Find success with church-store partnerships Print
Written by Cheryl Blythe   
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 09:42 AM America/New_York

How your store can connect with and serve the local church

CherylBlytheCultivating strong relationships with area churches is vital for the Christian retailer. Church sales can drive the future of your store as a business and a ministry. With economic downturns, technology changes and big box competition, sales from churches will make your store viable and sustain your business through difficult seasons.

Churches need stores, and stores need churches. Local Christian stores strengthen the individuals and families within area churches that, in turn, fortify the church as a whole.

But the Christian retailer must overcome two hurdles to achieve these partnerships. The first hurdle is that we ourselves need to believe in the value of the church-store partnership. The second is that we have to help churches understand it. To help with this, I asked key church customers why they shop at our store, Logos Christian Bookstore in Alexandria, Kentucky. Their responses were humbling to me, and I was surprised that similar themes emerged.

1. Building relationships. Having a strong relationship was the most prominent theme in the responses. It’s important to know the church leaders and make sure they know you. Find out what, where and when they purchase materials, and follow up to show them you want to make their job easier. You will be invaluable to them as you become their research assistant.

Show key leaders of the church that you value them. In April, show appreciation to the church administrative assistant with a special gift. In October, acknowledge local pastors with a breakfast, a special discount or a gift bag. Keeping these relationships alive takes some time, energy and care. Doing so will bring responses like this one from Jenn L., director of religious education: “You do the hard work of finding what I’m looking for when I’m not even sure what that is—and you find the perfect thing! Overall, you make my ministry a little less stressful and a lot more beautiful!”

Serving local churches will gain your store quantity sales for now and win an advocate for later. When someone sees that you value them, their church and the community, they will support your store.

2. Product intelligence. Product availability and knowledge are also keys to the church-store relationship. When church leaders enter your store, it must be evident that your store is in the church resource business. When we enlarged our church resource area and created distinct signage for it, sales grew. Customers began to see that we had in stock the products they needed to meet their immediate needs. The availability of seasonal supplies—quarterly curriculum, Vacation Bible School resources and holiday gifts—builds customer confidence. Catalogs with larger items and a broader depth of titles also strengthen your store’s credibility as a church partner.

As a result of our efforts, we received this testimonial from Jim F., an associate pastor: “You keep up with trends, products and services that are shaping evangelical Christianity, so we see you as a resource and research data base to offer information and challenges for us to stay current and fresh.”

3. Shopping local. Church leaders hear from the small business owners and employees in their congregations about the struggles they face, so they like to shop local. Many also see the Christian retail store as a ministry to the community, and shopping local connects pastors with that community.

Phil H., a senior pastor, told us: “I believe in supporting local businesses whenever possible, and I’m willing to do that even if it costs me a little more than big box stores or online shopping. Local is the way to go!”

I challenge you to ask your churches why they support your store. I trust that you also will be encouraged by comments such as these:

“I love to shop at Logos versus online in order to receive personal attention,” said Chris S., children’s ministry leader. “Having a conversation about the latest VBS ideas, curriculum and trends can be very helpful when I am planning. Being able to have someone share with you the pros and cons of an item, book or study materials is valuable information to me.”

“In a day (when) it is less common to be treated as a valued customer, you always make me feel like ‘somebody’ when I visit you in the store—or even in an email!” said children’s and worship leader Amy M. “I can’t remember the last time I needed something that Logos couldn’t provide. Even when I am able to find items online, I send my requests to you. I would much rather support a local business that has been so good to me and my church in providing the supplies we need for ministry.”

Building relationships with church leaders, solving their problems by assisting with products and providing solid customer service are invaluable best practices in increasing church sales. Serving churches in Christian retail is not for the faint of heart, but strong church-store partnerships can lead to success for your store.

Cheryl Blythe has been the church resource specialist with Logos Christian Bookstore in Alexandria, Kentucky, for more than 11 years. She has presented workshops on increasing church sales at the Logos Annual Conference.