Solid health category builds on consumer interest in 'facts not fads'
Dwight Gullion is a firm believer in the adage that "prevention is better than cure," which is why health and fitness books are a staple at his small independent chain of Christian bookstores in the Southeast.
The president and co-owner of Gullion's Christian Supply Center—with four locations in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area—Gullion has offered hundreds of health-related titles since first selling Christian books in a flea market booth in 1992.
But he is not the only one pumped up about health and fitness books. Christian publishers and retailers say the category is on the rise with more people looking for help to stay in shape or take care of their bodies from a biblical point of view.
"We've also been selling health supplements and such since pretty well the beginning," Guillion told Christian Retailing. "It was a personal interest of our family, and is driven by the biblical concept of stewardship of all that God entrusts us with—including our physical health."
Gullion said his stores' health section—called the Health Depot—has helped his businesses "to do more than just a vanilla Christian bookstore."
"The Health Depot varies between the stores, but our (largest) store has eight linear feet of books and videos, with an additional 40 linear feet of supplements, herbs, foods and equipment," he added. "The Health Depot has gradually increased ... in keeping with the obvious need for diversification."
People are looking for inspiration and encouragement from those "who have 'been there and done that,' offering hope from their stories," Gospel Light Vice President for Sales and Marketing Bob Bever told Christian Retailing. "The health and fitness category is growing, but the ability to tie people into groups that approach this from a spiritual as well as physical perspective is the key to not just marketing the product but seeing true success in people's lives."
The Ventura, Calif.-based company has had success with several health-themed titles, including the late Rex Russell's What the Bible Says About Healthy Living—which has sold more than 185,000 copies since 1996. Additionally, Gospel Light has sold more than a million copies of the "First Place 4 Health" books and Bible studies since the resources were introduced in 2001, Bever said.
The company will also release three titles from the "First Place 4 Health" series by December 2009, including God's Purpose for You Bible study, as well as Give God a Year, Change Your Life Forever—a hardcover by Carole Lewis to come out in November. The "Give God a Year, Change Your Life Forever Kit" releases in December. Additionally, Gospel Light plans to publish in November Bod 4 God by Virginia pastor Steve Reynolds, released by Pleasant Word/WinePress Publishing in 2007.
"Balanced healthy living leading to weight loss and spiritual health continues to be important for many Christians desiring to honor God with every area of their lives," Bever said. "It additionally provides churches with a great way to reach out to their community with answers for the challenges of life so many are facing today and looking for help."
He added that retailers "need to understand that people are looking for answers that work and are not 'faddish.' "
"Consumers are smart and know the difference between emotional hypes and true wholeness approaches, which include a commitment to spiritual health and growth," Bever said. "With 'First Place 4 Health,' retailers have the opportunity to resource thousands of people who are part of 'First Place 4 Health' in thousands of groups across the country."
Siloam—an imprint of Strang Communications, Christian Retailing's parent company—is the leader in the Christian health and fitness genre, with several best-sellers. First published in 1999, Don Colbert's "The Bible Cure" series have sold 3 million copies in English as well as another 300,000 in Spanish and other languages.
Colbert's Eat This And Live! (Siloam, 2008) and The Seven Pillars of Health (Siloam, 2007) have sold 125,000 and 335,000 copies, respectively, while Jentezen Franklin's Fasting (Charisma House/Strang Book Group, 2008) has sold 287,000 copies. Fasting and Jordan Rubin's The Maker's Diet (Siloam, 2004) all made the New York Times best-sellers list.
"We continue to see steady and consistent sales flowing through our partnerships with Christian retailers," said Woodley Auguste, senior publicist for Strang Communications.
Siloam released Franklin's The Fasting Kit, which includes a DVD for small group use, study guide, journal and the Fasting book, this month and will bring out Live It Not Diet—the working title for Colbert's new book—in January.
An imprint of Hachette Book Group USA, Center Street scored a hit with Elisabeth Hasselbeck's The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide. Released May 4, the book debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times Hardcover Advice best-seller list and has about 140,000 copies in print with nine printings. Center Street will release Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks by Denise Austin in January with an initial print run of 75,000 copies.
"There is always a market for sound, reputable health and wellness books from a Christian perspective," Pamela Clements, associate publisher of marketing for Center Street, said. "The importance of mind, body and spirit integration has been proven over and over again, and Christ-centered books can make a significant difference in readers' lives.
"I think merchandising is key," she added. "While this may be a targeted purchase, it is very possible that well-placed, topical books that address shoppers felt needs will attract interest."
Gullion of Gullion's Christian Supply said "being knowledgeable never hurts."
"People often need someone to talk to about their health struggles, so just taking an interest in your customers' well-being helps sales as well," added Gullion, whose top sellers include Siloam titles from Rubin and Colbert.
Lorraine Valk—who owns Banner Books Parable Christian Store of St.
Joseph, Mich., with her husband, Jim—carries 50 titles, devoting three, 4-foot shelves to the category.
"It feels like it has been on a slight increase this past six months," she said. "I think with health insurance, or lack thereof, people are being a little more aware of what they should be doing."
Valk's best-sellers include Rubin's The Great Physician's Rx for Health & Wellness (2006) and Arthur and Judy Halliday's Thin Within (2005)—both published by Thomas Nelson— Colbert's The Seven Pillars of Health and Henry Wright's A More Excellent Way (Whitaker House, 2009).
"I make sure (the titles) are visible and marketed properly," she said. "People love being able to get quality books from doctors that have God's plan in mind when dishing out advice."
Karen Grosse, owner of Lighthouse Christian Books in Green Bay, Wis., agreed.
"The key to selling these books is having enough variety," she said. "It is important to have at least one or two different books to offer to someone who comes in looking for specific health issues.
"Over the years, we have tried to sell small books on calorie counting, eating out and other similar books," she added. "Since these are now available at nearly every checkout counter from grocery stores to discount stores, we have not been carrying many of them. We try to carry books with a Christian view of weight loss or health management."
Grosse's store carries approximately 120 different titles in the genre, including top sellers such as Colbert's "The Bible Cure" series, Rubin's The Maker's Diet and the "First Place 4 Health" books and Bible studies.
"Our section has increased slightly over the years as new titles come out," she said. "The books in this section tend to continue to sell longer than many of the titles in other departments, and are more timeless in nature, so they have a longer shelf life. While the old 80/20 rule applies here—and 80% of our sales come from 20% of the books—if you don't have the entire selection, you will not sell many."
Paul Glenn, book department buyer for the Potomac Adventist Book & Health Food Store in Silver Spring, Md., told Christian Retailing that his shop carries approximately 600 books in the category, with best-sellers featuring "The Bible Cure" series and Franklin's Fasting.
Potomac periodically moves its health and fitness titles around, and the store "runs specials on a continuous basis and that helps customers appreciate what we have to offer," Glenn said.
"Many people are getting more interested in healthy living," he said. "It definitely helps being in a Christian bookstore since we believe that our bodies are the temple of God. For us, since we also handle health foods, it is a perfect tie in. Of course health and fitness is really more than the 'health books.' We should probably count the entire Bible section since the Bible has a lot to say about health and fitness.