|Some bookstores prosper despite tough economic climate|
|Written by Eric Tiansay|
|Friday, 16 January 2009 11:02 AM America/New_York|
Independents focus on ‘connecting with customers,’ making their stores ‘fun and inviting’
Several independent Christian retailers have gone against gloomy economic trends, expanding their stores and adding new locations in a focus on growth for the future, despite a challenging business climate.
A longtime member of the Munce Group, Tree of Life recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with several events, including a Gigi Princess Party as well as bringing in authors Beverly Lewis and Neta Jackson. The Indianapolis-based bookstore opened Aug. 1, 1998, with 1,700 square feet, according to co-owner Sally Kerchner.
Kerchner said Tree of Life “continues to grow in customer count, revenue and outreach to the community.” Kerchner’s husband, Bill, runs the daily operations of the store, and she helps primarily with the gift section when she’s not working as a pediatric oncology nurse for a local hospital.
“Our heart for the needs of our customers in our community established our business,” she said. “There is nothing else you can do that compares to customer service. … No one can enter our store without a ‘Hello, how can I help you,’ or ‘How are you today’ from one of our staff.”
Customer Kris Hoopingarner said Tree of Life is “a gem of a store. In the midst of retail stores that no longer provide service and a friendly smile, this store offers both (and) where shopping is truly a pleasure.”
Kirk Blank, chief operations officer for the Munce Group, said the Kerchners—who serve on the marketing group’s retail advisory board—“truly work to be a light and a loving example of Jesus to their customers and community.”
Elsewhere, one of Canada’s largest Christian bookstores recently embarked on a $1 million expansion. Lando Klassen, owner of House of James in Abbotsford, British Columbia, added 5,500 square feet to the 12,500-square-foot bookstore, which he started 35 years ago as a coffeehouse ministry.
Expected to be completed last month, the expansion will add about 70 seats to the coffee shop, which will feature concerts.
“We have been doing live music here regularly for the last 10 years,” Klassen said. “We’re expanding because we are committed to offering more for our customers. Our coffeehouse has been a hit with only 27 seats, and the demand is there so we are growing. … We feel that if we have music every weekend, it will be a real draw.”
“I’ve always said that we have to give our customers more reasons to come in and not just to buy a book, Bible or CD because you can get those from many other places,” Klassen said. “So we have the coffeehouse, a used book section, a huge summer reading club for kids with about 400 kids, author events, library nights, children’s days and more.
“We have to make our place fun and inviting,” he added. “Christian stores have become predictable, quiet and boring. We need some fresh life.”
“We opened a small branch in Gaylord in an effort to expand our customer base and offset a recent significant reduction in traffic due to the economic downturn at the Traverse City store,” Jim Hatch said. “We opened our branch store in an attempt to reach customers who no longer can afford to travel 65 miles one way to shop in Traverse City.”
Hatch and his wife bought the 6,500-square-foot Rainbow Bookstore in Traverse City in 2005 from Bob and Jo Panter, who owned the store for 25 years.
“These are very difficult times and we must try alternative methods to remain viable,” Hatch added.