Christian Retailing

Workshops cover why and what of Christian retail Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 10:46 PM America/New_York

DaveAlmack-CLC-Unite-2017CLC executive Dave Almack believes strongly in the Christian retail store, but that doesn’t mean business as usual. Almack led a workshop at Unite based on his recently released book for retailers, The Bookstore That Matters (FaithLit Publications).

Now regional director, North America and the Caribbean, Almack is a missionary with CLC. He is so committed to Christian retail he noted that he actually raises his own financial support to be part of its mission and business.

Almack showed participants that it is possible to be financially successful in Christian retail. Through a series of “miracles and mistakes,” he said, his urban Philadelphia store grew from $300,000 in sales to $1.3 million in an extremely competitive environment. One of those miracles was when Kirk Franklin showed up unexpectedly at his store during a midnight release party of his album.

Almack discussed the passion, products and people of Christian retail. He urged Christian retailers to read books. To be a book retailer, it is a “job requirement,” he said, to be a “passionate believer in the power of books to change lives.”

He pointed out that books are “not dead” and said there are “incredible Facebook communities” who are engaged with reading. Christian retailers must tap into these groups of readers.

After visiting a general market store in Maine that seemed to do everything wrong but still “mattered to the community,” Almack asked: “If the Christian bookstore closed, would it really matter at all?”

At another location at Duke Energy Center, industry veteran Michelle Amster and Carpentree Marketing Manager Sherry Morris led a workshop on merchandising and store design. The theme of the presentation was “Think outside the box,” epitomized by Amster urging participants to see potential design elements in every facet of day-to-day life.

“Everywhere I go, I’m like, ‘I could use that in my next store design,’” Amster said. “‘I could do that over there.’ ... You can create a custom fixture of your own just by looking at something and thinking, ‘Oh, I could make that a display.’”

During the presentation, Morris put together a sample display using the design principles explained in the workshop. The pair gave guidelines for props.

Amster also encouraged participants to strongly consider attending the Atlanta International Gift Home Furnishings Market at least every other year. Without the AmericasMart Atlanta show, she said, it would be difficult for retailers to stay on top of gift trends. To supplement that market, Amster and Morris recommended using Pinterest to cultivate fresh design, gift and store layout ideas.

And The Friedman Group’s Wendi Swanson led a workshop on improving customer satisfaction. Early on, she discarded the term “customer service” and suggested replacing that phrase with “customer experience.” She used case studies from Sheels and Bata to demonstrate the power of putting the customer first.

“What are you doing so the customer leaves and they go, ‘Wow, I want to go back and see David’?” Swanson said, referring to a hypothetical employee. “That’s the difference between ‘good customer service’ and a great customer experience that rewards us with loyalty and referrals.”

Swanson recommended better employee training and accountability, and she said that managers need to clearly articulate the vision of the store and acceptable behavior for employees. In her opinion, the human touch is brick-and-mortar’s only major advantage over online competitors.

“The answer is not our product,” Swanson said. “The answer is not our pricing. Those are important. Those are not the differentiator. The differentiator is David or Jeff.”

She also supplied workshop attendees with simple ways to improve their store’s customer service, from handwritten thank-you notes to events tailored to the store’s existing or target audience.