Structured for ministry Print
Written by Kevin Ferguson   
Thursday, 25 February 2016 09:08 AM America/New_York

KevinFergusonOwner’s pastorate, used book program help to offset costs

If someone would have told me in seminary I would be the owner of a Christian bookstore, I would have laughed. But God is the expert at directing our lives in such a way that my wife and I are humbled and awestruck.

My story of becoming a business owner is not one I could have orchestrated if I had tried. Despite my initial hesitancy, Willamette Valley Christian Supply opened its doors on April 3, 2014. After receiving over $216,000 in donations, the support of community pastors and churches, input from two previous owners of our store, advice from business mentors and the blessing of a very gifted wife, we were off and running.

But owning a Christian bookstore in today’s economy often doesn’t make sense, financially speaking. Online competition, low customer support for local brick-and-mortar stores and hard decisions every day can cause an owner to question such a venture—but I’m thankful for God’s leading. The divine appointments we have with customers daily remind me that our store is God’s business and ministry.

We see several ways God is using us. One of those is in supplying churches with resources to meet their ministry needs. Another is providing a place that has a Christ-centered atmosphere for our customers to enjoy.

Perhaps the most personal is when we get to pray or encourage an individual facing difficult circumstances. We pray that God will continue to use our small store in big ways. Oh yes, and in His amazing provision, He has allowed me to continue to fill the pulpit. With my salary from a part-time pastoral position at a small church—tentmaking in the biblical sense—we will be able to change our payroll structure, making our business more viable.

We also run a pre-owned book donation program. Customers donate the books, so as a thank you, we give 20 percent off any regularly priced item. The purpose of the program is to help offset labor costs, and we have been able to keep our current staff in this difficult economy.

Like many Christian retailers, the major reason we purchased the store was for the opportunity to minister in our community. Each day we look for God’s divine appointments with our customers, and in any given week, we meet individuals dealing with loss, grief, serious illness and economic challenges. We also get to participate in guests buying their first Bible, help with gifts for those getting baptized and share Christ with those who do not yet know Him. Our store has been often labeled a place of refuge where people can unwind from the world’s difficulties.

As my fellow Christian retailers are well aware, the challenge for us all is balancing the ministry with the business. We have been blessed with no start-up loans or debt, but like many others, we are facing economic challenges, so we have chosen to concentrate our efforts in three key areas:

1. Mission over money. This allows us to aid the guest in finding the right item without the pressure of just trying to make a sale. It means listening, asking questions and pursuing their true needs.

We also have made an ongoing effort to connect with local churches. Much of our business comes from filling orders for Bible studies, curriculum and church supplies. Our relationship with the churches is the bread and butter of the store. This requires our staff be in touch with churches in our region on a regular basis.

To help offset our store’s low traffic, taking the initiative to call for outside sales is critical rather than simply waiting for customers to come to us. I often will make a phone call and place an order.

2. Stewardship. We set personal and staff goals monthly. Creating sales goals motivates us to share with guests new products, store sales and special promotions.

3. Inventory structure. We purchase gifts, remainders, closeouts and bargain books. This helps us gain the maximum margin possible while giving the guest a sale price that truly competes. One practical tip I learned from my Christian retail work with Tree of Life is to keep the POS area stocked with multiple products priced at $4.97 for impulse buys. We also make it a priority to do product returns for credit with our major vendors. This allows our store to continue providing quality merchandise with an appropriate sales strategy.

I confess that we are a mom-and-pop store struggling to maintain sales, but we are making some changes early this year that we pray will benefit our business and our guests.

All in all, I’m deeply thankful that God knows what is best in our lives even when we feel inadequate. We’re in good company. Moses felt that way just before leading the people out of Egypt. May God be praised!

Kevin Ferguson and his wife, Krista, own Willamette Valley Christian Supply in Corvallis, Oregon.