Missing the magic million-dollar mark Print
Written by Rick Lewis   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 03:00 PM America/New_York

RickLewis-2015Realizing what was wrong with my store led to big changes

When I was first asked to write an article for the Best Practices column, my mind went back to the basics. In retail training, we were told we would be successful if we did certain things: Keep costs down (especially wages and rent). Keep the cash flow moving with high turns, timely sales and regular returns. Keep a close eye on inventory levels by not over-buying; after all, a vendor’s special isn’t special if I’m stuck with extra inventory. Keep efforts going to increase market share. Increase margins where you can.

As I thought about these basics, I realized bookstore people know all of this. If we have done all that’s been recommended, then generally the internal workings of our stores are healthy. Maybe the issues of store closings are related to the external forces at work around us: the greed of landlords, publishers selling direct, the plague of Amazon or the downturn of our economy since 2008. (No matter what Washington says, we haven’t really bounced back.) If I am following the retail basics, that helps ameliorate many of the externals. So, if I’m still not successful, I must look elsewhere to find the cause of my struggles.

First, let me give you a little background. Our store opened in 1974 with 1,700 square feet. We have kept the same location and size all these years while steadily increasing sales each year. We were a million-dollar sales store for the last 20 years—until 2013. With all of the economic changes since 2008, we have had slight decreases each year since. Then in 2013, we dipped below the magic million mark. That isn’t so much a financial hit as a psychological one. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. My bills are still paid and the door is still open. I am grateful. But I have dropped below that magic ceiling our industry held before us as success.

The other major event was in 2007. I had a major heart attack (shortly after my mom died), and without God’s grace, I would not have survived. A few months later my wife, Susan, also had a brush with death. These events—dropping below the million-dollar mark as well as life-and-death situations—have spoken volumes. They make me think I have been asking the wrong questions in certain areas of my life, including what constitutes best practices, so I’ve made some changes.

One issue I have with our industry is the sizable number of books published each year. An offshoot of this is the quantity of titles that are just bad books, including many best-sellers. Don’t misread. I do carry many of them. They help pay the rent so I can carry the good books! I have never hesitated to offer my opinion about a book when the customer asked, but in 2007, I adopted a new practice of telling customers when I believe they are choosing a second-best title. Instead, I offer a better choice, one that speaks more to the question they are facing. I actively promote good books, life-changing books, books that touch the heart and mind.

Secondly, through the years, I have carried the struggles customers have brought into the store. I would bring them out in quiet moments and lift them in prayer. Occasionally, when the need seemed acute enough, I would pray with them in the moment. More often now I am stopping and praying with customers. My prayers are not long or lofty. It is enough to drop the concern into the Father’s lap and bring encouragement to the one who is hurting.

The third change I have made is with our email newsletters. I usually posted events, promoted new titles, listed some of our favorites, offered a special or coupon and wrote a short column. The column has always been inspirational with a marketing twist. I am now dropping the marketing bit from my column. What I have been moved to do is write a pastoral message. We are on this journey together.

I imagine all of us wrestle with the balance of being a business and a ministry. The business side takes time from the ministry side. But without the business detail, the ministry ceases to exist. Most of the products we carry have inherent ministry value and are available to customers during all store hours. At the same time, our time on the floor exponentially increases that ministry. We bring with us the presence of Jesus into each encounter, be it a simple prayer, a word of encouragement, a book placed in the hand—there is found joy.

For me, I continue to perform the functions enumerated in the first paragraph. But the practices I believe that need the most enhancing are on the ministry side. Those are the real “best practices.” So I have let go worrying about the drop in sales. The Lord brought us into this ministry to do more than crunch numbers.

As Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which He is to bless men now.” There, too, is joy.

Rick Lewis has worked at Logos Bookstore in Dallas since 1980. He and his wife, Susan, have purchased the store in 1989.