Christian Retailing

Analog man Print Email
Written by Dr. Steve Greene   
Wednesday, 27 June 2018 10:19 AM America/New_York
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Dr. Steve Greene (Sean Roberts)

What bookstore owners can learn from vinyl records

Chopin played for me last night.

His Ballade No. 1, Opus 23 poured from a vinyl record through the amplifier and speakers straight into my heart. I curled up in my chair and remembered how much I cherish the sound of a piano while I feed my spirit in a Mark Batterson book.

I note once again, with thanks to Joe Walsh, I’m an analog man living in a digital season. My playlist is stored in a crooked array of album covers bulging with wrinkled liner notes. Analog music makes me feel unplugged.

I finished a book last week that left me shuffling my feet and grasping for words to share with you about our calling, mission and responsibility to ensure Christian bookstores remain a fixture in the marketplace.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is an accidental metaphor for the future of Christian bookstores. I must share a bit about the main character, Frank, prior to revealing a great lesson.

Frank’s personal life is a mess. His mother spent years teaching him to love and live with music. Eclectic and enthusiastic, she moved him to appreciate it in a way few could ever communicate. He learned that the best seat in the house involves lying flat on the floor with headphones and closed eyes. (I tried this. I fell asleep and needed help to get up.)

Almost as an afterthought, Frank opens a vinyl record store on Unity Street, a back street in England. He tends to his visitors in a crossover role somewhere between vendor, psychoanalyst and music lover.

Frank possesses a gift unique but necessary for any entrepreneur.

He knows what his customers need to hear. He builds a few listening booths into his floorspace, and as a matter of course, encourages his patrons to listen to a record he selects just for them.

His marketing consists of a handmade sign taped on the front window: “For the music you need. Everyone Welcome.” He tells many customers to “Come anytime.” He lives in the shop and often opens the door late in the evening to serve a customer. His music and his store are his life.

But Frank refuses to stock cassettes or CDs for his customers. “You can buy those at the Woolworth’s.” He never wavers from his vision to offer the sounds of music the way it is meant to be heard: on analog vinyl.

Of course, conflict soon arises with the entrance of Big Business as the villain. A development group has its eyes on Unity Street and sets course to buy out all the retail shops. Smaller story arcs develop around those shops that leave and those that stay.

But a solid bass line plays throughout the book. People need the music shop. It’s part of the culture. It’s meatloaf, carrots and mashed potatoes. It’s the Beatles, Bach and Barbra Streisand.

Frank fights every force imaginable to keep his shop open. His customers love him and his gifts. None of them could ever be satisfied by a big box with a long tail.

Therein lies the lesson.

Shop owners must love to open the doors of their business. They must love their books and love their customers. They must feed their passions with persistence in the face of any storm.

The sale—whether of vinyl records or Christian books—begins with the customer. It’s hard to connect with customers without capturing their names. This can be as simple as a “register to win” offer. It’s always better, though to meet customers in person and learn their names and needs. We can’t do it all the time, but we can do it more often.

If I stood in front of you in a training seminar, I would pound home three key points:

  1. Ask the Lord to show you one book for every customer who walks into your store. Train every staff member to do likewise. Hand the book to the customer and suggest reasons why you think the book is right for them.
  2. Send notes and birthday cards to every customer. They’ll remember your personal touch long after the special day has passed. If you need help with implementation, email me, and we can connect.
  3. Keep records of your customers’ book-buying profiles. Send them notes as new titles come in. Every box of new books should trigger the need for a box of personal notes.

These tips are as old as the wind but as fresh as fruit on the vine.

We do these things out of love for what we do.

We are analog retailers.