Christian Retailing

Helping stores find hidden new markets Print Email
Written by Chaz Nichols, director of business development, Snowfall Press   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 01:36 PM America/New_York

Digital technology can be an asset, not a threat, for mission-minded Christian retailersNichols_Chaz


Like much of Minnesota, my town—Chaska—is known for its Scandinavians. There are no Russian churches with their trademark onion-shaped steeples, and Borsch is not featured as a soup du jour in any restaurant I have visited. 

But, as it turns out, there are quite a few Russians in the area—30,000 in fact—plus, there are another 11,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians, totaling more than 41,000 Russians or Russian-speaking people. That is twice the population of the town where I live. They comprise a people group who is not hiding, but remains hidden nonetheless. 

What does that have to do with Christian retailing? Possibly quite a lot, it turns out. Indeed, for Christian bookstore owners, more than just an irrelevant data point, the whole topic of identifying people clusters may have significant influence on their relevance and revenue in the next few years.

Most people in this country are familiar with the growth of the Hispanic population and the impact it has had on culture, politics and religion throughout the U.S. Many retailers have responded by offering ethnically appropriate goods and services. But as I started to learn about the Russian population in our area, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were other equally hidden people groups to be found. 

And if there were, how could my industry, digital book printing, through its partnership with distributors, link with bookstores to help and service these groups?


Providentially my wife, Roberta, was taking a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at our church. One night she came home from class fascinated to have learned about the numerous cultures of the Twin Cities and their specific demographics shared by the guest speaker, John Mayer, executive director of City Vision.

I called John and found him to be the kind of guy every marketing person wants to find—he has data … and lots of it. And as I suspected, there are a number of different pockets of culture in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—200, to be exact. 

Chances are that there are significant, often hidden, people groups in your metro areas, too. It would not be the same mix of cultures as Minneapolis, but the numbers would be significant just the same. And by reaching out and servicing the spiritual needs of these groups, you could also be driving increased revenue.  

In the world of market segmentation, you have rich targets. Not necessarily wealthy, but well defined: You can know who and where they are and can develop a personal or spiritual needs assessment for books and Bibles. And in many parts of the country, according to a 2008 survey, growth in Christian churches is being fueled in large part by Christian immigrants, so the market potential is growing as well.

But as a retailer, it is not enough to know what a particular segment wants, you have to be able to supply their need—relatively easily and at price points that make sense. And it is precisely at this point where cultural discovery, need fulfillment and some of the technological trends that are proving so challenging for brick-and-mortar stores can beneficially intersect.


Cloud-based digital print networks are being built that will help U.S.-based publishers have their books printed on demand, per order in other countries—within minutes and without high shipping costs and importation hassles.

But less known are how these same networks are allowing international publishers to have their books printed in the U.S. easily and inexpensively, without high shipping costs and customs issues … and, perhaps most importantly, just one book at a time if necessary. 

This opens to retailers the possibility of not just finding translated versions of current American Christian writers for these people groups, but finding excellent Christian material, written in the language of a target market and using metaphors and life examples that better speak to that culture. 

Ezdra Publishing  is an excellent example. Located in Ukraine, the company already prints books in the U.S. by uploading its work to a cloud computing server and printing just what is needed—from one copy to dozens of copies at a time. Ezdra is an excellent resource for anyone wanting good Christian literature written in Russian. But there are publishers in Peru, Brazil and Sri Lanka as well, with similar capabilities.


American distributors are starting to understand the opportunities to enhance the just-in-time bond that has been growing for a while between them and Christian retailers. STL Distribution North America, with whom Snowfall Press has partnered, and Anchor Distributors have both launched print-to-order services this year.  

Books are stored virtually on the cloud server, ready to be printed when they are ordered. And as this part of the business grows, it will include all kinds of literature and books from many cultures, ready to order and print, one at time if needed. 

At this point you may acknowledge that there could be markets to go after in your area, but you are perhaps not sure how to do that and really—bottom line—remain unconvinced that there would be a return on your investment. 

There are several potential benefits of developing a relationship with a specific ethnic market. 
Net new business: More than a spike in sales, this will be a new source of revenue. You will also be targeting the leading edge of growth in the U.S. church.

Your target market will grow. New immigrants tend to settle in areas where other members of their ethnic group already live—ensuring a new source of business each year.

Incremental sales of your English inventory. You will sell more English-language books and Bibles to this community as well. You may capture the parents with your ability to service their language needs, but you will also sell English-based books and Bibles to their children.

There are some easy and practical ways for seeking out the more hidden people groups, and potential new markets, in your area.  Ask your school district what languages it is servicing. Many times you will be surprised at how diverse and even exotic some of the languages are, but they give you a clue to what the clusters of ethnic groups are. Google the U.S. Census Bureau data for your area.

Get out and observe what is happening in your area. What languages do you hear as you walk around? Are there new ethnic grocery stores or restaurants being built?

When you have some stats, think beyond the numbers. In Minneapolis there are many more Somalis than Russians. But the Russian demographic is a better long-term investment—many of them have a Christian heritage, they have higher disposable incomes, and they read in Russian and English.

Technology is beginning to drive a whole new era of engagement with other cultures in the United States. Established bookstores and chains need new customers; ethnic groups need literature and Bibles in their own language; and international publishers want to reach their people groups in the United States to open markets for their work. 

Cloud-based digital book printing is enabling all of the above to happen—driving all new sources of revenue for you—starting right in your own backyard.