps to make the payment experience safe and secure. None of the credit- or debit-card information people use on Facebook will be shared with other advertisers, and people can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.

The current test is limited to a few small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States.

The opportunity could be beneficial for small businesses—including Christian retail stores—that have a page on Facebook.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity for savvy small businesses to generate sales in real time,” Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, told CNN Money. “This is an opportunity for innovation.”

Donna Baker of Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma, Washington, is tentative about using the button for her business.

“In theory, this Facebook idea sounds great,” Baker told Christian Retailing. “Anything to compete in the marketplace is appreciated. However, there are a lot of questions that must be answered first to know if this is really a good idea. Will Facebook be making a commission on the sale, and if so, how much? Will a purchase give the customer an option to go to the store web page? Will there be options for the customer to pick up their item at the store? If it is to be mailed, how will postage and handling be figured? Will the customer’s credit card be processed by Facebook or by the store?”

Previously, the social-media giant made another e-commerce attempt with Facebook Gifts, but it ended in less than a year. —Johnson

Central Minnesota’s Bethany Book & Gift store celebrates 75 years in business Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:15 PM America/New_York

Christian retail location was once the namesake of Bethany College of Missions—which spawned Bethany House Publishers

As central Minnesota’s Bethany Book & Gift observes its 75th anniversary, co-owner Mike Woodard finds it exciting to play a role in such a storied history.

“It’s interesting to think about the path the store has taken with different names and locations,” Mike said of the outlet, which originated in 1939 as the Gospel Art Store. “It’s adapted to changes but has always been a light for Christ in our community.”

DebMikeWoodard-BethanyExteriorAlthough Karen Gehrls and her husband, Tim, sold the store to Mike and his wife, Deb, eight years ago, Karen is thrilled to see it reach this milestone.

“I used to go to the store when it was in (founder Alice) Frei’s house,” said Karen, who still fills in when the Woodards are short-staffed. “I never dreamed that one day I would be co-owner of it.”

Located two hours north of Minneapolis, Bethany Book changed hands a couple times before becoming a namesake of Bethany College of Missions—the same group that founded Bethany House—when the college purchased it in 1970.

A year later, the newly graduated Gehrls went to serve a one-year internship at the store, but remained in the area and purchased it in 1978.

The couple ran the bookstore for 28 years before selling it to the Woodards in 2006. Deb had started as a clerk in 1988 and gradually took on management responsibilities. She calls it “pretty unique” for an independently owned store to reach this milestone.

Still, keeping up with the demands of the store in Baxter and a second business she and Mike acquired two years ago leaves Deb straining to find time to celebrate.

“Maybe it should be more of a big thing, but I’m so overwhelmed with the daily to-do’s that I can’t give it too much attention,” she told Christian Retailing.

A July anniversary sale featuring 20% to 40% discounts and several major prize drawings were the only direct ties to the historic occasion. No one knows the exact date the business began.

“We hoped we would generate some new traffic and that folks will remember to come back during the Christmas season,” Deb said of the summer sale.

After moving out of Frei’s home, the store was located in nearby Brainerd until spring 2002, when it moved to a more visible location in Baxter.

Two years after the Woodards’ purchase, Bethany Book would move again to a 3,000-square-foot home in a new shopping center, just across from a Costco and two blocks from Walmart.

After they acquired it, Tim, a real-estate appraiser, found himself with more demands on his time than he could accommodate. Finally, he joined his wife full time.

With help from four part-time staffers, the Woodards are a team. Mike applies his business expertise to handling books, taxes and government regulations. Deb oversees ordering and customer contact.

“He and I complement each other,” Deb said. “We joke about how I buy stuff and he pays for it.”

Together, the couple strives to keep their business fresh and offering unique items. If Walmart or Target stock it, they aren’t interested, Deb said.

With book sales declining steadily the past two years, a 2012 acquisition that boosted customer traffic is Character Plus. The 40-year-old business started in the Twin Cities to produce personalized name plaques and other items with scripture on them.

When the couple running that business offered to sell so they could retire, the Woodards decided these gift items would make a good addition and provide another revenue stream. They ship items internationally via website orders and deal with Christian stores nationwide.

Mike oversees manufacturing, with the display prompting squeals of delight from customers who recognize the plaques from childhood. Deb said it isn’t often this kind of specialty line lasts for four decades.

“We had a lady in the other day, who shops here once a year, who said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could still get those,’ ” Deb said. “She bought three and called back later and ordered another one. A woman just called and ordered four for her great-grandchildren.”

Bethany Book has a cadre of loyal customers, including Shelly Thelen. After deciding to follow Christ in 1996, Thelen went searching for Christ-centered music for herself and her children.

“Deb showed me Supertones Strike Back [by The Orange County Supertones], and my son and I loved it,” Shelly said. “That was my first purchase, and I keep coming back. The staff always welcomes me, and the atmosphere is pure family.”

Dona McEnelly sees the store as an inviting, comfortable place with knowledgeable, helpful staff.

“I know I can find quality cards, books, music and many more things,” McEnelly said. “Sometimes it’s a great place to go when I need a little pick-me-up and an encouraging word. We are blessed to have them in our community.”

For the Woodards, the feeling is mutual.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of customers who appreciate us being here,” Mike said. “Their positive feedback is very motivating.”  —Ken Walker

Church Store Connection encourages networking Print Email
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:09 PM America/New_York

Pastor and author Charles Stanley challenges church store staff at annual luncheon organized by Geni Hulsey

Church bookstore managers and staff—and those considering starting a church store—gathered during ICRS at the Church Store Connection Center for a time of education, networking and fellowship.CharlesStanley-ChurchStoreConnection

Dr. Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta and founder and president of In Touch Ministries, brought a message to church-store personnel.

“I know you are the ones that make it happen in all of these bookstores, and I am very privileged to be able to speak to you just for a few moments,” he said. “I’ve been a pastor for 57 years, and I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve been in a lot of bookstores. I’ve written a few books. When I think about the whole issue of books and bookstores, I think about all of the bookstores I visit.”

Stanley said he has one ultimate goal in life, “to get the truth of the gospel to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Stanley urged church store staff to perceive each person who walks into their store as “very important,” he said. “It’s your responsibility. You need to be filled with the Spirit of God—just as much as any pastor.”

The bookstore should be a “happy place,” he advised, adding that it all boils down to “how big your heart is.”

“You’re not just a store manager, you are a missionary, chosen by God,” he said.

Two church-store workshops also were offered. The “Back to Basics” session was led by a panel of church-store experts, including Rachel Savage of The Chapel Store in Melbourne, Florida; Janet McKinley of The Bookstore at First Baptist Church, Atlanta; and Jeanne Terrill of New Hope Church in Manvel, Texas.

Susan Chipman and Carolyn Bilger, both of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, presented the “Café Conundrum” workshop with advice on operating  a café or coffee bar.

“The retail business is a completely different business from the restaurant business,” said Chipman, director of retail services. “You need to have someone owning each part of that because they are completely different.”

Geni Hulsey, church bookstore consultant and the event’s organizer, said the purpose for the center was to give church stores an opportunity to connect.

“Operating a church bookstore and issues within the store are different from an independent store or a chain store,” Hulsey said.

Sixty church-store staff registered for the event, but more than 80 attended the luncheon. Vendors, including Send The Light Distribution, Rose Publishing and 1Eighty Apparel, have been supportive of sponsoring the Church Store Connection Center. —McCabe

Howard Books comes awash in top authors Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:05 PM America/New_York

Robertsons of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ Darryl Strawberry sign books

JackSavage-RobinJonesGunnJune’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) offered retailers a chance to see the newest books, place orders, hear from authors and meet them face to face.

Publishers ranging from big names such as Harvest House and HarperCollins Christian Publishers to smaller houses such as Beacon Hill Press and Evergreen Press offered retailers an avenue to see upcoming books and take away signed copies.

Howard Books brought a number of top-draw authors for signings, including Karen Kingsbury (The Family of Jesus), members of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson clan (Happy, Happy, Happy and The Duck Commander Devotional); and Darryl and Tracy Strawberry (The Imperfect Marriage).

At Crossway, Shirley Dobson and daughter Danae Dobson chatted with retailers while signing Welcome to Our Table. At Baker Publishing Group, Cecil Murphey autographed the 10th-anniversary edition of 90 Minutes in Heaven (Revell). The Tyndale House Publishers’ booth was busy with signings. Susan May Warren was one of many, autographing Take a Chance on Me, her 2014 Christy Award winner. Retail group Munce brought in Robin Jones Gunn and Cindy Woodsmall.

Charisma House came to the show with a big presence—a tour bus that was used to promote its Modern English Version Bible as well as God Less America, a new FrontLine book from FOX News’ Todd Starnes, who also signed copies at the show.

Book publishers’ booths ranged in size and scope as well. Some, such as Hendrickson Publishers, brought the company’s entire line to showcase, while others, such as FaithWords/Hachette Book Group, had just a meeting room on the floor.

Many publishers had smaller booths, including David C Cook, which brought to the show best-selling author Kyle Idleman (AHA), who spoke at several events.

“People have scaled back the size of booths, which is appropriate,” said Marilyn Largent, vice president of sales at David C Cook.

Yet Largent was excited about the opportunities for retailers.

“Retailers were getting to connect with Kyle Idleman,” she said. “They now get to go back and talk to their customers about him.”

Hendrickson’s signing with women’s author Lane P. Jordan had a higher-than-expected turnout.

“ICRS is always a consistently busy show for us because we bring all of our product, and people like that,” said Meg Lynch, marketing coordinator for Hendrickson. “We write a lot of orders.” —Ann Byle