Christian Retailing

Retail Successentials July 2014: Get ready to boost customer spending with special offers Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Monday, 09 June 2014 04:20 PM America/New_York


Get ready to boost customer spending with special offers

Your cash wrap can be a ministry-driving sales machine

You hear it on TV every day. If you’re like me, you even predict it and chime in with the spokesperson, “But wait, there’s more!” While we laugh, deep down we expect to hear it. Let’s face it: We love a great deal.

If you learn the art and science of how to structure and provide last-minute incentives to your customers, you can add 3% or more sales growth to your store with this one simple, yet powerful strategy. More importantly, you have the opportunity to help your customers grow in their personal walk with Christ and/or equip them to help someone else grow spiritually. In addition to the ministry potential, imagine what 3% sales growth means for your profit, since it can be done without adding any incremental expense to your operations!

First, let me address the scoffers who are already struggling with my 3% claim. Follow me on some simple math. The average CBA customer spends $32 per transaction on average (Note: If you are well below this average transaction, go back to the first Retail Successentials column. Based on a $32 average transaction and the goal of adding 3% in sales, we must add 99 cents to every transaction. Another common way of looking at this is to add $5 to just two out of every 10 transactions. I have seen this strategy applied with successful results time and time again.

Through the years, retailers have tried virtually every possible way to increase their average transaction. The reason many efforts to increase average transaction fail is that they only result in convincing the customer to buy one item rather than another, resulting in little, if any, increase in the total amount spent. So, let’s focus on the one place in your store where you have the highest likelihood for success, and then give you two strategies to drive 3% incremental sales. Of course, I’m referring to how to avoid this pitfall by engaging the customer only when ready for checkout. Naturally, the best place to do this is the point-of-sale cash wrap. Observe the following tried-and-true practices—cash-wrap essentials and suggestive-selling approaches—and watch your average transactions grow:

Let’s first review how you can turn your cash wrap into a ministry-driving sales machine!

Look at your cash wrap again as if for the first time. Make sure you view it as the customer does. Is it easy to approach? Is there room to set down the items the customer wishes to purchase, or is it so cluttered that checking out is a chore? Is this area a bulletin board for the community, or does it help you to place life-changing products into the hands of your customers at the last minute of their visit? What products are presented there—those that are just the right size to fit or those customers have a need for or interest in? Take time to reorganize your P.O.S. cash wrap so that it is inviting and convenient for your customers.

Evaluate the products you have on display at the P.O.S. They also should not be stocked elsewhere in the store, but rather be a final new offering that catches customer attention. They should be mass-appeal products. If you have multiple P.O.S. terminals, the same products should be positioned at each one.

Price the products at your P.O.S. at $5 or less. The $5 or lower price point has been tested across hundreds of thousands of customers and found to be the sweet spot. When setting your pricing, remember to focus on margin dollars here and not margin percentage. Adding none of an item with 50% margin to a transaction gets you nothing, but adding the same item at 30% margin to many transactions will add sales and profit to your operation.

Help the product sell itself. Invest in some eye-catching POP that screams the price and calls out the “why buy me” message. Restock the product several times each day.
Next, let’s talk suggestive selling. One of the most powerful ways to appeal to every customer’s desire for “but wait there’s more” is to hand-suggest a “too-good-to-refuse” offer. Follow the steps below and you will find great success.

Keep special-offer product only at check out. This select product should only be behind the counter and presented as this month’s special offer.

Stick to $5-or-less pricing. This pricing strategy not only applies here, but is critical. Moreover, reach out to various suppliers and encourage them to partner with you on this “plus sell” initiative. If they see incremental unit volume of a title and know that you are focusing on margin dollars and not just your normal margin percent, many will join you gladly by providing titles as they have room to sell them to you at a deep discount. Be prepared for some vendors to not give the discount on the front end, but they may ask you to focus on titles you have deep quantities of on hand and offer you a back-end credit so that you will not return the item, but instead sell through it.

Train your staff to feel comfortable talking about the offers. Practice using simple scripts so they are ready to address your customers with the offers at checkout.
If executed with care and tenacity, these steps can turn your cash wrap into a self-service sales machine and add that last-minute item to each customer with integrity.”

NEXT ISSUE: We will take a look at how to prepare for the holidays to maximize spiritual impact and store profit.

Retail Successentials May-June 2014: How to drive traffic with store marketing-but not until you're ready Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 02:21 PM America/New_York

How to drive traffic with store marketing—but not until you’re ready

Be sure you’re really prepared for guests before inviting them

BillNielsenInChairRetailers must get their house in order before inviting guests to their store. It’s a simple principle, but sometimes we get the cart before the horse!

I am an adamant believer in never inviting guests to a party without first making sure the lights are on, the door is open, the table is set, the food is ready and directions have been given, so I held off on addressing marketing and advertising until we had tackled such foundational issues as omnichannel, value proposition, service and selling.

Unfortunately, our email inboxes and mailboxes are filled with invitations to visit stores that have invested in marketing before they got their house in order. Why? They were  desperate for traffic and sales. If you have ever responded to an ad only to find out it is not in effect yet, it has expired, the store is out of stock on the item or the staff was at best uninformed and at worst rude, then you know why one of our Retail Successentials is to never drive in store traffic before you are ready.  

But when your store is ready and you spend a dollar on advertising, it may just produce a sale.

1. Reach the customer who is already in your store. Your first and most profitable advertising dollar will always be the one you spend reaching your current customers. Did you know that only 20% of customers who shop the average CBA store received a catalog, but 100% of them will see your product displays and point-of-purchase (POP) materials? So, don’t skimp on investing in visual merchandising and POP materials. 

Take time to create “feature” displays on endcaps and gondolas near the front of your store. Stock them with seasonally relevant product and use clear, single-price messages like 20% off, $5 off or $9.99 each.

Last but not least, consider creating a “bounce-back” piece that you hand the customer with their change at the point of sale (POS). Giving them an attractive, time-sensitive offer that’s good only in the next 30 days is a great way to bring the customer back sooner than the 90-day average you are probably experiencing with most guests.

2. Institute a loyalty program. You can go as basic as a “punch card” or all the way up to one that is integrated into your POS. You can also find third-party solutions that are run through your credit card swipe reader.

Start by finding out how often your average customer comes in and then how much he or she spends per visit on average. Next, create incentives that reward frequency, amount purchased or both.

3. Capture email addresses and/or cell numbers.Having this customer contact information allows you to engage in inexpensive electronic advertising such as e-blasts or text messages. Make sure you also have adequate privacy statements and opt-in policies in place.

Focus all of your communication on events, new product releases and special offers to increase the number of times your customer shops with you each year and/or the amount of money spent on the average transaction. If you are a novice here, consider reaching out to a company that can help guide you or simply use a third-party email/text service to jump-start your results.

4. Use direct mail to bring known customers back to your store.Segment your mailing list into at least three groups and create offers as follows:

?New customers who shopped for the first time in the last 30 days. The goal here is to get them back in within the next 30 days. Since most customers do not shop within 30 days of their last purchase, be sure to provide them with an aggressive offer. Think margin dollars. Wouldn’t you rather make $5 in margin on a $30 transaction than to make 40% on a sale that may never happen?

?Valued customers. These are people who have shopped with you two or three times in the last six to nine months. Your goal is to get them to spend more on their next purchase than they normally would. Give them an offer good for the next 60 days that offers 20%-30% off a much higher transaction.

?Old customers. These are people who have not shopped at your store in more than nine months. Send them a postcard that looks like it is worth $5. Set a minimum purchase amount of $20 to get them to think of something to buy in this price range before coming to the store.

5. Remember that customer acquisition is your store’s lifeblood.Consider reaching out to acquire new customers with mass distribution of catalogs in your local newspaper (free-standing inserts) or placing a coupon in one of the “marriage mail” envelopes that companies like ValPack offer. These options give you the ability to target the ZIP codes in your area, so buy the inserts accordingly.

6. Employ no- or low-cost forms to reach your community.Consider  writing a book-review column for your newspaper’s religion editor, doing on-air reviews with a Christian radio station, creating events like Christmas shoebox collection days and getting the local media to promote it, or handing out “Be My Guest” cards that give your customers a free book just for coming into your store.

In closing, take time every day to make sure your store looks and smells great and that your staff is ready to serve. Don’t forget to dedicate the day to the Lord!

NEXT ISSUE: Learn how to use an age-old retail secret to drive 3% to your comp-store sales.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Is Christian fiction dying? Print Email
Written by Dan Balow, Literary agent, The Steve Laube Agency   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 01:57 PM America/New_York

Literary agent explains disparity between popularity of fiction and its slow retail sales

DanBalowThe Christian products industry is experiencing some hesitancy with regard to Christian fiction. Some publishers are nervous about the current state of affairs regarding Christian fiction and are in a wait-and-see mode before they attempt to expand their fiction offerings or try new things. Two Christian publishers either downsized or suspended their fiction programs last year. 

On the other hand, there are some Christian publishers who are truly excited about the growth potential of the category and are taking an aggressive stance toward it.

Similarly, some Christian retailers are doing quite well with fiction, while others are feeling lukewarm about it and, sadly, some are not doing well at all with fiction.

So, an important question has come to the fore: Is Christian fiction dying? Well, no, but it is interesting to explore the reason behind such diverse opinions on the subject. How can one group see great potential and another see little or none?


 Here is why I think Christian fiction is causing some publisher and retailer confusion right now:

First and foremost, fiction is the segment of book publishing and retailing most affected by e-book sales. In some cases, 50% or more of unit sales on a particular title can be digital. Because e-books are cheaper than printed editions, overall revenues to the publisher will decrease or remain flat while readership increases. For a particular novel, digital sales might be 50% of the units and 20% of the revenue. Because of e-books, a new business model eventually will emerge, but it takes time for publishers and retailers to adjust to new realities.

Retailers can easily recall how the decline in physical product sales were affected by music downloads (iTunes started in 2001), video download/streaming and audiobook downloads. The migration to digital delivery in music, video and audio resulted in a corresponding drop in physical product sales at retail. But knowing the cause doesn’t make it easier to handle.

The second major contributor to confusion about fiction is the relatively small number of titles published. Even in good years, the total output of new Christian fiction titles by the main Evangelical Christian Publishers Association members is not more than 250-300 annually (not counting Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents mass market lines).

R.R. Bowker data from a couple of years ago indicates that the entire U.S. publishing industry (not including self-publishing) released more than 250,000 new titles annually, of which about 40,000 are novels. The data on Christian publishers is not completely accurate, but not long ago, the total output of books from Christian publishers was around 10,000 new titles annually. If Christian publishers followed the same ratios in fiction as the general market, there should be more than 1,000 new novels each year, not 250-300. Not every category growth problem is solved by doing more books, but in this case, I believe that factor has something to do with it.

Similarly at retail, when a category suffers a slowdown, reducing shelf space for it only hastens the decline. The huge disparity between fiction in general market retail and that in the Christian market would leave one to wonder whether some are giving up too early on it.

The final reason for confusion about fiction is there are a limited number of genres published by Christian publishers. Christian publishers cannot publish in as many genres as a general market publisher. For instance, erotica will never be a category in Christian publishing.

Combine these three things—eroding physical sales due to digital delivery, a small number of titles and relatively few categories—and maybe we can understand why it is rather confusing time in the Christian fiction category. 


Beyond the usual store practices of stocking current best-sellers and new titles, what can retailers do about it?

  • Begin with inventory. Carry the classic backlist, not just In His Steps or The Pilgrim’s Progress, but also authors who made the category successful in the last 30 years—Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye, Bodie and Brock Thoene and Francine Rivers, to name a few.
  • Add a new genre of fiction that heretofore you have not carried or promoted. This is to grow your customer’s taste for a wider type of fiction.
  • Consider rearranging the fiction section by genre to help readers find new authors. Perhaps employ a variation of the umbrella categories that the Christy Awards uses.
  • Encourage fiction reader groups among your customers. They will help show readers how fiction can communicate spiritual truth in an effective manner.

Steve Laube, founder and owner of the literary agency with which I work, was a retailer before getting into the publisher side of the equation. In 1989, his Berean store in Phoenix was named CBA Store of the Year. I asked him to give his perspective on how retailers can sell more fiction:

“The key was that great story that got people telling their friends. Word-of-mouth. Second was a staff that was knowledgeable about the various fiction offerings. Hand-selling is still a critical piece of what makes the physical store a destination. Hand-selling is a form of word-of-mouth. For example, when Mrs. Sally came in the store each month and asked us, ‘What’s new?’ we could direct her to the latest and greatest because we knew the type of stories she liked and the type of stories that were on our shelves. That principle has not changed over the years. I am always attracted to the part of any bookstore that has a ‘Staff Recommendations’ section. I find it fascinating to see what other people think is worthwhile to read.”

Keep in mind that if readers don’t find what they need in the Christian store, they will look elsewhere, and personally, I’d rather they find a lot of great reads among titles from Christian publishers in Christian retail stores.  


Author’s disclaimer: I am a member of the advisory board for The Christy Awards and worked in publishing during the growth years of Christian fiction, and our agency is committed to Christian fiction (as well as nonfiction). I am also limiting my comments to traditional publishing.


Service and selling go hand in hand in today’s Christian retail store Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 02:05 PM America/New_York

Important customer-service practices assist shoppers with purchases that meet their felt and undiscovered needs

BillNielsenInChairCustomer service encompasses the entire shopping experience and can be done well by remembering and executing the “Three Cs”:

Convenience begins with being available to your customers when they want to shop. We generally recommend that retailers base their store hours on the normal hours of the center in which your store operates, the typical traffic patterns created by local employers and schools, and most importantly, by a review of your customer traffic and hourly sales for each day. 

If you do not yet have the technology to measure customer traffic in and out of your store by the hour, consider investing in such. Several low-cost options are available and the data can help you staff your store to maximize sales and minimize labor costs. Looking at sales for your early morning and late evening hours in a certain period will help you stretch the window of time your store is open to the maximum profitable time period.

Remember, too, that consumers expect your hours to flex seasonally to make it easier for them to shop during the holidays.

Comfort speaks to making sure your store is inviting and provides a pleasant shopping environment. Does your “Open” sign work? Are your sidewalks and windows clean? Do you have a place for customers to “land” when they enter the front door? Is your store layout and signage such that customers easily can see where they want to shop? What about your store’s lighting? Too little light and they cannot see products well or feel safe, but too much and customers will sense a lack of “coziness.” In some cases, they might even get migraines and avoid your store altogether! 

Think about sound as well. Do you have music playing, and is it innocuous enough? Is the volume set so that your customers will not consciously notice it, or is it so loud or genre-specific that some consumers will find it a distraction? 

Take time to experience the environment of your store again as if for the first time, or ask a friend to do it for you. Pay special attention to aisle width and lines of sight that help customers provide ample room for browsing and find the products they want. 

Also, don’t forget sparkling restrooms. You would not invite guests into your home to use a dirty bathroom, and some customers will judge your entire operation based on the cleanliness of your public restrooms. Finally, remember that customers follow their noses. Does your store smell fresh, or are dirty carpets and dusty fixtures making your store feel old and worn?

Courtesy starts with a warm, genuine greeting. A quick word that acknowledges the customer, and makes him or her feel welcome is the trick. Don’t pester them the minute the walk in the door, but do follow up to see if they need help or to make them aware of any store specials. 

Remember, too, that it is a proven fact that the most cost-effective advertising you can do is through the use of well-crafted feature displays and P.O.P. materials. Do it right and you will help customers find items that meet their needs and desires at a price they can’t resist. But, do it wrong and you will have cluttered up your store and blocked important sight lines. If you do not feel like you have the visual or design skills to pull this off, reach out to a friend or a professional to guide you. For a relatively small investment, you can reap big dividends!

Selling is an art that can be learned by just about anyone who cares about people. I say this because selling should always be done from the perspective of helping the customer. If you can do this with full integrity, selling can become serving!

So, the steps to an effective selling strategy that we recommend for retailers are:

Always approach the customer from the mind-set of serving them. This means helping them find the best product to meet their needs, just the right item for that “special gift” or letting them know about the new release from a favorite author or artist. It also can mean helping them discover ways to save money. It is not about what you want them to buy, but about meeting their needs and desires.

Help your staff expand their knowledge of key products. We recommend that you identify key products that meet local customers’ needs. When an employee can speak with confidence about a product, that will help a customer with a problem teenager, the death of a loved one, difficult financial times, feeling far from God or most importantly, a relationship with Jesus as their Savior. Your employee will be able to engage with confidence customers throughout the store, knowing they can best meet their specific needs. 

Based on your clientele, develop a list of such needs and products to meet them, and systematically walk your staff through it. Focus on how each key product meets a customer need. Consider labeling these items as “Staff Recommendations.” Be sure to include key product lines such as Bibles, Bible study tools, devotionals and books on prayer, parenting, grief and apologetics.

Train your staff to never ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Instead, try statements or questions that engage the customer from a helpful perspective. For example, try saying, “I see you’re looking at study Bibles. Are you looking for one for yourself or as gift for someone else?” Or perhaps, “I see you are looking at study Bibles. Which translation of the Bible do you prefer?” Once you have broken the ice, you will know more about their needs and be in a position to offer relevant suggestions.

Help customers make the most of their visit by listening and suggesting. Listen to their responses and suggest items to meet needs they have expressed and needs they may not even know they have yet. The expressed need from the customer might be: “I just starting going to Sunday school at First Christian Church and they are studying Experiencing God.” The unknown need may be that in addition to the workbook, they might find that they need the related trade book. 

Last, but not least, remember that it is harder to sell what you don’t have, so be sure to customize your assortment and stock your shelves with the solutions to your customers’ needs.  My motto in this regard is: “Always be in-stock with what the customer expects to find.” Being able to place the product that your customer is looking for into his or her hands and saving your customer a return trip to your store is one of the best ways to secure a sale and provide great service. The best way to achieve this is to identify these products and include them in the core assortment that you regularly replenish.

By creating a welcoming and comfortable environment for your customers and then suggesting items to them that meet their needs, your store will earn a reputation for providing a great shopping experience and thereby increase your sales. Imagine the benefit of adding just $1 to every transaction by helping customers select the items that will best help them.

NEXT ISSUE: We will review some low-cost forms of marketing that will put your store on the map and help keep customers coming back for more.

Retail Successentials March 2014: Determine your value proposition to head off the competition Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Wednesday, 12 February 2014 04:24 PM America/New_York

Drive traffic to your store with a clear-cut pricing strategy

BillNielsenInChairGetting feet across the threshold is the first step to making the sale. Accomplishing that in a business where we do not sell commodities (things people need like bread or toothpaste) can be a challenge, especially when the economy is shrinking disposable income. 

Last month, we reminded you of the importance of keeping your occupancy costs below 10% of your sales so that you have the funds you need to market to your customer and drive traffic. This month we’ll focus on creating a value proposition that will create demand in the heart of your customers and form the basis for why they will want to visit your store. 

Investopedia defines value proposition as “a business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service.” Your value proposition is in large part what you are known for and, therefore, is an integral part of your brand. 

Most value propositions consist of some combination of selection, service and price. Often businesses select one or two of these as pillars. Walmart has chosen price first, selection second and, for the most part, ignores service. Conversely, Starbucks has chosen to focus on service first, then selection and, for the most part, ignores price.

Allow me to suggest a model that will work for most Christian retailers. Assuming you have the omnichannel presence up and running, selection is the least important of the three attributes since everything is available to your customers. That leaves service and price. The reality is that price will drive traffic, but service will keep customers coming back to your store.

There are three main types of pricing strategies:

  1. High. Think Tiffany’s. Not much is ever on sale. Perceived premium products are sold at a premium price.
  2. High/Low. This is where most of the chains in the Christian market live. They aggressively sale-price a limited number of items each month and have the majority of items on sale at full MSRP.
  3. Low. Think Walmart with its everyday-low-price mentality. Few independents can afford to live here.

A High/Low pricing strategy is best for our industry. To be successful here, the retailer must focus on a blended margin and have a strategy in place. Blended margin is the sum of the margin dollars and the margin percentage you make on the customer’s entire transaction. It is easier to sell an item at 50% off when your customer is also buying two or three other items in the same transaction on which you make much richer margins. To accomplish this, use the following:

  • ?Cross-merchandising. This is the discipline of visually displaying items the customer can be enticed to buy when they come in for a sale-priced item. One example is sale-pricing the first title in a series and displaying later books alongside.
  • ?Up-selling. This is the practice of interacting with your customer on the sales floor and suggesting other items that can complement their purchase, perhaps a daily devotional to a customer who is buying a Bible.
  • ?Plus-selling. This is the art of adding on one final item at the point of sale. The easiest example is a gift bag. More aggressive retailers see strong success when they offer the customer a tremendous deal at or below $5.

Some creative ways to shout value to your customers and complement a High/Low pricing strategy are:

  • Gift cards/bonus bucks.Gift cards or the use of “bonus bucks” (i.e., a coupon that looks like cash but has no cash value) are used by many successful retailers. The most common application is rewarding customers when they spend more. Take this example: Earn $10 back for every $50 you spend. To the customer, this feels like a 20% bonus. However, since your only expense here is the cost of goods, your “cost” is closer to 10%-12% or less since many of the coupons given out are never redeemed (commonly referred to as slippage). This is best used when you place an expiration date on the “bonus buck” that requires the customer to return to the store by a certain date. This helps drive traffic for the first visit and encourages a second visit.
  • Rebates.This is a very effective way to give a discount since rebates have a high slippage rate (percent of rebates never applied for). However, rebates come with process costs whether you do this in-house or hire a processor.
  • Loyalty programs. Most loyalty programs provide the customer with a financial reward, generally some percentage or dollar amount off of the customer’s next purchase after achieving a pre-determined plateau such as 10 visits or some dollar level of spending. Giving the customer bonus day or bonus item opportunities to accelerate the reward for buying certain items or shopping on certain days can help stimulate a purchase and reinforce your loyalty program.

In summary, developing your value proposition—and brand—with a strong pricing strategy can help you stand out among the competition and create in the heart of your customer the desire to visit your store. Before you say, “I don’t know how to afford to offer price incentives,” consider tapping into the skills of one of your staff or peers or even an outside company that can help you develop the right strategy and help you better negotiate with vendors to be able to afford it. 

NEXT ISSUE: Learn more about customer service and selling strategies to round out your value proposition.

Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.


Retail Successentials Feb 2014: Consider what makes a prime location for your retail operation Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Thursday, 16 January 2014 01:12 PM America/New_York

BillNielsenInChairConsider what makes a prime location for your retail operation

Today’s omnichannel environment means your store may already have a prime spot no matter its physical setting

Location! Location! Location? 

Location is vital, but in this new era of omnichannel, location is a bit less important than it was a decade ago. If you are implementing a robust omnichannel brand, you already have some of the best locations, namely your customer’s desktop and cell phone. Since having these channels without a strong physical storefront limits your business and ministry, especially in select categories, this issue will focus on the brick-and-mortar location of your store. I apologize up front to the pure “e-tailers” reading this, but know that many of the basics that strong retailers need to master also can be translated to your online strategy.

Based on my 25 years of experience and hundreds of site selections and new store openings, here are the top criteria for successful physical store locations or relocations:

Target. I’m not referring to the “red” big-box retailer here; rather, I’m referring to the need to target the watering holes or neighborhoods where your customers cluster. 

The most successful retailers do extensive heat mapping (similar to a weather radar map) that shows by color where the majority of their targeted customers live. In the case of CBA-member retailers, tracking where evangelicals live is best. Layering on top of the evangelical presence the average household incomes give you a solid starting point for the location of your new or soon-to-be relocated store.

Convenience.Like it or not, the overwhelming majority of what we sell today is not a required commodity, but rather a luxury for our customers. This means that our customers are less likely to driver farther to shop with us. Gathering data on daily traffic count on the street in front of your new location can really help identify sites that are “along the way.” 

Ingress and egress is as important since if they cannot get into your center and get back on the road without fighting traffic, it is a less than optimal shopping

Another element of convenience is parking and sidewalks. The general rule of thumb is that you need three parking spaces in front of your store for every 1,000 square feet of space you occupy. Likewise, especially with the aging of America, it is recommended that you avoid sites that have steps or a lack of ramps.

Adjacencies.Simply put, this means that once you have the two above criteria nailed, it’s time to look for a center that has other tenants that you know will help attract your targeted customer. Target, Walmart, Best Buy, PetSmart and a host of others fill this bill.

Visibility.Even the best center has a bad space in it. It is usually the one that is hidden in the corner, behind trees and without a high-visibility location for your sign. If you’re in a not-so-ideal location, look for creative ways to increase your visibility. Depending on your lease, you might be able to add more exterior signage on the back or side of the building. Another way to become more visible is to drive a vehicle—the larger the better—wrapped with your store’s logo.

Facilities, size and cost. Avoid locations with multiple entrances and levels. Make sure you have a convenient freight-delivery door. Remember that your occupancy costs will generally be your biggest investment behind cost of goods and labor. As such, you must be willing to maximize your sales per square foot and minimize your total cost of occupancy. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are paying more than 10% of sales for fully loaded rent, you will not have the funds you need to promote your store to drive traffic and then staff it to provide great customer service once the consumer gets there. Be aware of all the add-ons like common area maintenance (CAM), insurance and taxes that rental agents will try to load onto your plate. Retail is detail, and leases are chock-full of details you cannot afford to overlook.

Finding the perfect site that meets all of the above criteria can be an exhausting process and may take several months or longer in some markets. Many business owners benefit from the help of a firm that has expertise in this area. Unless you have successfully negotiated several leases in the past, you would be advised to hire a leasing expert to assist you. Generally they save you far more than they cost. Those that are skilled in the above areas are still wise to involve a real estate attorney to review all leases before they sign. 

Do your due diligence, be picky and negotiate wisely, and you’ll have a site that will serve your ministry and business well for many years. 

NEXT ISSUE: Learn some of the best ways to drive traffic to your brick-and-mortar store.


Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran having served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen is now president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.



Retail Successentials Jan 2014:Omnichannel caters to today's digital-firendly consumer Print Email
Written by Bill Nielsen   
Thursday, 26 December 2013 08:45 AM America/New_York

Omnichannel caters to today’s digital-friendly consumer

Learn how to increase your customers’ satisfaction by providing a seamless experience through all channels

BillNielsenInChairThe landscape before retailers today is more brutal and unforgiving that any we’ve seen. The shrinking disposable dollar in consumers’ wallets, the impact of healthcare reform and the changing face of social media and online purchasing behavior require all of us to redefine ourselves or risk being left in the wake of those who do! While I am intentionally addressing retailers in this new Retail Successentials column, it will also serve as a great resource for others who want to better understand the retail consumer and learn how to better serve the retail industry.

First and foremost, we must always focus on the main thing—that is, how best to meet the known and even the unknown needs of retail consumers. Clearly, the bottom line is: Meet the consumer’s needs better than the guy down the street and you will succeed. Each of us as a consumer has a good idea of what our needs are, but we all need a bit of help with our unknown needs—the needs we can’t yet see, but are assuredly on the horizon. 

Most of us have gone into a home improvement store looking for an item to fix something at home. We thought we needed a washer or a float value, but because of some friendly help who had already experienced what we were about to go through, we learned we also needed some Teflon tape or some other items that we could not foresee based on our limited experience. The same is true for first-time parents, first-time Sunday school teachers, new believers, and the list goes on. The key is to present such knowledge to customers with solid, unwavering integrity, as consumers can see a sales pitch from a mile away. They don’t want to be sold, they want to be served.

In order to serve the consumer and create profitable business growth, there are several “retail successentials” we must master. At first some may ask, “I know what needs to be done, so what’s new?” The fact remains that even the teams that win the Super Bowl start every new season going back to basics, and so must we. The key is not in the basics themselves, but in our ability and willingness to master them that will put a Super Bowl ring on our finger. Those players who look to a coach to help them master the basics generally do far better than those who rely on skill and athletics alone.

The first and most important of the retail successentials is developing an omnichannel presence. But, omnichannel is not your mama’s multichannel strategy.

Multichannel is just that; it is about doing business across multiple channels. Most multichannel retailers struggle to present the same assortment, pricing and service to their customers. As a result, the customer is often left confused and frustrated at what is available where and at what price. Heaven help them if they want to return an item purchased from one channel to another. Time and convenience are new commodities that we must be sensitive to lest we find our customers choosing to shop elsewhere. 

Omnichannel goes beyond multichannel, but is not as formidable as it sounds. Omnichannel is simply a matter of presenting one seamless view of your business to the consumer so that they can shop for what they want, when they want, where they want, how they want and not have to jump through hoops and restrictive policies to do so.

So let’s break down omnichannel into five practical segments that any retailer can implement:

1. Brand. The number of channels you do business in is entirely up to you. The easier you make it on your customer, the more customers you will have. Your brand should always be the same to each customer no matter which channel they select. It’s OK to not sell via an iOS or Android phone app, but it is not OK to sell with this app and have it not represent your brand by allowing the customer to see the same assortment, pricing and policies. Think of each channel as another window to your business. No matter which window they look in, they should see and experience the same thing—your brand.

2. Assortment. It is true that some items do not sell well online or via a phone app. It is also true that some items do not ship well. Examples might be church baptisteries and steeples. This should not stop you, however, from making sure the customer can see such items, review product details, read customer reviews and more. Keep in mind that they may visit your store and buy from you online or do some research online before visiting your store.  Shrinking store space and higher rents may require you to have an interactive screen in your store since it is not possible to stock every item in every store. No matter how you do it, the goal is for customers to see everything you offer from any channel. Such is the mark of a good brand.

3. Price. Gone are the days of customers accepting different prices in your store and online. I know, I know, the e-commerce retailers are already saying they need to be more competitive so as to not lose business to Amazon. I agree. I just believe that the same rule applies to your in-store pricing. If you disagree, look into “showrooming” trends. Consumers are looking in-store, but using the Amazon or similar app to buy online at a better price. The net here is: Your price should be your price regardless of channel. We will cover pricing strategies in a separate issue.

4. Policies. Think returns, loyalty programs, gift cards and coupons. These are the most common areas where a customer can become frustrated. Don’t you want to shop where all of these policies are seamless and earn your points, redeem your coupons, buy and use gift cards and make returns without worry about the channel? So, give this to your customers—or your competition will.

5. Technology solutions. In order for your customer to have one seamless view of your brand, you must begin with one view of your customer within each of your channels. Fortunately, CRM solutions, web-development, phone apps and even kiosks have all come way down in price, making it affordable and easy to leverage technology to become omnichannel. Start by asking your current your current POS provider what other service applications they interface with. There should be a long list of low-cost options for you. If you hear, “Well, we can find a way to that,” it’s an early sign to hold onto your wallet and start looking for a modern up-to-date POS provider that has open-access application partners to meet your needs.

At the end of the day, your customer should be able to shop with you at any/all of your channels, see the same assortment, buy at the same prices, return goods to any channel and talk to someone anytime who views them as a name and not a number and is able to help them regardless of channel. 

NEXT ISSUE: Learn how to optimize your brick-and-mortar location as your most important retail channel.


Bill Nielsen is a 25-year Christian retail veteran who has served in C-level positions with Family Christian Stores, LifeWay Christian Stores and Berean Christian Stores. Nielsen currently serves as president of The Equation Team, a consulting firm that specializes in retail and publishing.

Celebrating 75 years of God’s faithfulness Print Email
Written by Christian Retailing Staff   
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 04:21 PM America/New_York

LaneAndEbethDennis‘Gospel-Centered Publishing’ branding reflects Crossway’s purpose and mission 

In this, our 75th anniversary year, we want to express our great appreciation to the Christian retail marketplace. My wife, Ebeth, and I started Crossway in 1979 as the not-for-profit book publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. We know that Crossway would not exist today without the enormous support and partnership that Christian retail has provided. What has been true in the past is certainly true in the present—and will be equally true in the future.

Industry Forum: Fighting through the retail weeds Print Email
Written by Scott Etheridge   
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 12:48 PM America/New_York

It’s time to consider new opportunities that are emerging in this season of businessEtheridge_Scott

Change has been prevalent in Christian retail in the last several years, bringing truth to the old adage, “Change is inevitable and constant.” As an industry, retailers have a choice as to whether or not they will adapt.

To address the what, when and where of our business, we need to look at where Christian retail has been and how the trade identifies itself. Establishing these two facts will provide a path to where Christian retail is headed in the future.


Where has Christian retail been? The recession forced many businesses in the industry to make tough decisions. Even through the recovery process, retailers have had to make difficult decisions in regards to staffing, product lines, pricing and the number of SKUs offered in their stores. They have said goodbye to some old friends while creating new relationships. Churches have shifted their buying patterns, and new technologies have forced stores to view the world through a different lens. Competition from larger chains has affected the market, and some have stores experiencing traffic drop-off. Although unpleasant, the last few years has forced stores to look at things in a new way. 

Who is Christian retail? The trade is made up of store owners, managers and employees who are following a call and a passion. Their goal is to offer products that benefit the kingdom of God, drawing others into a deeper relationship with Christ. Christian retail is part of the body of Christ. 

Where is Christian retail going? Simply put, wherever Christian retailers believe He leads. I once heard a friend say, “When we accepted Christ, we went from collusion to collision with Satan, and that is why you never noticed him before.” The same holds true in Christian retail. When a business or person works for Him, they will run into Satan. The choices Christian retailers make before, during or after times of adversity determines the mind-set that directly affects their ability to overcome and move forward. 

As business people, we tend to get caught in the weeds of business and life, where we can miss God’s blessing. Rather than focusing on everyday struggles, let’s examine some of the positives from the past.


Recently I have noticed the following patterns in most Christian retail stores:

  • Staffing is more in line with bottom-line revenue, creating the opportunity for refocused attention and rebranding of the retail store image to the buying public via store remodels or shifts in business strategy, for example. 
  • Inventory levels have been adjusted properly, and retailers are more capable of ordering product without credit limit issues.
  • New “niches” have been discovered, making up for lost revenue.
  • New pricing models make individual items more profitable. The use of loss-leader items has become more strategic. In some cases, lower margins actually translate into greater profit due to increased sales.
  • Some publishers and distributors are helping stores plan endcap and floor display strategies, to assist stores that have recently experienced staff reductions.
  • Sales reps from all publishers are working more closely with retailers to help lower the cost of products with partnership programs.
  • Some publishers have opted for new order processes, offering a guaranteed return of unsold product that benefits the retailer.

Overall, Christian retail stores have been and always will be a place of destination for core customers. Each store offers its own personalized blend of customer service and support. 

Nowhere else can you find a broader knowledge base of authors, subject matter and Bible expertise than in a Christian retail store. Christian retail carries the largest selection of backlist products and can special-order most any product at a moment’s notice.

Christian retailers also have portrayed a family-like atmosphere in the way they conduct business and handle relationships with their staff personally and professionally. Christian retail stores can and should continue to do this. 


What else can Christian stores do as they look to their future?

  • Consider taking a new look at specific markets, reaching out again to churches that have started and families who have moved into your area in the last few years. 
  • Market the fact that Christian retail stores are a destination point for their communities. Marketing comes in many forms, some with little cost like word-of-mouth, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
  • Develop in-store gathering places.
  • Continue to look for ways to cut inventory levels without affecting overall revenue. This can be accomplished by better inventory management systems.
  • Lower the amount of inventory that does not turn in an acceptable time.
  • Look for new “niches,” which can come in the form of fresh product lines. 

Christian retail stores are moving ahead with the same calling once placed in their hearts when they began in this industry. They are moving forward knowing that if God is for them, no one can be against. They move forward knowing that if God changes their destination, such as He did with Paul when the Holy Spirit withstood him, then He has a greater plan for them. They are moving forward in partnership with their communities. They are moving forward in partnership with each other.

Christian retail is community.

Christian retail is moving forward.

Christian retail is strong and will continue to be needed as retailers live out their calling and serve their neighborhoods and broader community. 

Industry Forum: Marketing from the heart Print Email
Written by Toni Birdsong, Co-owner and communications strategist, Birdsong Creative   
Thursday, 07 February 2013 11:05 AM America/New_York

ToniBirdsongConsumer sentiment moves businesses to consider causes they want to support

Cause marketing is taking place all around you. It can be seen everywhere from the local fitness center’s “10K to Cure Heart Disease” to Yoplait’s nationwide “Save Lids to Save Lives” to TOMS “One for One” campaign that sends shoes to kids in Third World countries. Corporations and charities are teaming up to make a difference—and generating revenue (and donors) in the process. 

And, by all accounts, consumers like it. According to a 2012 Edelman Goodpurpose Study, 87% of global consumers believe that business needs to place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on its own interests.

Numbers from 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study reveals:

  • 83% of Americans wish more of the products, services and retailers they use would support causes.
  • 80% of consumers are willing to switch from one brand to another that is about the same in price and quality—if the other brand is associated with a good cause. 
  • 61% are willing to try a new brand or one they have never heard of if it’s associated with a cause.

A few factors that have contributed to the rise in cause marketing are a consumer base that includes more socially minded millennials; increased consumer-brand engagement via social media; and corporate efforts to innovate and compete in a tough economy. 

But, it should be noted that it’s not enough to simply hook your brand to a cause, nor is cause marketing for everyone. Some basic principles need to take root before you will see the cause marketing rewards of increased brand awareness, customer loyalty, a competitive advantage and a boost to revenue.



Think outside the box. If you own a store and truly desire to connect with your customers’ “cause hot buttons,” take a survey at the counter over the course of a week or send one out via e-blast. What social issues most concern your customers—missions, evangelism, at-risk youth, hunger, sex trafficking? Ask them to rank their concerns. Research how to align with an organization, publisher, author, ministry or church that already spearheads these issues. 

Make sure your cause is a good corporate fit. When you consider a nonprofit partner, make sure it’s a strong brand fit on both sides of the table. Make sure both teams contribute real value and authenticity to the mission.

Head first, heart second. Not every cause is a fit for your brand. Be strategic. Study connections that work: TOMS/shoes for kids, Yoplait yogurt/breast cancer cure, Oil of Olay/skin cancer prevention. Committing to a cause long-term is a decision that is head-first (strategic) and heart-second (passion). That commitment also needs corporate support from the top down. The partnership should extend your brand personality and further tell the story of who you are and what values your company embraces. Ask yourself what matters most to you, your employees and your customers. You will work harder for a cause that is fueled by both strategy and passion, in that order. 



Be authentic and communicate clearly. People will move on your behalf if they determine you are sincere, consistent and focused in your mission and message. Your primary task is to communicate—succinctly and with rabid consistency—the definitive impact you are making in the world. Authenticity communicated well builds brand trust—the holy Grail of repeat business. And, authenticity—not inspiration—is what pays the bills. 

Tell a great story. Getting people to listen depends on your ability to tell a compelling story. People want to align with companies that do good, but they also want to know where their money goes and if it’s truly making an impact. 

As we recently experienced with one of our clients, HEAL Ministries, revamping your message and telling your story in a compelling way is key to creating raving fans. In HEAL’s case, no matter how passionate the ministry communicated the mission, potential donors eventually tuned out when the ministry repeatedly asked them to donate money for Bibles to send to widows and orphans in Uganda. They tuned in when we decided to tell the same story, but in a more compelling and consistent way—and giving increased. 

Integrate your marketing. It takes more than Facebook fans and Twitter followers to carry a cause campaign over time. Tell your story consistently and powerfully across targeted marketing channels such as your website or blog, radio or online ads, TV, email marketing, speaking engagements, community events or editorial placement. 

Tell people what you are doing. In the past, companies have avoided appearing boastful about their charitable deeds. However, as the economy limps along and customers leverage online platforms to voice their like or dislike of companies, savvy brands realize that marketing is a two-way conversation in which the consumer has a say—and a pretty big one at that! Not only do consumers want to hear about a company’s good deeds, they expect to, and they want to personally, and publically, be aligned with that cause.

For example, our company recently aligned with The Autism Society of Middle Tennessee. While the group came to us initially for services, it didn’t take long for us to transition from vendor to advocate and tie this group’s mission to our company. We’ve communicated our alliance with this group and supported their efforts on our social channels. By raising awareness for autism, we’ve created an extension of our own brand values of community, education and advocacy around causes we believe in. 

You can’t fake cause marketing. If you are genuine and communicate your cause consistently and well, your customers will likely engage with you at a higher level. This means you end up evangelizing with your business purpose and your business, which is always a win-win.

Doing good is indeed good for business. To be successful, businesses must evolve with and respond to the demands of an increasingly socially minded consumer base. 

Properly executed cause marketing has the potential to fill an important need, create brand loyalty and give your customers one more reason to purchase from you. And at the end of the day, that matters.  

Industry Forum: Give new authors an opportunity to speak Print Email
Written by Production   
Monday, 14 January 2013 04:04 PM America/New_York

LynnAustinMaking space for the newly published can pay off in more sales, kingdom impact

Once upon a time … I was a new author. After years of struggle, when my single goal was getting my manuscript published, the day came when I finally held a copy of my first book in my hands. More copies filled my garage and the publisher’s warehouse, boxes full of them. I was dismayed to discover that I now had a new full-time job, promoting my book. 

To the local Christian bookstore, I was an unknown author, trying to market a book alongside the A-List, best-selling authors who kept the store in business and paid their employees’ salaries. 


All authors are unknown at some point. Though the economics have changed, unknown authors still get published. It requires flexibility on the author’s part, being willing to change directions toward e-books and self-publishing if standard publishing fails. This route has its drawbacks, of course, as the author picks up the costs of all aspects of editing and design. But regardless of the publishing venue, writers must also be publicists, including building a platform for ministry via speaking, Internet writing, articles and social media. 

New authors must have perseverance, determining to sort the morass of choices—and the temptation to let a less-than-excellent product slide through the chutes of self-publishing. Authors need to decide, if God is calling them to write, to constantly hone their craft, surrounding themselves with a writers’ group, attending writers’ conferences, learning from books on writing.

Getting published also requires creativity, building relationships between retailers and readers. Most retailers are eager to team up with writers if sales are a real possibility. New authors need to communicate why their books will impact readers, and how retailers can benefit from the addition of yet another new title.

As a newly published author, it took some convincing on my part—and a discounted price from my publisher—but my local store agreed to arrange a book signing. They provided a chair and a stack of my books on a table near the entrance… and a giant red tomato. A VeggieTales character was visiting the store during my signing. From my convenient position near the door, I directed the constant flow of excited families to the back of the bookstore where the tomato commanded center stage. I sat alone for three grueling hours, listening to the giggling and singing and clapping out of sight beyond the bookshelves. I managed to sell a handful of books that day, every single one purchased by friends stopping by to show their support. But even my friends wandered back to see the famous tomato. 

At a second signing, I teamed up with Jane Rubietta, a good friend and fellow author who had just published a nonfiction book. This signing was too far from home for friends to attend. There was no tomato this time, but customers made a wide circuit around my table, avoiding eye contact, obviously fearing that I would corner them with a sales pitch and they couldn’t graciously escape without buying one of my books. The plate of dry, colorless cookies was not enough of an incentive for them to stop. At the end of two hours (experience taught me to shorten the time), the store manager said, “I haven’t read your book and I never will. I don’t have time to read fiction, and I especially dislike biblical fiction.” 

That, of course, was the genre of my first book. I didn’t sell a single copy that day. But God was building my character, and trying to instill in me a servant attitude, probably one of the top necessities for authors.


My first few books were published in an era when Christian publishers still had the luxury of “discovering” new authors. Some big-name authors generated enough money so Bethany House could afford to take a chance on unknown writers. They published three or four of my books that barely recouped their advances until word-of-mouth (and a Christy Award) helped them to begin to pay off. 

Unfortunately, the financial margin for discovery has shrunk in this economy. But a profitable relationship between bookstore, reader and author is still possible. Here are ideas I’ve seen work:

In a bookstore in Switzerland, employees write reviews (like an Amazon review) and tell customers their picks. These picks were on a special shelf, highlighted in the store with a display of the books. Customers learned which employee had their taste in books and always looked for their monthly picks. 

Invite the author to give a short talk, something of substance and relevant to the published work, for people who take the time to come into the store. Jane Rubietta offered a workshop on journaling when her book Quiet Places was released. A large group attended. (And bought books!)

One bookstore had a librarians’ night for all the church librarians in their area. The store was closed, and offered tasty, colorful cookies and food. The owner invited me to talk about my books with the guests so they could get to know me.

Form a book club using the new authors’ books then invite the authors in for a chat. Most readers love to meet the real live author, and hosting the club at the store boosts traffic, sales and good ministry.

Consider using an Internet connection or Skype to host a “live” broadcast for a group with a new author on the screen.

Take advantage of the print media. Local weekend or weekly newspapers love local authors and “success” stories; stringers love to write up an article for those papers. The online version provides added publicity.


A “small name” doesn’t mean a small impact for eternity. I didn’t start writing because I wanted fame and fortune. I write because I believe God called me to write. If my stories can touch a single person’s heart as part of God’s plan, then I am a success. Thank God for the bookstores, the middlemen in this process, on the frontlines of ministry, bringing life-changing books to their customers’ attention.

New authors need space on store shelves. They have energy, passion and that vital ingredient of hope. They are willing to work hard and don’t take the privilege of publishing for granted. With teamwork, publisher, retailer and author can take that relationship to the bank. But more than that, new authors offer a new route to impact eternity. And that’s an investment we can’t afford to miss. 

Industry Forum: Publishers continue to acquire great content Print Email
Written by Production   
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 11:25 AM America/New_York

SteveLaubeChristian publishing still shows encouraging signs of health despite recent upheavals

Any attempt to analyze the state of an industry, particularly one as volatile as publishing, is a challenge. Late last year, the New York Times ran an article titled “How Dead Is the Book Business?” and Forbes asked, “What is the Future of Publishing?” The implication is that these are dire times and we need to start constructing survival shelters. But before we begin stocking up on batteries, let’s take a look at the state of our own part of the book-publishing industry.


Two major events shook our industry last year. The acquisition of Thomas Nelson by HarperCollins and its subsequent reorganization with Zondervan was the first. And the recently announced merger of Random House and Penguin was the other. But the latter does not impact the Christian market directly since there isn’t a specific CBA division within Penguin. 

While there has been much hand-wringing over these developments, CBA industry veterans have seen this before. Ten years ago (2003), Baker Books purchased Bethany House Publishers, and in 2006, WaterBrook bought Multnomah. The industry adapted. 

It is important to remember that the reading public is “publisher agnostic.” They generally do not know who published their favorite author. They only care that they can still get the next best book to read regardless of its origin.


The power of the brick-and-mortar retailer is changing. The demise of Borders and the shrinking of shelf space at Wal-Mart has had a huge impact on publishers’ sales success. In the past, they, along with, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million could make or break the success of a single title in the general market. 

The CBA market also has its “power accounts” that have influenced publishers’ decisions. But I maintain that the Christian market can still launch a best-seller that the general market later recognizes for its sales potential. Titles like The Harbinger, Heaven Is for Real and Radical are perfect examples of where our market initially drove demand. 

However, the rise of e-books and the power of Amazon have changed the game. This change also has opened the door for the indie author to succeed without a traditional publisher. As a result, publishers are trying new ways to launch authors without traditional sales channels. 

E-books have begun to supplant the mass-market trim size. In fact, the mass-market paperback has seen double-digit drops in sales volume in the last year. Pricing of e-books, therefore, has become a playground for experimentation and controversy. I’ve seen more upheaval in this arena than any other as publishers and retailers—store front and online—wrestle with the economics of digital products.


The success of any book is more art than science. The attempt to market the “next big thing” has changed from the static method of catalogs and print advertising to the ever-shifting world of social media. 

Readers are now able to connect with much larger networks to spread the word about a particular book. Many publishers recognize this and are throwing their efforts into that world instead of into book tours and space ads. An example of this is the reading community created by WaterBrook Multnomah.


If it were your money, you would likely “bet” on those book ideas that you know are going to sell a ton of copies. And only those who already have a track record are assured of a ready-made buying audience. 

In addition, for the nonfiction writer in particular, there is a demand for the author to have a visible or quantifiable platform from which they can sell their book ideas. This makes it very hard to launch a first-time author or for a publisher to stick with an author if their initial titles do not have strong sales. The era of developing an author and hoping that one day they will be successful is effectively over.

Economically a single blockbuster can make or break a publishing company’s bottom line for the year. Think of the impact Twilight, Harry Potter, 90 Minutes in Heaven, One Thousand Gifts, The Shack, Crazy Love, Left Behind, Radical and others have had on their publishers’ profits. Most have created a second book or more, even a franchise—and every publisher wants one of their own.


It’s nothing new to have publishers and retailers chasing current trends. The success of 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is for Real created a burgeoning category of books on the topic of heaven. It will be interesting to see if it has staying power, as the CBA industry has seen books on angels, prophecy, atheism and other topics ebb after a period of intense sales volume.

Amish fiction—the only genre that has its origins completely within the CBA market—is the one place where success created a new category that now has nearly 40 authors writing about the Plain community. We may find some fatigue among publishers and retailers, but readers have continued to ask for more. 


Overall, it is a great day to be in our industry. In my opinion, the publishing industry is still relatively healthy. Authors have multiple options besides the big publishing companies. Digital initiatives have led to an exploding new area of development. Last year, our agency had nearly 200 new books put under contract. Some were from first-time authors, which means that publishers are still acquiring great content, which will never change.

While it is hard to sell a book in today’s marketplace, I can’t name a time when it was easy. If publishing were easy, anyone could do it. That is why it is called “work.” 

Instead of reading doom-and-gloom, let’s embrace the challenge and enjoy the richness of changing our world word by word.

Steve Laube is the literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency. Connect with him at