Christian Retailing

Retail successentials December 2014: Make your retail life easier by avoiding supply chain pain Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:28 AM America/New_York

Employ these simple steps for handling product for your store

BillNielsenInChairAre in-bound freight costs killing your store? Do you know how much it costs to cut each purchase order, receive against it and pay the invoice? How much are vendor returns costing in terms of labor to process and the cost to ship the goods back? Have I got your attention yet? If so, it’s time to examine some of the Retail Successentials of managing your supply chain.

Once upon a time, retailers talked about J.I.T. or just-in-time inventory management: Order less product more often. But for many stores, not having the right technology and replenishment logic meant that J.I.T. stood for just-isn’t-there.

There is a fine line between the two. Step too far one way and you’ll find that you cannot sell what you do not have. Wander the other direction and you drive freight costs through the roof. Move too far and you kill your inventory turn and tie up too much stock, which can starve your business of much-needed operating capital.


Working toward an optimal supply chain is tedious, but remember the old adage: “Retail is detail.” Since we live on pennies of profit per dollar, remember that this will help you find another penny or two for every dollar of sales.

First, know your costs. You cannot make smart supply-chain decisions until you know how much each option will cost you. On average, in-bound freight costs will run 3-4% of retail. Creating a purchase order may only take 15 minutes of labor, but receiving it can take much longer. Processing the receiving documents and paying the vendor also creates some cost for every purchase order you cut.

With returns to the vendor, outbound freight costs can run as much as 6-8% of the retail value of the goods. The costs of hunting and finding the goods, removing price labels and processing the return are also much higher than the labor to simply receive goods.

Last, but not least, what discount and other purchasing terms—like freight, billing and co-op—does each vendor and distributor offer? Getting an additional 30 days of dating on every purchase order can add as much as 2/10 to your inventory turn, freeing up cash flow and building profits.

Estimate your costs for these functions, as this data will help you make the best possible supply chain decisions.

Next, examine where and how your products are coming in and going out. Break down your shipments by carrier. What percent of your purchase is made directly from the vendor, and what percent is made from each distributor? Be sure you also have a good handle on minimum-order thresholds from each vendor and distributor.


With this data in hand, begin to develop your supply-chain strategy. Answer these questions:

Where is the best source for me to order each vendor’s product? Ordering directly from the vendor may or may not be the lowest-cost option. Since free freight is worth approximately 4% of retail, consider the terms each vendor offers, and think about saving by ordering from a distributor all at once versus placing multiple smaller orders from a number of vendors. A distributor order will save you money when the vendor offers you less than the 5% more than you can get from the distributor. I say 5% because you can often get free freight worth 4% from the distributor, and by consolidating your order, you certainly reduce the number of invoices you have to process, and you may even qualify for other distributor incentives such as additional dating.

When should I replenish each item? While the answer to that question varies, here are some common practices:

Stock your never-out items deep enough that you have an eight- to 10-week supply. Set your reorder point when you reach a six-week supply.

Stock your remaining core assortment in quantities of one, or two as sales permit. Reorder as soon as you sell one.

Seasonal items are best bought one time only with no replenishment. Many of these items are nonreturnable.

Promotional items should be ordered four weeks before the start of the promotion and be replenished until you are 25% through the promotion. This will help you stay in stock but not have an order arriving late.

How can I best manage returns to vendors? The best return is no return. That’s said, if you are overstocked, the worst thing you can do is keep nonproductive inventory.

Before you pull the trigger on the return, consider moving the item to your sale table. Selling at cost is better than returning it for a loss just to get your cost back. You end up paying freight, spending labor and sometimes incurring a restocking fee. Many vendors will find creative ways to help you sell through the goods rather than return them.

Going through the above process not only keeps your cash flow moving, but also can help your store grow sales and increase profitability. And who doesn’t want that?

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Independent Thoughts December 2014: Greet, meet, write Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:23 AM America/New_York

DaveSheetsNaturally, bookstores are a popular gathering place for book clubs. But have you thought about inviting writers’ groups to your store?

What’s more natural than for writers to come together within the walls of a bookstore surrounded, literally, by volumes of inspiration, to critique, share and brainstorm?

Indie bookstores are fast becoming the place for writers’ groups to meet. So, how can independent Christian retailers help tomorrow’s best-selling authors by offering them the use of their stores for meetings and, by doing so, also serve as a valuable resource for their customers who wish to purchase books on the craft of writing?


You can assess the interest factor for in-store writers’ groups in a number of ways, including via email correspondence with your opted-in customer list, through a poll on your website, as the subject of a blog entry or Facebook post, on a sign-up sheet at the cash wrap or simply by talking casually with your customers. You also could reach out to local churches and ministries to locate potential group members.

Hit the ground running with your writers’ group(s). Have an organized plan, including a schedule and a strategy for keeping group  members engaged—and for growing the group, too.

Recruit one of your team members, a writer/customer or a local Christian author to head up the group. Don’t forget to ask potential members if they’d prefer specialized groups or just one general group. Or start small and work your way up to additional groups segmented by genre.


If you’re getting active interest in starting—or adopting—a writers’ group, you’ll want to assess whether to start with just one general group that addresses multiple genres or offer a few smaller groups that focus on specific genres.

ABA bookstore Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, plays host to several writing groups, which the store locates strategically next to its café. The groups are free to attend and always open to newbies and drop-ins. The store has one person in charge of the groups and directs those with inquiries to that person’s email on the store’s website.

Village Books offers four writers’ groups organized by genre—Fiction, Nonfiction & Memoir, Poetry and Speculative/Science Fiction—with each group meeting twice per month. The store also hosts a special writers’ group for teens, Friday Night Writes. This group meets most every Friday from October to March in the early evening. Free to ages 15 to 18, the group is sponsored by a local young writers’ organization and includes a one-day teen writing conference in the summer. What a great way to get young people interested in writing!


Now that you’ve got a reasonable number of people interested in forming a writers’ group at your store (or an established group looking for new digs), what’s next?

First, make sure you have space for the group to meet. Perhaps you have a meeting room or a reading space already built into your store design. If not, locate an area of your store with sufficient privacy to allow the group to share and discuss without disturbing customers—or vice versa. One store in Copell, Texas, Corban Christian Store, made all of its shelving units, endcaps and most of the store’s displays mobile by installing wheels on them. Moving the displays to make space for meetings and other events in this small store is a snap—and moving everything back takes mere minutes.

You also might wish to open your doors to your writers’ groups during exclusive times or days your store is not typically open. Of course, you will incur expenses for utilities and staff time, but if you also make it a time for the groups to do some shopping, you could definitely justify the cost—which leads us to the next step.


Now that you have a group of writers gathering in your store to “talk shop,” you need to be prepared to provide them with the resources they need to become even better writers. Explore the variety of books available that focus on the craft of writing. Consult with distributors and sales reps for their input on the titles that would be beneficial to your writers’ group members. Be sure to include other tools of the trade: dictionaries, thesauruses, quotation books, style guides, grammar and usage books, and so forth. You also may want to include curriculum from writers’ guilds and conferences.

Set up a display of these resources in a special section adjacent to where the group will meet. Offer special discounts to group members. Hang a bulletin board nearby to display information on upcoming writers’ conferences or college classes. Make your store a “one-stop shop” for all things writing. You could even include gift items that would appeal to writers such as mugs, pens and journals.

And if you don’t have a café, be sure to offer coffee and tea to your writers’ group members as a good host would.


Once your writers’ group is off the ground and meeting regularly, include its meeting information on your website. A separate tab or banner will draw more attention. Be sure to include your store’s appointed contact person’s name and email address so he or she can field inquiries. Include a picture of the group having a good time at one of their meetings!

If you have a Facebook page, share information about the group there as well. Ask members to comment on the group’s meetings, encouraging new members to join. Likewise, use Twitter and any other social media you’re tapped into.

Blog about the group, too! Invite members to talk about the group in their blogs. Since many writers have blogs, this is a natural. Employ grassroots marketing at its best!


Just as you may invite authors for in-store book signings or book club meetings, make the effort to invite authors, teachers, professors, journalists, publishers and those of similar professions to your writers’ group meetings as guest speakers. They will inspire, educate and draw new members to the group.


Think of how exciting it would be for your writers’ group members to be able to share their published books with your customers. Having an in-store writers’ group is a wonderful way to cultivate your own local authors and help build your sense of community (see last month’s column for more on that). Consider contacting a self-publisher to see if there is a way you can work with them to offer a program for your writers’ group authors once they’re ready to seek publication of their books. This will help bring the group full circle in your store—from book lover to book writer to published author.

When you think about it, isn’t it completely natural for an author to find inspiration, guidance, camaraderie and education in a bookstore? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to become a better writer surrounded by shelves of books from some amazing authors? Yes and yes.

Help make it happen in your store. Provide the location for inspiration for writers as well as readers. It just makes sense.

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Retail Successentials November 2014: Learn how to best employ your retail space to grow profits Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 02:23 PM America/New_York

Do the math to manage stock-to-sales-to-space in your store

BillNielsenInChairTake a look at your store through your customers’ eyes. See any empty or nearly empty spaces? Have you ever thought, or been told by others, that an area of your store looks too bare or another is crammed so full you need a shoehorn to restock?

Such observations can be a point of contention between store operating staff and those who handle purchasing. The typical scenario is one where the buyer(s) can honestly say that their stock levels are right in line with sales—stock-to-sales ratio is spot-on—but team members are frustrated by how there are empty shelves in one area of the store, while another area is overflowing. What’s missing in this equation?

The mistake many retailers fall into is buying to sales, but failing to align space to sales as well. Sales must be the driver of both, and a coordinated, ongoing effort to sync sales with the inventory plan and the space allotted for each department is required to make any given retail location more profitable.

Managing your stock-to-sales-to-space is truly one of the final frontiers of retail. It is almost entirely science. Let’s examine some of the basics that must be addressed before the stock-to-sales-to-space process will work.

Inventory Accuracy

One of the most common problems retailers face is the lack of accurate quantity-on-hand in their system. You cannot sell what you do not own. Solve this with a good annual physical inventory and periodic cycle counts.

Open Purchase Orders

It is not uncommon for every retailer to have older, unfulfilled purchase orders on their system. You cannot sell quantity on order. Solve this by looking at the dating of every open order and cancel the older orders that will not be filled by the supplier to free up open-to-buy dollars and enable accurate replenishment.

Fixture Audit

Walk through your average retail store, and you will find a bare spinner rack somewhere. Beyond sending a poor message to your customers, this is weak stewardship of the 2-4 square feet each of these fixtures takes up and on which you are paying rent. Solve this problem by making a list of every approved vendor-provided fixture or those you plan to replenish and then get rid of any fixture that is not on the list.

Sales History

Secure sales history by year for the past two to three years. Do this for each department at a minimum. This will give you the sales data you need to sync your assortments and store space.


Secure by department your inventory dollars and subtract any returns in transit while adding any open purchase orders that remain after the cleansing process. This will reveal your current inventory commitment.

Space Audit

Obtain a layout of your store that shows available square footage on the sales floor as well as measurements for each major department/category.

Having completed all of the above, it is time to sync your inventory and space to sales. To do so, follow these steps:

First, take your annual sales and multiply by your average cost of goods percentage.

Next, take your annual cost of goods and divide by the inventory turn goal you have set. Remember, some products naturally turn faster than others, so be sure to have a separate turn goal for each department or category. The resulting number is your inventory budget for each area. The difference between your budget and current cost of goods on hand plus any open orders is your open-to-buy for each department. Staying within this budget will ensure that you do not under-buy or over-buy for each area.

Lastly, divide the above inventory budget by the average cost per unit for the product in that department. This will tell you how many units of product for which you need space. Divide this number by the average number of units that fill a shelf and you can quickly calculate how much space you need for each department. Once you have this number, allocate space and fixtures to each department based on how much inventory you expect to find.

The process can be daunting, but the disciplines of living by sales data for planning inventory levels and space allocation can yield significant incremental sales over not doing so. The upside of right-sizing may make it worth it to some retailers to reach out to a company that can help. Keep in mind, however, that this is not about a remodel, but rather a re-utilization of your space, so select outside help carefully.

Practice these Retail Successentials, and like Goldilocks, you will find your inventory levels to be just right.

NEXT ISSUE: We will look at how to optimize your supply chain and flow of goods to maximize sales and reduce freight costs.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Independent Thoughts November 2014: Show your hometown pride Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 02:14 PM America/New_York

Engage the wider community—not just Christians—with the help of independent authors and ‘shop local’ campaigns

DaveSheetsCommunity is about bringing people together via a common interest for the common good, taking pride in one’s hometown. Local authors can become “local celebrities” with the help of local bookstores that give back to the community by engaging its residents. American Booksellers Association (ABA) independent bookstores have been doing this for years, but Christian bookstores can use similar methods to bring their community together—and into their stores.

Host or Co-Host a Themed Event

Some books will lend themselves to specifically themed in-store events better than others. Take advantage of that and work with independent publishers and their authors who are local to you to arrange a special event that encourages your community to gather at your store.

You can also partner with other local businesses on events, thereby building a “shop local” mentality in your community. As part of their new “Book/Plate” series, Greenlight Bookstore, an ABA store in Brooklyn, New York, partnered with neighbor Peck’s Specialty Foods to host an event for Francisco Goldman, author of The Interior Circuit. The series features events that include dinner with an author and a copy of his or her book. Greenlight’s Jessica Stockton Bagnulo called the event “a super lovely evening of food, camaraderie, a brief reading by Francisco and lots of book signing and chatting.”

The point here is to get creative with ways you can help local authors build recognition and a following within your community, thereby helping you increase your customer base. Make it fun, educational, informative, relational—whatever works with the book/author you’re promoting.

Celebrate Books and Community

People love to talk about books. What better way to encourage foot traffic in your store than to open your doors wide to the community at large to celebrate books? Add to this a celebration of local and independent authors along with community goodwill, and you’ve got a great opportunity to share your store with locals, increase your customer base and become an example of Christian care and compassion within your community. In addition to inviting church groups, pastors, ministry teams, youth groups and entire local congregations, invite the whole community. Make it about celebrating the wonder of books!

BookPeople is a local independent bookstore in Austin, Texas, that focuses heavily on the community. On Aug. 16, during the store’s quiet season, BookPeople threw open its doors to the local community in celebration of all things books—and all things Austin. They offered entertainment, prizes, snacks, conversation groups, a literary trivia contest, story times, a movie screening, author appearances and more in their store. The store’s co-owner, Steve Bercu, worked with the local news media to ensure the community was aware of the event. The local response was enthusiastic, and the store’s typical Saturday traffic was up by more than 1,000 people that day—and sales were up by 35% for the day.

“In terms of our store, what matters is the enhanced connection with our customers that something like this allows,” Bercu said. “This is goodwill, and this is relationship building. The idea is that our customers participate in the fun and appreciate the store more because we did it. It’s not about selling stuff; it’s about having fun and liking this place because that’s what will bring customers back here forever.”

Honor Your Independence

Independent bookstores have every reason to celebrate what makes them different from other book sources. Perhaps one of the best reasons is the ability to share with customers the latest and greatest independently published books. To do this, though, booksellers need to build relationships with independent publishers and their authors.

What makes the independent Christian bookstore special makes independent Christian publishers and independent Christian authors special as well. We all have chosen to go our own route instead of the path of traditional publishing and corporate bookselling. We have the autonomy to make our own decisions based on our personal and professional values and goals. As a Christian retailer, you likely also have chosen this career to broaden your ministerial reach and help people find Christ-honoring books and resources that will enrich them throughout their life journey. Putting your customers and community in touch with independent authors of whom they may not otherwise have learned is a service you can provide as an independent bookstore.

Celebrate your independence by making it a point to connect with independent publishers. Work with them on programs to get their independent authors’ books on your shelves. Promote those books daily in a special section specifically for independently published authors, and expand that section with a “local authors” subsection. Share those books and authors with your community. Display them prominently in your windows. Show your community that you care about your local authors!

Get Involved in ‘Shop Local’ Campaigns

Don’t be the only store in the strip mall or on the block that doesn’t take part in your community’s shop-local campaign. As a matter of fact, make sure you’re one of the stores that is instrumental in organizing the campaign! “Community” doesn’t just comprise customers—it also includes your fellow business owners.

Such campaigns encourage people to keep revenue in their communities. By shopping locally, consumers are contributing to the economic sustainment—and, hopefully, growth—of their town or city. Shop-local events offer the perfect opportunity to promote local independent authors in your store.

Promote Community History

In addition to Christian titles, you may want to consider including books that provide information on your community’s people, natural environment and history.

The website for ABA store Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, sees independent authors as a plus in the community. The store site reads: “With technology giving us new ways to print, publish and promote books, there are more authors who choose to sell books individually or through small local presses. This is a great bonus to local communities, as more of our neighbors print their stories or delve into local history. But sadly, the reality is that these books are hard to find on the web because the large wholesalers who provide web databases for bookstores do not include them in their inventory. Good news! Here at Village Books, we carry many of these local, independent and small-press books. … Although not all books are listed on the web, all our books at Village Books are listed in our in-house inventory database (new and used), and we are always happy to look up a book or author you might find of interest. … We love to promote our local authors.”

Your bookstore exists to provide your community with the Christian resources they need. Carrying independent books and promoting local indie authors is a great way to become involved in your community. Be creative in finding ways to engage your community in your store. Your customers will come to appreciate you even more!

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Retail Successentials October 2014: How to plan profitable product assortments for your store Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 08:58 AM America/New_York

Manage your product mix to maximize sales year round

BillNielsenInChairGMROI mystifies many a retailer, but the acronym stands for a factor so critical for your store that you should know what it is and why it’s beneficial. But if you don’t get it, you are not alone, as a large percentage of retailers do not fully understand its value. GMROI stands for Gross Margin Return On Investment and is the single most important metric to retailers.

Why is it so significant? At a glance, GMROI is a ratio that will tell you how healthy your inventory is and exactly how much profit you are making for every dollar of stock on your shelves.


Now that I have your attention, let me show you how to calculate your store’s GMROI. Follow these three simple steps:

1. Determine your average inventory at cost. Start by adding the starting cost of inventory for a 12-month period and add to that number the ending cost of inventory for the 12th month as well. The sum of these 13 values is then divided by 13 to get your average inventory at cost.

2. Calculate your gross margin for the same 12 months. Next, take your total sales number for the 12 months and subtract from it the cost of goods sold during that period. The result is your gross margin.

3. Divide your gross margin by your average inventory cost to calculate your GMROI. The result is a ratio that represents how much profit you make on every dollar of inventory you stock on average. The higher the number, the better you are doing.

So what drives GMROI? Even when customer traffic is down and sales are hard to come by, you can increase your GMROI dramatically and thereby improve cash flow and profitability by making sure you are managing your inventory effectively.


The best strategy for inventory management includes a careful combination of the following:

Your first return or markdown is always the cheapest. By this, I mean having inventory on hand that is not selling costs you money every day. Get rid of nonproductive stock as soon as you see it and as quickly as you can. Run a “not-sold-since” report that shows you how long a product has been sitting on your shelves. If you do not have a system that will do this, you may want to consider getting one, as such investment will pay for itself in short order by freeing up valuable open-to-buy dollars. Any item that has not sold in more than 90 days is suspect. Items that have not sold in more than 150 days need immediate action.

Don’t fear the cost of returns or even the pain of selling items at or below cost. You are far better off to take an item that cost you $1 and get rid of it for 75 cents so you can reinvest that same 75 cents in something that will meet the needs of your customers and make you money rather than stock items that no one wants.

Be sure you are in stock on what customers expect to find. Identify what products are hot or, based on seasonal reports, what is about to be hot, and invest appropriately in those items. Include advertised products in your focus as well. Keep doing this by stocking and replenishing fewer of the right products more often.

Trying to take these steps manually and consistently across hundreds or thousands of products is just not practical. The issue is compounded even more by the retail best practice of managing different classes of inventory differently. Consider the need to manage new releases, best-sellers, core items that sell well and seasonal items—all based on their unique and respective characteristics.

The good news is that the cost to have a world-class merchandising solution has come down dramatically in recent years. Small retailers can replace their POS and inventory-management systems for as little as $1,500 up front and $99 a month with a tool that will perform as well as the very expensive systems that could only be afforded by the largest of retailers in the past.

Take care, however, as replenishment systems are like shoes: Most look great, but not all of them fit well or wear well for the long haul. Be sure to do your homework and get the advice of someone who will take the time to get to know your business and has your best interests at heart. If you’re still using technology from five or more years ago, you will be pleasantly surprised with how investing in a new retail solution will pay for itself in a very short time and then drive incremental profits for years to come. Do your homework and don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional in your area, or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for fast and free help in finding a local provider. In the meantime, manually check for old stock by walking your aisles and noting the dates on the pricing labels.

Lastly, sell it before you own it. Taking orders and shipping product to the customer means you get paid before you have to pay for the inventory. Yes, your profit-margin percentages might be a bit lower, but such a strategy is the best and easiest way to generate profit-margin dollars, increase GMROI, and give your bottom line and cash flow a shot in the arm. To do this, you need to go back to being an omni-channel retailer and make sure customers can find and order products from you, be it in the comfort of their home or while standing in your store. Again, seeking help here and investing in the right business solutions can bring great returns on relatively small investments.

Most retailers have 15-25% of dead, nonproductive inventory. Implementing the above steps to ensure that 100% of your inventory is working for you is one of the top Retail Successentials for driving sales, profit and cash flow.

As you bring all of this together, take time to strive for balance in your assortment. An easy-to-use but proven blend of the following will serve you well.

Capitalize on core. Your core should be the best-selling items that you merchandise in-line. Generally I suggest to clients that they stock no more than one or two units of all of their core-assortment titles, knowing that they will be replenished weekly. Assuming two units of each title and a desired turn goal of three, any nonseasonal item that sells six or more units in a year would be a candidate to be in your core.

A subset of your core are the top-tiered items that we should plan to stock in great depth up to a four-month supply that will yield a inventory turn of 3.0. These are the items that customers count on you to always have in stock. Think bread, milk and eggs at the grocery store and apply it to your assortment.

Seasonal items help you be relevant all year long. However, the key is to order pre-season and stop replenishing four weeks before the season ends. For example, back-to-school items should be ordered to arrive by July 1 and should not be replenished after Aug. 1.

Each of these three groupings of products should be planned for the turn-goals mentioned since, of course, your actual turn will be a good bit lower since some items likely will not sell as planned. Do this well and your store can reach an inventory turn of 3.0 or better, which will generate a very good GMROI and positive cash flow for your business.

NEXT ISSUE: We will look at how to plan stock-to-sales-to-space in your store.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran, having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Independent Thoughts October 2014: Merchandising for Christmas Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 08:53 AM America/New_York

Be prepared to meet the needs of new and loyal customers coming to your store for unique gifts during the holidays

DaveSheetsChristian retailers who sell independently published books offer customers the opportunity to purchase unique gifts—and a huge reason for them to shop at Christian retail for Christmas. As such a retailer, you may feel you need some help with your sales plan, so here are 10 tips for merchandising indie books this special time of year.

1. Front and center

Don’t hide your indie books. Place them front and center in your store to draw attention to new authors and subjects. Play up the indie aspect with signage that not only identifies the books as independently published titles, but also as unique cutting-edge books.

2. Gift with purchase

Offer a gift with the purchase of a particular indie title—or a few. People love to get a little something extra with a purchase—whether they keep it for themselves, give it to the book recipient or use it as a separate gift. It doesn’t have to be big—maybe a special bookmark or a small plaque.

3. Gift baskets

Indie books are naturals for gift baskets—and shoppers love gift baskets around Christmastime. Having a pre-organized basket of goodies (including gift and food items) prettied up takes the pressure off and makes the shopper look like an artistic hero. If you’re not particularly creatively inclined, utilize the talents of a team member to organize baskets for men, women, teens, children, teachers, caregivers and anyone else appropriate. Make sure to label the type of basket for easy selection.

4. Hard-to-shop-for

Everyone has at least one person on their Christmas list who is difficult to shop for. These people are perfect candidates for receiving indie books for Christmas. Create an endcap or a table set aside for the hard-to-shop-for individual. Create your own shelftalkers to help match these people with book topics and authors.

5. Point of purchase

Obviously, you’re still going to have customers looking for a specific book or gift they know you carry, so introduce them to some eye-grabbing indie books at the cash wrap. Set up a small display of the books, with a thought-provoking shelftalker. You might also consider offering such a book at a discount.

6. Pre-wrapped

In your indie book section, pre-wrap a few of each title, leaving one copy out for customers to peruse. Don’t forget to label the wrapped books!

7. Signed, sealed and delivered

For the most part, indie authors are trying to create recognition, a buzz, for themselves and their books. As a result, they may be quite amenable to working out an arrangement whereby customers can “special order” a personalized, signed copy of an indie book for a friend or family member. This will require you to train your team to take the customer’s information, have them pre-pay for the book, send the book to the author for personalization and signing, and mail the book to the customer who purchased it. It’s a unique service not many big-box stores will offer!

8. Read and meet

Arrange with an author to have a book discussion/signing after Christmas, and sell copies of the author’s books beforehand, providing a certificate inviting the recipient to attend a special evening at your bookstore meeting the author and discussing the book—two gifts in one!

9. Gift certificate

For the shopper who can’t decide—and the recipient who likes to choose their own books—offer a gift certificate for use on indie titles. Be creative in its design, emphasizing the uniqueness of the indie authors and books you carry.

10. Like that, try this

Match up indie authors and book subjects with established, traditionally published authors and topics. Help your customers by creating signage that takes the guesswork out of which indie books to buy for gift recipients who enjoy traditional authors and books of a similar nature. This makes finding just the right gift easier.

These are just a few ways to help you merchandise indie books for Christmas gift-giving. Customers look to your specialty store to offer unique gifts and services. Use these ideas as a launching pad, and you’re sure to help your customers fly through their shopping lists this season.

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Independent Thoughts September 2014:Five ways to drive store traffic Print Email
Written by Dave Sheets   
Monday, 11 August 2014 12:15 PM America/New_York

Work with independent publishers to attract more customers

DaveSheetsAs a Christian retailer competing with a variety of brick-and-mortar and e-commerce competitors, you understand the importance of thinking “outside the box” when it comes to driving traffic into your store. Likewise, independent publishers typically have an entrepreneurial approach to handling their “traditional” publisher competition. Working together can be profitable for both parties.

Once you start to build relationships with independent publishers, see if there are ways you can partner with them on driving traffic into your store via their authors. Chances are they have some excellent ideas on events, merchandising and special offers that will pique your customers’ interest.

The following are five ways you can work with independent publishers on driving store traffic, but don’t be limited by these. Brainstorm with them to learn even more!

1. Get to know indie authors via their indie publishers. Your independent publisher contacts work closely with their indie authors and understand the importance they bring to Christian publishing. These authors provide new voices to an industry filled with established authors. Independent publishers can help explain their authors’ backgrounds and the types of customers who would benefit most from their books. All you need to do is ask.

You may find that independently published (indie) authors are more accessible as far as the time they’re willing and able to put into getting to know retailers. This gives you a great opportunity to build relationships with them. By and large, they are marketing their books solo (or with guidance from some indie publishers that provide marketing and publicity options), so they need you as much as you need them. Your common goal: to get their books into the hands of your customers who will benefit from their content. Independent authors need you, and your customers need their stories, information, inspiration and insights. Be the conduit that builds up tomorrow’s best-selling authors by connecting them with today’s readers.

2. Go local! Locate indie authors in your community and introduce them to your customers.

Today, creating a sense of community in your store is extremely important to the success and sustainability of your business. This is what keeps people walking into your store rather than purchasing their books via the Internet. They want to be a part of the community—the community in which they live and the community in which they gather. If you’re not instilling that feeling in your store, then you’re basically hanging a sign outside that says, “Stay away.”

A great way to build that sense of community is by seeking out indie authors who live in close proximity and who have become—or are in the process of becoming—active members of your community. Align with them to help build community in your store. If you expect your customers to “shop local,” why not exemplify that yourself by inviting local authors into your store and introducing them to your customers?

ABA booksellers have a long history of encouraging and building up new authors to help sustain and grow the publishing industry, most notably small and independent publishers. They “get” the importance of building a community in their stores, of being an inviting gathering place for people of like minds, of establishing and maintaining relationships with new and local authors. Take a mini vacation from your store and visit area ABA stores, or plan to visit an ABA store or two if you happen to be out of town at a conference or on vacation. Take notes. You may even want to introduce yourself to the store owner or manager and pick his or her brain for ideas. Borrow brilliance!

Likewise, work with your independent publisher to identify indie authors who live close to your store. They can usually help facilitate a meeting between you and the author. Again, you all—publisher, store, author—are indies who should be working together to bring these books to the industry through your store.

3. Invite indie authors to your store to talk about their books. Book signings are great, but independent retailers know how difficult it can be to get traditionally published authors to come to their stores to participate in one. And, book aficionados also are looking for more than just an autograph. They want to engage with authors—get to know them, their thoughts, their backgrounds. In short, they want to learn about what inspires them.

Let your independent publisher know that you’re interested in bringing authors into your store. They may have some ideas for you as far as authors who enjoy doing this more than others. You want your event to be a hit, so you’ll need to make sure the author you invite is dynamic enough to keep a group of customers interested, and wanting more!

Invite these dynamic authors to your store to talk about their books with your customers. Make it a special event. Send e-mailed invitations to your customer list. Put invitations in bags. Focus on the subject of the book if the author is relatively unknown. Make sure that the subject is a draw. Serve light hors d’oeuvres or dessert and coffee. Make it cozy. Encourage interaction.

4. Design a “Local Authors” and/or “Indie Publishers” section in your store. Once you’ve located and built relationships with some local writers, set up a special section, endcap or display table for local authors’ books. Celebrate them as members of your community. If they have their own blogs, include information about them on signage, encouraging your customers to check them out online and then purchase their books in your store.

In addition to your Local Authors section, consider building a new section just for independently published titles. This “Indie Publishers” section will draw attention to these books and authors and give credibility to the importance of independent publishing in today’s market. It may even encourage your customers to put their writing talents to work and attain their dreams of writing a book (see Tip No. 5).

Also, if you don’t yet have a “Pick of the Week/Month” shelf, why not institute one in your store? In addition to the Fiction, Nonfiction, Children’s, Young Adult, Theology and other such categories, add independently published titles to the selection.

5. Start a writers’ group and/or an indie book club. The attention you’re going to draw to indie/local authors might just inspire your customers to pursue their dreams of writing books. This presents a super opportunity to start a writers’ group at your store. Like a book club, a writers’ group brings traffic, sales and increased customer engagement. Be sure to stock books on writing to cater to this group of customers. Become their one-stop shop for all things writing and reading.

Speaking of book clubs, consider forming a club just for independently published books. This will also pave the way for more indie-author in-store events and appearances.

Indie authors provide new voices and books with fresh perspectives, and the partnerships you create with these authors and the independent publishers that work with them are vital to keeping fresh product in your store that will appeal to your community—product that is not as easily available via your competitors. Independent publishers have great ideas to help drive foot traffic into your store—to help you succeed!

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Retail Successentials September 2014:Maximizing productivity pays off in improved customer service Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Monday, 11 August 2014 12:09 PM America/New_York

Employ a simple data solution to make your store hum

Being productive is something everyone can agree on. But, truth is, many frontline operators do not track the all-important metric of retail productivity. Doing so, however, brings new accountability to how they schedule their staff and how they train and lead their team to sell.BillNielsenInChair

In other words, retail productivity is the art and science of increasing the sales revenue you create for each man hour worked. Drive productivity too high and your customer service will suffer, which is sure to lead to lost sales opportunities. But if it is too low, you are spending too much on payroll and killing your profitability. So let’s review the ins and outs of retail productivity.


First and foremost, we need a clear definition of productivity, which is sales revenue divided by the number of man hours worked. You can either track all man hours worked or only man hours worked on the sales floor. The key is to pick one method and stick with it as your baseline.

Next, we need to make sure you are set up to capture clusters of productivity data. The ideal data set is to make sure you capture sales and man hours worked for every hour of every day. You also need to be able to see this data by store location and by employee. Viewing the data by hour helps you spot when you have too many or too few staff working. Viewing the data by store and/or by employee allows you to compare stores and employees to learn from the best and to help those on the low end grow.

Capturing the actual data is the next step. In order to manage this area of your business quickly and effectively, you must invest in technology. While larger companies will find the top-of-the-line analytics solutions from RetailNext or Trafsys the way to go, smaller retail stores that want 90% of the features in a cost-effective solution that is easy to install and use will appreciate a solution called SWARM, which is offered by

Solutions like SWARM can cost as little as $99 down and $69 per month. They not only help you measure and manage productivity, but also can tell you how many people walk by your store versus the number that come in to shop, enabling you to measure traffic and determine what percentage of “lookers” you convert to shoppers. They can even automatically send a message to lookers’ smartphones to give them a special offer or enroll them in your loyalty program.


Generally speaking, you get what you measure and you always deserve what you tolerate. When it comes to productivity, it is important to measure and compare the data to threshold (minimum acceptable metric), target (ideal metric) and peak (maximum acceptable metric) goals. Productivity goals for each business will vary. Specialty retailers often set their threshold metric and peak metrics at 80% and 120% of target, respectively. So, if you determine that you want each man hour worked to generate $150 in sales, that becomes your target. Threshold is then set at $112.50, and peak becomes $187.50.

How do you move the bar? Praise staff who excel. Any store and any employee delivering between $112.50 and $187.50 in sales for every hour they work is to be recognized and perhaps even rewarded.

Conversely, coach those who underperform. Those performing below $112.50 need to refresh their selling skills.

Also, don’t forget that you might be the culprit behind productivity that is too low or too high based on how and when you are scheduling your staff. To avoid this, run productivity reports by hour and by day. Then divide the hourly sales by $150 to determine how many employees you need to have scheduled to work. While creating an acceptable schedule will result in some hours having lower or higher productivity, you should not have any hour scheduled below your threshold or above your peak target metrics. You will likely find that you need fewer full-time employees and more part-time workers with flexible schedules.

Once your schedule is published, you are now set to focus on training and developing selling skills for each of your team members. Another important factor in productivity is to train your managers and/or shift leaders to adjust staffing as needed based on actual hourly sales achieved that day versus the forecast sales assumed in your schedule. Letting people go home early or calling others in to staff up is ideal. At a minimum, reviewing the results each day and then adjusting the next several days is a useful approach.

So, between the science of capturing the right data and the art of coaching, training and adjusting schedules to actual sales patterns, you will find that you are able to provide better service to your customers, maximize sales opportunities and make sure your payroll costs are managed well. The combination of higher sales and lower payroll equals greater profits for you.

NEXT ISSUE: We will focus on the topics of inventory management and improving inventory turn.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Retail Successentials August 2014:Early preparation spells retail success at Christmastime Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 02:28 PM America/New_York

Assortment and environment help drive holiday sales

BillNielsenInChairChristmas is the Super Bowl of retailing. The degree to which you begin now to prepare for Christmas will determine your success—regardless of the bust or boom of the season for everyone else. As with any other strategic issue, I recommend beginning with the end in mind.

Close your eyes for a few minutes and envision what your store will look like during the next Christmas season. How does it look and smell? What sounds surround the customer? What do your stock levels look like? How many employees are available to serve your customers? What items are your customers coming in to look for? All of this and more should be part of your advance planning and can be addressed in the following focus areas:

How can you drive customers into your store? The potential for traffic and sales is such that I recommend you invest 40% of your annual advertising budget in November and December. Be sure you feature some mass-appeal items that will help bring in those who do not normally visit your store. Remember too, that your average transaction will likely grow by 50% or more during these two months, so plan to invest in some special product offers or coupons.

Above all, remember that you are competing for the consumer’s disposable income, so pull out all the stops to get them to shop with you. When it comes to media, don’t rely on catalogs alone. Thanksgiving is the single best time of the year to invest in free-standing newspaper inserts.

What are your customers looking for? More than ever, this season you must be in stock on what your customer expects to find. Plan your purchasing so that the majority of your goods are received by early November. That way your staff will be free to focus on service and selling. Go heavy on best-sellers, new releases and advertised items, and then round out your assortment with other seasonal items—lower-priced impulse items to help increase your average transaction and higher-margin products that can make your profits soar!

As you set your assortments, assess your open floor space and make plans to fill it with free-standing displays, compliments of your suppliers. This is the time of the year when your store should be bursting at the seams. Secure the relevant, high-appeal items in floor displays, clip strips and spinner racks that can help maximize every square inch. Your projected higher sales volumes should provide the inventory budget necessary to make this possible. Be sure to position seasonal items in your highest-traffic locations near the front of the store or on a power aisle for easy shopping.

How can you make the customer’s experience more enjoyable? Taking time to make your store a soothing but seasonally relevant environment will create an atmosphere that compels your customer to linger longer and buy more. Scented pine cones near the front door will greet your customers with a wonderful aroma. Seasonal decorations and point-of-purchase signage in traditional reds and greens are always a winning combination. Top it off with Christmas music such as an instrumental collection that inspires, but does not detract. Having the same available for purchase is a must!

How can you best serve the Christmas shopper? We know how tiring and frustrating it can be to secure just the right gift for every person on our list. Having trained, friendly staff available can set you apart from your competition and make sure no one leaves your store without their needs being met. Begin recruiting seasonal staff in September and starting training them in early November. Analyze your sales from last year—by hour—and take time to create work schedules that ensure you have the right number of staff when you need them and not when you don’t.

What about the 13th month? The holiday season does not end Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. when you close your doors. January can be a significant revenue period if you plan ahead. Again, plan with the end in mind. Develop a life-cycle pricing plan for seasonal goods that includes full MSRP, an early markdown if necessary and then clearance.

One key is to buy items specifically for clearance. You are more apt to become known as a good place to shop in January if you have some great items at great prices rather than a bunch of leftovers no one wants. Seed your clearance selection with items you bought at high discount just for this purpose.

Another key is to estimate what percent of each item you will see at full, marked-down and then clearance pricing. Selling 100% at full retail is ideal, but not practical. It also probably means you did not buy enough and as a result, lost sales. A healthy mix is to see 50% at full retail, 30% at a reduced price and 20% on clearance at 50-75% off. Once you have a plan, monitor sales and move to a marked-down or clearance price based on your sell-through rate. Items that are moving well can wait, but those collecting dust need pricing action right away.

NEXT ISSUE: In the September issue, we’ll look at retail productivity and how to reduce labor costs.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.