Christian Retailing

Embrace the number-crunching Print Email
Written by Erik Ernstrom   
Wednesday, 04 February 2015 02:43 PM America/New_York

Data can be scary. There, I’ve said it. Elephant in the room. Eight-hundred-pound gorilla. Whatever you want to call it. To most store owners, number crunching and data processing is intimidating, and rightfully so.


When you started in this business, you didn’t have to worry about mailing list management, email unsubscribes or cycle-counting your inventory. You could “stack ’em high and watch ’em fly.” Bringing in cardboard dumps of every major music release was almost the norm, and taking a couple weeks for a reorder was reasonable. The most difficult thing we had to do was read Spring Arbor microfiche updates.

But times have changed. Data management is vital to the success of your business. You may think it’s unfortunate, but it can’t be avoided. The vast majority of us got into Christian retail as a ministry, but despite our best efforts, it’s become a business. Bottom line: Our business is our ministry, and to continue our ministry, we need to have a successful business.

So, where do we go from here? With innumerable ways to look at the numbers we have, how do we know where to spend our limited time? We know we have to balance our financial books, and handling payroll is fairly straightforward. But how can we avoid staring at a computer monitor all day, and why should we spend time looking at boring numbers when we could be with our customers?

Let’s tackle the “why” first.

Nagisa Manabe, chief marketing and sales officer at the U.S. Postal Service, recently told the PostalVision 2020 conference that the postal service is seeking to “increase revenues from advertising by mining, storing and analyzing customer data. By mapping those data sets and determining consumer behavior, advertisers and retailers could target more effectively through traditional mail.”

Even the most basic of functions, taking a piece of mail and moving it from one house to another, can be improved with data. The post office is now proactively seeking to become more efficient and to increase revenue by analyzing and implementing data into its work flow.

Shouldn’t we, as the source of Christian products, seek to find better ways to get more products into the right hands at the right time? We could impact more lives for the kingdom of God. Our stores would be financially healthier, and as long as we’re blessed to open our doors each morning, we could continue to serve in a ministry that we love.

How do we do this? We utilize the data available to us.

Imagine having to coach a middle school baseball or softball team for a day, having no experience and no knowledge of the players. You might understand the team, but how would you create the batting lineup with any success?  How in the world would you know where to put the players on the field? Yes, they might tell you where the players should be, but are you really going to trust middle school kids?

Instead, what if the head coach left you with a lineup and a diagram of where to place the players each inning? Now you can coach. Yes, you still aren’t very familiar with the team, but with the coach’s direction and your understanding of the game, you can now make wise decisions as needed.

That’s how it’s done.

It’s not handled on your own. You can’t do it by yourself. You know what’s happening in your own store location, so you can reorder what sells, but beyond that, you’re limited.

With more than 40,000 unique books sold in our industry last year, how do you know which titles you should add to your shelves, and how do you choose from the more than 4,500 Bible SKUs that sold last year? And when the father of the Just-In-Time inventory philosophy for bookstores, Leonard Shatzkin, states, “You need sales from at least seven stores before you know how well a product is selling,” it’s tough being out in the marketplace by yourself.

This is why we need to remember we’re not alone. We’re in this together. We all serve the same purpose. We all want the same results. And, as needed, we should lean on one another and learn from one another. Consider such questions as: Which customers are most likely to shop if you send them a catalog? Is it worth the money to reach out to customers who haven’t purchased anything in 18 months? How do you know which titles to add to your inventory?

Let’s work together to find ways to improve inventory selection, drive more purchase transactions and optimize our marketing dollars.

As this column continues each month, you’ll discover how to make sense out of data and easily use it to improve your business. Don’t get nervous around data. Don’t avoid it with the hope that it will go away. Embrace it. Let it help you. Don’t run from it. Run toward it! CR