Christian Retailing

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Written by Jim Seybert   
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 11:10 AM America/New_York

A close look at product selection and training

An industry survey by Christian Retailing


VitalSignsgraph1Product selection and knowledge are increasingly important as Christian retail stores look to differentiate themselves from other channels offering Christian resources. Our latest Vital Signs industry survey asked how retailers were keeping on top of their departments.

Here is what we found out:



The fastest-growing product category in the last two years has been adult/family DVDs, with 70% of stores reporting that they have set aside more display space and introduced greater SKU counts in the category.

Three in five stores have increased their SKU counts for Bibles, while 51% were stocking more devotionals than they were two years ago. On the other side of the scale, 40% told us that they have diminished inventory for rock/alternative music and for framed art. Apparel inventory was down in 31% of stores and up in 24%.

Stores were evenly split on their approach to changes in criteria for introducing products they "might not have carried" in years past.

Just over half (52%) reported that their selection criteria was narrower than it used to be, and 48% said they were stocking a broader range of products.

One owner commented on a shift in her mission, saying the store was "becoming more and more like real life—a Christian living center."

Meanwhile, 52% of Christian store shoppers who took part in our poll said that they were interested in a broader selection of products than they had been been two years ago, while 10% were looking more narrowly, and 38% had not changed their criteria.



New retail technologies are a long way from being commonplace in Christian stores. Just one in three stores reported having a system where shoppers can select songs and have them burned to a CD in the store.

Cost and lack of awareness were the main reasons given for not offering such a service, though one store admitted to the questionable practice of "buying the song from iTunes and burning a CD for customers."

One in six stores currently offers Zondervan's Symtio system for electronic book purchases, introduced at the International Christian Retail Show in 2008. Another 13% said they planned to introduce it in their stores. The majority of those with no Symtio plans cited a lack of product knowledge for their hesitation.



Employees gather for product training on a monthly or quarterly schedule at 40% of Christian stores. A few stores meet more often for training (12%) and 22% less frequently. Employees are "encouraged" to learn more about products in 52% of stores and are "required" to do so in 24%.

Among stores where staff are encouraged or required to participate in training, half offered no incentives for doing so (53%). As one owner put it, "They get paid their hourly wage and have a job." Of those who do incentivize training efforts, the most common reward is "free product" (22%) and "recognition" (19%).

Stores rated product training provided by Zondervan as the best (73%), followed by Tyndale (24%) and Thomas Nelson (11%)—with the totals adding to more than 100% due to multiple choices allowed.

The top four reasons given for not doing as much training were: the need for better or more convenient systems (24%), lack of time (22%), lack of vendor involvement (18%) and prohibitive cost (8%).


VitalSignsgraph2HOLIDAY HOPES

Slightly more than half of Christian stores (51%) expected their sales this Christmas season to be better than last year, and 5% were looking for a "significant increase" as the year ends. Another 29% predicted a flat growth curve as 2009 closes out, with the balance citing worsening local economies as they braced for decreased sales in the fourth quarter.

Those anticipating increases pointed to reasons ranging from "steadily growing sales all year" to the introduction of frequent buyer programs that will make their targeted marketing more effective.



The purpose of Vital Signs is to help generate useful dialogue among industry members. Here are some questions to ask one another:

What's your approach to giving staff an incentive for product training?

Is it right to burn songs from iTunes to a CD and sell them to customers?

What are you doing this Christmas to boost your chances for better sales?


Jim Seybert is an author and consultant living in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..