Christian Retailing

Industry Forum: Reaching the college market Print Email
Written by Production   
Monday, 05 November 2012 01:20 PM America/New_York

Ministering to students requires a little creativity, but it’s well worth the effort

Logos of Dallas

You have likely seen some of the numbers when it comes to young people ages 15 to 29. Sixty percent of them have left the church and have no plans to go back. Only about 1% of college students attend church Sunday mornings. While the majority of them say they believe in God, they also say they are not religious. A number of those kids may be going to one of the growing numbers of house churches or other alternative church styles, yet the numbers are still staggering.

With each new class leaving home and getting their first taste of independence, the population of the traditional church declines. If nothing else, these figures may encourage those of us booksellers who have colleges or universities in our markets to find out how we can help.


Logos Bookstore in Dallas is one block from Southern Methodist University (SMU). We have seen the culture of the school and our ministry to the students change in the 38 years we have been here.

In the 1970s and early ’80s, the university was an open smorgasbord of ideas. Every philosophy was entertained, no matter how peculiar (remember Transcendental Meditation?). In the mid ’80s through the ’90s, all of those children of the turbulent ’60s wanted a job and a normal life. So it seemed like the undergrads at SMU were all looking for their MBAs or perhaps their “MRS degree.”

The 21st century has brought with it a new climate on the campus. The academic side is no longer interested in dialogue with opposing ideas. What’s more, the different sides have become entrenched, and debates have become shouting matches trying to drown out the other views. The students still want jobs, but even that is no longer certain as only about half of the graduates will find employment in their field of study—a daunting future.

There is encouragement, though. The groups ministering have ebbed and flowed through the years, but are still fighting the battle. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade and Reformed University Fellowship have a presence at SMU. These groups are smaller than in times past, but they are making the effort to take the students deeper. I think the days of finding large chapters of these groups across the country are over, but local congregations and denominations are active, too. The Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists and Catholics each have on-campus unions, and at least six local churches are involved in viable ministry on campus as well, meaning more than just a Sunday morning college class.

No matter the decade, students’ questions remain fundamentally the same: “Where do I find meaning? If I am to have a faith, how do I make it my own? How will it differ from my youth? Will it be relevant? Does someone love me? Does God exist, love me, and how can I be certain? In what way can my life make a difference in this world?”


Where do we as booksellers fit into this mix? First, we can pray for these kids, asking God to show us the best fit for meeting their needs through our stores. Then, we can contact the leadership of the college youth groups and parachurch ministries. Ask them how they would like us to engage with their efforts. This should be done frequently, as the leaders of these groups can change like a revolving door.

We offer regular discounts for these folks and occasionally more substantial deals for bulk orders. We have a deal with the InterVarsity staff member. When she brings a new convert in to get his or her first Bible, I sell it to the staff member at cost and she then gives it to the student.

You can also contact the chaplains of the fraternities and sororities and offer help. They are sometimes voted into the position with little idea of what to do. Some of the groups bring speakers to campus and we provide books for their events.

Another part of the equation would be carrying merchandise that speaks to this demographic. Our SMU kids seem drawn to many of the gifts we get from Natural Life and Glory Haus. Several publishers offer books well-suited for students; Baker Publishing Group, David C Cook, NavPress, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan all have great options. Check especially the Likewise imprint from IVP and the Re:Lit imprint from Crossway.

We supply lots of Bible studies for student groups as well. I particularly like N.T. Wright’s studies from IVP. Having the right offerings can help make us the resource center that ministry leaders rely on and a haven of encouragement for the students.


Christian retailers must be creative in getting their name before the students. Use the campus newspaper. Create an event. Offer a coupon. We are planning a shop-for-a-cause event to raise support for one of the campus ministries.

Other stores with appealing ideas include The Carpenter’s Shop in Athens, Ga., which offers a free app for the students’ iPhones. There is store information on the app and there will be weekly promotions along with a downloadable coupon.

Signs of Life in Lawrence, Kan., is on the main drag of student life. The store has a café with lots of study space, and both the store and café are open until 11 p.m.

Another store [Store name?] has teamed up with a local cookie shop to provide student care packages. They wrote to the parents of incoming freshmen to offer to deliver baskets to their child for his or her birthday, at exam time or for any other special occasion—love sent from home. Priceless.

Yet another store [Store name?] is creating a space that they say will have a L’Abri type of atmosphere. The ministry will offer weekly group discussions on relevant topics and provides a safe haven where kids can bring their questions.

Each campus has its own personality. See what fits the students where you live. One caution I would share: Meeting the needs of college ministries and the students they serve may very well require that you get outside the four walls of your store, but you will find the risk well worth the effort.

As I think about this next generation’s struggle with finding their way in the new, independent environment of school, a C.S. Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory comes to mind.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”

By God’s grace, we can nudge these students toward His glory.

Industry Forum: Building a successful retail team Print Email
Written by Mark Hutchinson   
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 02:56 PM America/New_York

MarkHutchinsonServant leaders must lead with vision, passion and ownership


For a retail team to be successful, it requires a 100% commitment from the leader/owner of the organization. A successful retail team begins and ends with the vision, passion and ownership lived out and demonstrated by its servant leader.

As the leader, your team, however large or small, observes your behavior. They will see and recognize your body language. What does your body language communicate to them, and how do you personally live out the following practices?

Vision: How do you articulate the vision of your store(s) to your retail team? I believe this statement: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Do you believe it?

Passion: How enthusiastic are you about the potential before you? Do you live out your passion before your team, customers and even potential customers?

Ownership: For your retail operation to really take off, the owner/leader has to “own it, live it, breathe it, drive it.” As a key leader, you must articulate and demonstrate a clear vision plan for your team.

A team cannot buy into a vision if they do not even know what it is or are not part of its development. I endeavor to involve and seek feedback at all times as we continually live out and work on making clear the vision for our Blessings stores. Five years ago I involved our small leadership team in crafting a vision to take us from a bankrupt company to a thriving retail entity, and as a team, we have accomplished our five-year goals and vision. We are now all involved in crafting our next five-year vision—that’s teamwork!

I love my work at Blessings, as we do our small part in helping to spread the good news of Jesus through God-honoring products. I firmly believe in servant leadership; I will never ask or expect any member of our team to do something that I would not be willing to do myself. I want to do everything in my power to create a culture of “we are all in this together.” Team members are all stakeholders, and all have value and input into the overall success of our organization.

I also believe that our team extends beyond Blessings and includes our suppliers and publishers. We all need each other and must work to support each other to ensure that we are all able to be an effective vibrant retail team. It is vital to have regular interaction with suppliers and publishers ensuring that all parties are getting the best deals available. For a store to be successful, the retailer must gain good margins to compete with the online and big-box competition.


One of the phrases I live by is: “Begin with the end in mind.” The end here is a successful retail team. TEAM=Together Everyone Achieves More.

As you aim to form a successful retail team, build in structure that will last and will support the overall team effort. Ensure that the team has clearly defined roles; everyone must know who is responsible for the various factors of the organization. Regular and constant communication is vital to keeping each member of the team informed. Be careful to champion the wins—small and large—since everyone likes to be part of a successful entity.

As you build a team, look at your strengths and weaknesses, then as you recruit, ensure you fill positions with individuals who complement your team’s weaknesses. Always “hire up.” I live and breathe by this recruiting statement: “Hire for attitude and train for skill.”


Try and work yourself out of what you currently do every three to four years. This practice creates a living, breathing organization and frees you to expand and work on new ideas and projects. It also allows other team members to continually grow and expand their skill set, value and purpose for your retail team. Continually seek feedback and ideas—remember, no one has the monopoly on ideas. The more you do this, the more ownership others will take.

As you build and develop a successful retail team, I know you will not be able to pay top dollar, as you simply do not have the dollars available. However, I do encourage you to do the absolute best you can for every team member. Pay as much as you practically can, reward team members with a sales bonus and with excellent working conditions, offer healthy employee discounts, provide as many paid vacations as you possibly can, host fun social events and continually involve team members with the development of your store. Regularly provide positive feedback and encouragement—affirm when you see team members going over and above what is expected. The more you can give to your employees, the more they will give back to you.


You must ensure that all team members have solid and ongoing training. With the right attitude and core competence, you can train team members to be part of your success, and remember, success is a team sport. A critical area of team training and development is ensuring all team members fully understand the value and importance of interacting/engaging customers with true and genuine enthusiasm and care. The higher the level of customer care, the more your customers will want to revisit your store. This must be a cornerstone of team development.

Stop and think of the most successful retail organizations you know, and ask yourself: Why are they successful? I would suggest that they have a strong team and customer service culture and not a silo, stand-alone culture. I believe you will find this exercise very insightful.

Your team members compose a key asset that is equal, if not more important, than the physical asset of your inventory. That said, keep in mind that a team is only as successful as its weakest link. It is so important for a team to understand their roles and responsibilities, ensuring all are empowered to accomplish their tasks and at the same time fully understanding that each one is interdependent upon the other.

Communication is vital, and it’s important to use every method of communication at your disposal. As one of the key factors in developing a successful retail team, team members must be able to say: 1. We all know our roles, 2. We all fully understand that we are interdependent on each other, and 3. We communicate continuously. When vision, policy and goals are communicated, the whole team wins.

For a team to be relevant and continually developing, all of them need to be encouraged to be alert and looking for new trends, new directions in retail and new technology, feeding information back to key leadership so it can be crafted into the organization’s goals and vision. A successful retail team is nimble and fluid, ready to accept and embrace change, and adopting the latest methods of marketing and communication.

In summary:

  • Be a servant leader who is passionate about the business, and be involved not only with business, but also show love, care and attention to all team members. The Marriott Corporation has lived by this adage, and it’s a good one for the hospitality industry and for your store: “Give to your employees and they will give back to you.”
  • Train and continually provide training support and mentoring to your team. Set and develop solid policies and procedures that are ultimately customer-focused and driven. Hotelier J.W. Marriott Jr. offered this reminder: “The devil is in the details; success is in the systems!” Set clear expectations and let your team know what matters most in delivering exceptional service in a vibrant retail environment.
  • Empower your team, but do not micromanage. You must release, encourage and build from your personal servant leadership and hands-on work.
  • Enthuse your team to be passionate and let your team see your passion for retail. You will be amazed at the results.
  • Communicate at all times. Be open and honest. Navigate with integrity the tough questions that will come from your team.
Industry Forum: Launching a new Bible translation Print Email
Written by James F. Couch Jr.   
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 11:38 AM America/New_York

FrankCouchBringing a fresh version of God’s Word to market involves careful decision-making

Vice president, reference, curriculum and translation development
Thomas Nelson

Launching a new Bible translation often starts with the question, “What is needed in the 21st century church to truly translate God’s Word to today’s readers?” In the midst of the numerous publishers of Bibles and the even more numerous translations available, deciding if the market actually needs another Bible translation really depends on who is asking.  If the person asking is actively using the Bible and cannot imagine an improvement with his or her preferred translation, then the answer is maybe not.

If the person asking the question is actively using the Bible and cannot imagine an improvement with his or her preferred translation, then the answer is maybe not. If there is flaw in the translation or it is not being read because of a cultural disconnect, then the answer is probably yes.

We live in a very complex society with an enormous number of theological subgroups and yet biblical illiteracy is still growing. The real questions to be answered then are: What is the motivation for introducing the translation? Who is the primary audience, and is that audience being adequately served? How does this translation meet the specific and real needs in the primary audience?


We say in Bible publishing that the best Bible is the one that is going to be read. Virtually every Bible translation is created by people who care deeply about God’s Word, and the result is a trustworthy representation of the Scriptures. But if the translation is simply in existence to bring income to the publisher or to take market share away from other publishers in an area that is presently served effectively, then the publisher is making a very expensive mistake.

It should be noted that introducing a new translation is a difficult, costly and highly risky task. The decision to begin a new translation must be made carefully. A number of critical factors must be considered: Who is the primary audience? What makes this translation uniquely suited to that audience? What style of translation is needed for this audience (formal, dynamic or functional, use of religious terminology, gender inclusiveness, use of variant text, identification of supplied words, doctrinal orientation, traditional or contemporary English style, among other considerations)? More recently, how the text is to be displayed on the page and whether it is delivered in a printed or electronic medium should be considered. The most critical factor is identifying a truly unique place in the landscape of Bible translations.

Chris Seay, a pastor from Houston, Texas, brought the concept of The Voice translation to Thomas Nelson and then formed Ecclesia Bible Society to sponsor the work. Normally the translation organization completes the task and then turns over completed text files for the publisher to use in creating the individual Bible products. In this case, Ecclesia and Thomas Nelson worked together throughout the development phase. In this way, both organizations were able to speak into the entire process.

When the decision was made to begin work on The Voice, we looked at many of the elements discussed above. Several of the distinctives did not become clear until we were more than a year into the project.

We started with a market reality that drove everything else. There is a growing biblical illiteracy in the U.S. and an increasing decline in Bible reading by Christians. In doing our due diligence, we discovered that according to the Center for Bible Engagement, 34% of Christians never read their Bible, and an additional 32% read it very seldom. This means that 66% of Christians are not active Bible readers.

After further research, we found a large number of young believers were not satisfied with either the dumbing down of translations or the “evening out” of the writing style. Either the translation felt out of style or it used contemporary jargon that was uncomfortable to readers. Our goal for The Voice became to reach a younger audience that was either outside the church or in the church, but dissatisfied with their Bible. We purposely did not try to replicate what was done in an existing translation.

These assumptions led us to use aspects of Bible translations that had been employed on the mission field, but never in English Bibles. We translated a number of terms left untranslated in English Bibles (Christ, baptism, angel, apostle, among others). We paid attention to the literary style of the original manuscripts, we formatted the text to help identify the speaker and to aid in public reading, and we incorporated skilled writers in the translation process.

Recent English translations have focused on other markets, such as congregants from liturgical denominations, people with lower reading proficiency, individuals from a specific theological background or a specific age group. These submarkets led translators and eventually publishers to make various decisions to make the translation more useful for its intended audience.

One interesting response that Bible publishers receive when introducing a new translation is criticism that the translation is different from the critic’s preferred translation. This usually follows the first question of, “Why a new translation?” Well, if the translation were not different, then there would be no need to publish it. And if it is truly unique for an unreached market, why is either question being asked?


For a successful introduction of a new translation, several things must be communicated: the validity of its audience, the uniqueness of the translation and that the first two points will serve the body of Christ. I have been involved in the introduction of four English Bible versions: the New King James Version, The New Revised Standard Version, the Contemporary English Version and The Voice. The challenges were completely different for each. The things that were in common were that the Christian marketplace was, and remains, very skeptical; the market believes a negative message more readily than a positive message; and on the whole, the church is not aware of the lack of Bible use by believers.

So, how do you introduce a new Bible translation? First, you need a translation that meets an authentic need. Second, you have to clearly and fairly state the case for the translation. Third, you have to tell you story to as many people in the primary audience as possible. We have found that the proof is in the reading. Only through active use can the traits of a translation be experienced. Until people experience the translation, they do not believe the marketing communications.

How do you make “raving fans” of retailers? You don’t; they have to discover the value of the translation for themselves. It must be a personal choice. All you can do is provide the opportunity. The retailer must be able to separate personal bias from customer needs. That is totally in the hands of the retailer. Fortunately, most Christian retailers are sold out to serving the customer, and their work is a labor of love.

Will a translation be accepted into the marketplace? It will find its place if there is a truly unique need. The publisher and the retailer alike must get the translation before the right decision-makers and into the hands of as many of those in the primary audience as possible. The great thing is that with each proper placement, a person is set on the road to being a faithful follower of Jesus through reading God’s Word.

Industry Forum: Connecting with the local church Print Email
Written by Mike Meadows   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 10:44 AM America/New_York

MikeMeadowsStores who reach out to congregations can maximize marketing and heighten sales

Mike Meadows
Director of trade marketing,
Warner Press

Attending various industry shows, perusing the pages of trade publications and searching online for Christian products sometimes leaves me with a slack-jawed, glazed-over expression as I ponder the dizzying array of products available in the Christian marketplace.

Which author has given us the next best-seller? Which giftable will be that “must have” item that everyone will be clamoring for this Christmas? Which new music artist do I need to familiarize myself with because they’ll be in big demand in the coming weeks? This kind of speculation is not for the faint of heart. It’s enough to overwhelm even the most seasoned retailer.

I want to invite you to take a step back from all that uncertainty for just a moment. Take a deep breath and clear your mind because I’d like to take you to church. That’s right, let’s go to church! I’m not talking about your own weekly church experience, but something much broader. Let’s look at the church market and the value church customers have to your retail ministry.

First of all, Christian retailers and the church have a lot in common, don’t they? Reaching people with the Word of God, encouraging others in their daily walk, giving fledgling Christians wings to fly, nurturing those little seeds of faith into something greater—aren’t these reasons we all have in common for doing what we do best? While we each have our individual parts to play as publishers, distributors, retailers or other entities in the supply chain, our missions often overlap in a variety of ways.

This common mission means that none of us is an island, including local churches, which need partnerships with Christian retailers. While the individual parishioners may be browsing your bookshelves, CD racks and gift collections, churches are looking for core products to keep their ministries going. I’m talking about worship bulletins, certificates, Sunday school and classroom supplies, record books, teaching resources and all of those other items churches use on a weekly basis that are easily taken for granted.

If you’re not stocking a portion of your shelves with products for your church customers, then you’re missing a ministry opportunity as well as an additional revenue stream. In this day of increased competition, lagging economies and trends that come and go more quickly than sweet potatoes at a church potluck, a solid church-customer base is one key to a healthier, more vibrant retail business. Here are some of the reasons why:


When you broaden your customer base to include local pastors, church secretaries and lay leaders looking for church resources, you’ll discover they not only shop your church resource section, they undoubtedly browse the rest of the store as well. Good connections with these church leaders lead to a good reputation and valuable relationships with their congregations, which means additional traffic and sales for your store.


Churches need resources for their ministries every week. From worship bulletins to offering envelopes, churches have a steady appetite for a variety of renewable items that still have a viable place in the life of most congregations. That means a steady revenue stream from customers you can expect to see time and time again throughout the course of the entire year. These multiple touchpoints and creative ways to reward repeat purchases will build loyalty with your church customer base, which leads to a healthier bottom line.


Not only do you, the retailer, benefit from the additional sales, but also the church benefits from a trusted source of supplies they can count on every week. That means a lot to busy pastors and secretaries who are always strapped for time and resources. By really getting to know your church customers, you will gain a wealth of knowledge regarding the products and services you need to offer. Think of it as having your own marketing research team. The exchange of information between you and your church leaders can be invaluable to both parties.


Statistics show that a great number of churches don’t have local access to a Christian bookstore, and with the recent trend of store closures, this situation isn’t improving, so take some time to think and redefine your marketing area.

Does local mean your neighborhood, your city or your county? Could it mean several counties? While it may not be cost-effective to blanket a wide geographic area with marketing efforts to thousands of individuals, it can be very worthwhile to target the dozens of churches in those same geographic areas. Your marketing dollars are likely to go farther with less waste with this group of customers.

For churches outside your immediate area, build a web presence and email relationship with them to keep them apprised of specials and new products. Check with your suppliers to see if they can drop-ship to these customers, and you may not even have to handle the inventory.


Supplying your church customers doesn’t depend on the here-today-gone-tomorrow trends of some of your other product lines. The shelf life for church products tends to be longer and not as affected by the whims of what is popular for today. This means much less volatility in your inventory, making it easier to manage in terms of volume and cash flow.

Is this approach recession proof? No. However, even with all the changes that churches are experiencing structurally, societally and economically, very few are self-sufficient to the point where they no longer need their Christian retailing partners.


When you’ve built solid church relationships, you suddenly have the ear of exponentially more people. Are you having a book signing or welcoming a new artist to your store? Do you have a special promotion you’d like the public to know about? Tell your church customers! When they announce these events to their congregations, you’ve suddenly reached hundreds or thousands of people by communicating with just a few.

Such communication might even go a step further when that popular local pastor recommends a particular book he purchased from your store. Be ready with plenty of inventory!

These are exciting, albeit challenging times. That’s not news to any of us in the Christian marketplace. Let’s face those challenges head-on by leaving no stone unturned. In the case of Christian retailers, this means finding ways to connect with and build a solid base of church customers. It’s good for your store, good for your customers and furthers the overall mission of your ministry.

A Winning Team Plays To Members’ Strengths Print Email
Written by Jim Seybert   
Monday, 15 August 2011 10:47 AM America/New_York

Even skeleton crews can find ways to flesh out a beneficial ‘sweet spot’ emphasisSeybert_Jim


If there’s one theme shared by everyone who manages a small business, it’s that there is never enough—never enough time, money or space to do all you want or need to do. 

Part of the key to success in small business involves learning how to focus your energies and attention on things that work—like fine-tuning core inventories and building good customer relationships.

But there’s one resource that many businesses—large and small—typically under-utilize: the human potential that lives inside every person on your payroll.


Baseball bats have a distinct spot on them where the grain of the wood and the shape of the bat coincide to deliver maximum force. Connecting bat and ball at this precise spot drives the ball farther. The player exerts the same amount of effort, but gets a much better result.

People have sweet spots, too. The psalmist David wrote that God had “knit [him] together” in his mother’s womb. My vision of this is that God handcrafts every individual with an intentional purpose. When you knit something, you touch every thread and pay attention to every knot. You don’t just start knitting and wonder what it’s going to be. 

There’s plenty of evidence in Scripture to suggest that God has plans for everyone, and that each person has been “knit together” with unique gifts (talents) to accomplish those plans. He even provides clues to those plans by giving us appetites and desires. He promises to satisfy the desires of our hearts if we live out His plan for us. The story of Eric Liddell is a great example of this. 

Liddell was an Olympic runner with an intense appetite for his sport. He believed God had given him the desire to run and told his sister, “When I run, I feel His presence.”

Running fast was Eric Liddell’s sweet spot. He was not only good at it, but he also had an appetite for running. The intense physical exertion may have exhausted his body, but the nourishment he got from satisfying his appetite gave him the will and stamina to run even faster.


The Gallup organization conducted a 25-year study on worker productivity and the findings might surprise you. They found that pay and benefits were not necessarily common elements among highly productive teams. They also found highly paid teams that didn’t perform at the highest level, and in contrast, very productive teams that weren’t well paid. 

The most effective teams were those where each and every person on the team had the opportunity—every day—to work on something that energized them. These teams were 38% more likely to have higher productivity than other groups in the same company. They also earned better customer satisfaction scores and had 50% less turnover. 

In Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham’s book Now Discover Your Strengths, the authors define a “strength” as an activity that energizes you, something you look forward to, that nourishes you. Their research proved that workers who are given a chance to “play to their strengths” are more productive. 


Staffing levels at Christian stores have been cut to a point where two people are often doing the work of five, and it may sound ludicrous to suggest that employees be told to focus on fewer tasks. 

But there’s a common misconception that encouraging employees to “play to their strengths” will leave a lot of necessary jobs undone. In fact, the outcome is often an increase in worker output.

You see, it’s not about employees doing only what energizes them. It’s about looking for each employee’s sweet spot (strength) and giving them the opportunity—every day—to use it. 

Here’s an example: Perhaps you have a frontline employee who is the ultimate “people person.” You notice she has an amazing knack for making even the most difficult customers feel comfortable. 

She may even spend too much time helping people. Talking to shoppers seems to be a sweet spot for her. She’s not only good at it, but it strengthens her as well. It satisfies an appetite that God may have given her before birth.

What if you gave this frontliner an opportunity to channel her people skills by taking 20 minutes every day to call 10 customers and just thank them for shopping with you? Her calls would be good PR for the store, but the greatest benefit will be the added boost she gets from playing to a strength—a boost that will carry over into her other assignments.

Some strengths aren’t as obvious. You should schedule time with each employee and ask them what specific activity at the store gives them the most satisfaction. Ask what tasks they’d like to spend more time on. Be persistent and don’t settle for generalities. Everyone has desires. 

Fine-tune their answers by asking follow-up questions. Let them know you are looking for one or two specific things that they love doing so you can design the work schedule to give them more chances to do what they do best.


A weakness is not necessarily something you don’t do well. Just as a strength is an activity that energizes you, a weakness is an activity that drains you—regardless of your abilities. 

You can be very good at something for which you have absolutely no desire.

Don’t feel guilty about an activity that drains you. God does not want you to be miserable. The apostle Paul admitted to having a “thorn” and he prayed to have it removed. 

When an employee tells you that a certain task zaps their energy, celebrate their candor and then look for ways to manage the weakness. 

Could they trade assignments with someone? Could they look at the task from a different perspective and apply a strength? You’re not looking to ignore the weakness, but to acknowledge it and mitigate its effect.

CompeTuition August 2011: Retail Lessons From Other Businesses Print Email
Written by Deb Graham   
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 11:13 AM America/New_York

Nordstrom: Mastering Multi-channel Shopping


Upon entering retailing, I made it a practice to let myself go shopping several times a month. I didn’t always spend money, but what I came home with were priceless ideas that I have put to use every day as a manager and buyer. These ideas were not cheap, though—in fact, they cost someone a lot of money.Nordstrom-downtown

As a result of these visits, I have learned where to place my sale merchandise, the importance and positioning of signage, how to treat customers and how to 
merchandise with a small budget.

One of my frequent stops is the local Nordstrom store in a nearby shopping mall. Years of watching and shopping this high-end retailer have supplied me with hundreds of things I implement every day in our bookstores.

I was prompted to take an even closer look, however, when I read that the company’s 2010 fourth-quarter earnings rose 35%—an amazing feat in the state of our present economy. The reason for such financial positives was not obvious on first glance at my local store. No major changes seemed to be taking place there. Shelves were stocked and business appeared normal. The same excellent customer service was being presented. Store publicity was arriving at my home frequently.

I discovered that Nordstrom had rallied when others had not during these troubled economic times because of a plan that involved changing the way that it handles inventory. Leaders realized that there were many things they could not change: the economy, the fact that they were not a discount retailer and their stores or locations.

But one thing they could revisit, they determined, was how they handled their inventory. They started by looking at their Web site, its traffic and the habits of online shoppers. They decided that they were not content to lose a customer to another vendor because they did not have the item in stock. They reasoned that they had 115 brick-and-mortar stores across the country and chances were one of them had the sought-after item. And so began the 
reinvention and positioning of inventory.

In September 2009, Nordstrom added individual stores’ inventory to its Web site. So, if a shopper was looking at a blue handbag on the Web site, the site would indicate where the item was available at nearby stores—and reserve it for same-day pickup. If there was just one handbag left in the entire company, a store employee would fill the order and ship it to the online customer.

With all of the stores acting as warehouses for the online store, immediate results were seen. The percentage of customers who bought merchandise after searching for an item on the site doubled on the first day, and has continued to grow at a rapid rate. The company-wide warehouse approach also benefited physical stores, which could arrange for its out-of-stock items to be shipped to customers from other locations that did have the products available.

Going even further, Nordstrom offers online chat with representatives who will email details of alternative stores that may carry an item it does not.

Admittedly, in the Christian retail world, we may not have the scale that Nordstrom enjoys, but similar multiple ways of using inventory are a possibility for all of us. Many of our distribution houses and even some of our publishers provide us with all types of tools for warehouse-to-home and direct-drop shipments. I have even heard of stores that link with other Christian retailers in their area to be able to offer help with out-of-stock items or recommend those stores to customers.

We must cease thinking that all we have to offer is what we stock on our shelves. Multichannel shopping is the key to keeping our stores open and financially sound.

I plan to use my store’s Web site and joint ventures with publishers and gift vendors to the fullest, so that I can have a non-ending stream of product that will fill all my customers’ wishes. And if I can’t get the item, I will make sure that I tell my customer where he can find it. It’s just good business.

Deb Graham is co-manager of Prestonwood Bookstore at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a member of Christian Retailing’s editorial advisory board.

Gatekeeper guidelines Print Email
Written by Jim Seybert   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 02:14 PM America/New_York

How stores keep an eye on the content they offer and what worries them

Just as you won’t find Snickers bars in health food stores nor lawn chairs for sale in a Men’s Wearhouse, so Christian retail stores take steps to make sure the products they stock match customer’s expectations and needs. 

But knowing which items to carry can be a challenge, as we found in our latest Vital Signs survey.

Because opinions of content are frequently seen differently by men and women, or by those in different age groups, we asked participants to identify their gender and age group. 

The gender split was nearly even—49% men and 51% women. Women in the survey tended to be slightly older, with 52% aged 51 or more compared to 42% of men. 


Content decisions in most stores lie with the owner or manager in for-profit stores and the manager or clerical leader in church stores. Only 5% of respondents had any type of written policy stating exactly what content would get a book pulled. There was a review committee in place at about one in four stores that decides the fate of products thought to be too controversial. 


Most retailers make content decisions on a product-by-product basis, but there are some common red flags:

Eight in 10 will not stock fiction that uses “hard profanity” and four in 10 will not sell Christian novels that contain “mild cursing.”

Fictional characters using tobacco products or drinking alcohol will get a book pulled in 25% of stores, while half will not sell novels depicting “vivid descriptions of violence.”

“Tolerance of gay and lesbian lifestyles” and “advocacy for Universalism” will keep nonfiction books off the shelves in eight out of 10 stores, as will books that “include Eastern or New Age thought” without criticism. 

One in three stores won’t carry books that explain biblical miracles in scientific terms (35%), and less than half prohibit sales of books that use “non-canonical writings (without censure).”


Retailers said that they handle customer complaints about product content in a variety of ways. In a majority of the specific instances reported in the survey, the product remained in inventory after the complaint was filed. 


The majority (80%) of Christian retailers felt that they have a responsibility to operate as “a safe environment for Christian shoppers with regard to content,” and two-thirds (66%) saw their role as one that protects customers by selecting “product that will not tempt (Christians) to stray from their faith.”

More than half (54%) of respondents told us that they had pulled a product from their shelves with the past 12 months. Among the most common grounds were:

  • questionable language
  • doctrinally unsound
  • author or artist who had fallen
  • sexual descriptions
  • other controversial content


Shoppers in 55% of stores in our survey will find stickers attached to certain products—mostly books and music—that the store feels should be handled carefully. Some managers require frontline staff to point out these “content warning stickers” or other types of content alert attached to certain products when customers reach the checkout counter. 

Some stores reported placing selected topics and categories in specially marked sections. 

The most notable of these segregations were special “Catholic” and “Charismatic” sections. A few stores also had a “Contemporary Issues” section where books on controversial topics are displayed. 


In light of our findings, here are some questions you can use to start a dialogue with other retailers on issues of content:

?Should stores have written policies regarding content they will not carry?

?How do you train your frontline team to handle controversial products?

?When someone complains about a product and you don’t remove it, do they stop shopping at your store? 

Jim Seybert is an author and consultant living in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Helping stores find hidden new markets Print Email
Written by Chaz Nichols, director of business development, Snowfall Press   
Thursday, 30 June 2011 01:36 PM America/New_York

Digital technology can be an asset, not a threat, for mission-minded Christian retailersNichols_Chaz


Like much of Minnesota, my town—Chaska—is known for its Scandinavians. There are no Russian churches with their trademark onion-shaped steeples, and Borsch is not featured as a soup du jour in any restaurant I have visited. 

But, as it turns out, there are quite a few Russians in the area—30,000 in fact—plus, there are another 11,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians, totaling more than 41,000 Russians or Russian-speaking people. That is twice the population of the town where I live. They comprise a people group who is not hiding, but remains hidden nonetheless. 

What does that have to do with Christian retailing? Possibly quite a lot, it turns out. Indeed, for Christian bookstore owners, more than just an irrelevant data point, the whole topic of identifying people clusters may have significant influence on their relevance and revenue in the next few years.

Most people in this country are familiar with the growth of the Hispanic population and the impact it has had on culture, politics and religion throughout the U.S. Many retailers have responded by offering ethnically appropriate goods and services. But as I started to learn about the Russian population in our area, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were other equally hidden people groups to be found. 

And if there were, how could my industry, digital book printing, through its partnership with distributors, link with bookstores to help and service these groups?


Providentially my wife, Roberta, was taking a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at our church. One night she came home from class fascinated to have learned about the numerous cultures of the Twin Cities and their specific demographics shared by the guest speaker, John Mayer, executive director of City Vision.

I called John and found him to be the kind of guy every marketing person wants to find—he has data … and lots of it. And as I suspected, there are a number of different pockets of culture in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area—200, to be exact. 

Chances are that there are significant, often hidden, people groups in your metro areas, too. It would not be the same mix of cultures as Minneapolis, but the numbers would be significant just the same. And by reaching out and servicing the spiritual needs of these groups, you could also be driving increased revenue.  

In the world of market segmentation, you have rich targets. Not necessarily wealthy, but well defined: You can know who and where they are and can develop a personal or spiritual needs assessment for books and Bibles. And in many parts of the country, according to a 2008 survey, growth in Christian churches is being fueled in large part by Christian immigrants, so the market potential is growing as well.

But as a retailer, it is not enough to know what a particular segment wants, you have to be able to supply their need—relatively easily and at price points that make sense. And it is precisely at this point where cultural discovery, need fulfillment and some of the technological trends that are proving so challenging for brick-and-mortar stores can beneficially intersect.


Cloud-based digital print networks are being built that will help U.S.-based publishers have their books printed on demand, per order in other countries—within minutes and without high shipping costs and importation hassles.

But less known are how these same networks are allowing international publishers to have their books printed in the U.S. easily and inexpensively, without high shipping costs and customs issues … and, perhaps most importantly, just one book at a time if necessary. 

This opens to retailers the possibility of not just finding translated versions of current American Christian writers for these people groups, but finding excellent Christian material, written in the language of a target market and using metaphors and life examples that better speak to that culture. 

Ezdra Publishing  is an excellent example. Located in Ukraine, the company already prints books in the U.S. by uploading its work to a cloud computing server and printing just what is needed—from one copy to dozens of copies at a time. Ezdra is an excellent resource for anyone wanting good Christian literature written in Russian. But there are publishers in Peru, Brazil and Sri Lanka as well, with similar capabilities.


American distributors are starting to understand the opportunities to enhance the just-in-time bond that has been growing for a while between them and Christian retailers. STL Distribution North America, with whom Snowfall Press has partnered, and Anchor Distributors have both launched print-to-order services this year.  

Books are stored virtually on the cloud server, ready to be printed when they are ordered. And as this part of the business grows, it will include all kinds of literature and books from many cultures, ready to order and print, one at time if needed. 

At this point you may acknowledge that there could be markets to go after in your area, but you are perhaps not sure how to do that and really—bottom line—remain unconvinced that there would be a return on your investment. 

There are several potential benefits of developing a relationship with a specific ethnic market. 
Net new business: More than a spike in sales, this will be a new source of revenue. You will also be targeting the leading edge of growth in the U.S. church.

Your target market will grow. New immigrants tend to settle in areas where other members of their ethnic group already live—ensuring a new source of business each year.

Incremental sales of your English inventory. You will sell more English-language books and Bibles to this community as well. You may capture the parents with your ability to service their language needs, but you will also sell English-based books and Bibles to their children.

There are some easy and practical ways for seeking out the more hidden people groups, and potential new markets, in your area.  Ask your school district what languages it is servicing. Many times you will be surprised at how diverse and even exotic some of the languages are, but they give you a clue to what the clusters of ethnic groups are. Google the U.S. Census Bureau data for your area.

Get out and observe what is happening in your area. What languages do you hear as you walk around? Are there new ethnic grocery stores or restaurants being built?

When you have some stats, think beyond the numbers. In Minneapolis there are many more Somalis than Russians. But the Russian demographic is a better long-term investment—many of them have a Christian heritage, they have higher disposable incomes, and they read in Russian and English.

Technology is beginning to drive a whole new era of engagement with other cultures in the United States. Established bookstores and chains need new customers; ethnic groups need literature and Bibles in their own language; and international publishers want to reach their people groups in the United States to open markets for their work. 

Cloud-based digital book printing is enabling all of the above to happen—driving all new sources of revenue for you—starting right in your own backyard.

CompeTuition July 2011: Retail Lessons From Other Businesses Print Email
Written by Suzanne Kuhn   
Wednesday, 29 June 2011 03:11 PM America/New_York

Walt Disney World: hellos and good buysWorld-of-Disney


As a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World (WDW), I have come to appreciate the experience offered that is both magical and profitable. Disney masterfully sets a high standard that I’ve come to expect and I have never been disappointed. Every time I leave, I have bags full of merchandise and retail ideas ready to implement.

The lessons start at Main Street, where customers are captured coming in and going out. The WDW entrance/exit is clean, bright and has engaging music to set the theme-park mood. Cast members are quick to greet, easily accessible, eager to engage, smiling and knowledgeable. Children are greeted with Mickey Mouse stickers.

The window and storefront displays are fabulous, drawing customers deeper into the unique shops. Items are plentiful, easily accessed, and low displays are geared towards little ones. On Main Street, closing is never announced and doors are never locked promptly. I am treated as the most important guest.

Main Street principles focus on the customer. Exciting window and floor displays draw customers. Outgoing, accessible, knowledgeable staff set an inviting tone. Plentiful displays beckon for merchandise to be purchased. Impulse items, especially near the register, create a sense of urgency for customers, driving up sales. 

Character Meet ‘n’ Greets are an essential part of creating the Disney magic. The experience is so good that I am not deterred by long lines. Disney characters don’t sit at Meet ‘n’ Greets (except Santa); they are always standing and completely accessible. Character handlers skillfully keep lines moving and engage guests, ensuring that each guest has the maximum experience. 

Author book signings are the bookstore’s equivalent to Disney’s Character Meet ‘n’ Greets. Fans today want interaction, and signings should be used to form relationships with new and existing readers. Book signings with an author sitting behind a card table are outdated. An author and bookstore must enhance their readers’ experiences. Encourage fans to meet the author, share a story, get an autograph and take a picture with the author. Staff should be assigned to the author, to “work the line” and to take photos. When we’re prepared and interactive, we can create our own buzz.  

I have also learned through Disney’s skillful use of with-purchase specials that customers who buy more, buy more. WDW offers special items that can only be purchased—at a special price—with a qualifying purchase. What a great concept. I usually want the different with-purchase specials offered at different parks and resorts. I anticipate the opportunity, decide what I want and then go about making my selections to drive up my purchase so that I qualify: I’ve become a customer with a strategy to spend money.

In Christian stores, categories can be seen as our different parks. For example, offer a specific audiobook for $2 with a $10 audiobook purchase, a specific children’s book for $5 with any $25 children’s purchase and a $5 Christian fiction two-pack with any purchase.

Once a customer qualifies, there should be no limits on quantities or offers. A customer could make a $35 purchase consisting of $10 in audiobooks and $25 in children’s products, thereby qualifying for all three with-purchase specials. Customers may buy multiples of each. Specials can be highlighted in the area of the category as well as at the register. 

In our stores, we have customers who first come to the register to see what the latest with-purchase special is and then shop accordingly. We create these with-purchase specials by acquiring promotions, packages and closeouts offered by vendors.

We’ve adapted all three of these practices—Main Street, Meet ‘n’ Greets and with-purchase specials—in our bookstores. As I work with authors, I try to adapt these practices as well. Learning from Disney is learning from the best. I call Walt Disney World “my happy place.” I want my customers to feel the same way about their experience in our stores.

 Suzanne Kuhn has been involved with P&K Bookstores for more than 20 years.

Vital Signs 06-11: Talking about technology Print Email
Written by Jim Seybert   
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 09:27 AM America/New_York

Evaluating how Internet tools and social media help in-store operations

An industry survey by Christian RetailingSocialMediaUsage-graph



Christian retailers have overwhelmingly embraced social networking services for their personal use and have adopted some of the popular tools for use in their stores. 

Here is what we found in our latest Vital Signs industry survey:



Nearly all retailers (92%) said that they have a personal Facebook account. Among them,  39% checked their “wall” multiple times each day, while another 28% did so daily. 

Slightly more than one in 10 posted an update to their personal Facebook page multiple times each day, 17% posted at least daily, and about a third (32%) told us that they have a personal account, but “seldom or never” use it.

The number of retailers using a personal Facebook account was nearly equal to the number of suppliers and other non-retailers in our survey who use it (94%). Personal use of Twitter among retailers (33%) was slightly lower than among non-retailers (41%). Those not working in retail were far more likely to have a LinkedIn account (46%) than those in retail (27%).

Christian retailers believed by a 6-to-1 ratio that social networking technology is a “plus” in their lives. One in four said that tools such as Facebook have added “considerable” personal benefits. 

More than half of Christian retailers (55%) admitted having bought a book online in the previous 12 months—the same level as when we asked the question in March 2008. Slightly more than a third (36%) reported purchasing music online in the previous year, and 34% had bought office supplies.



As consumers, Christian retailers may have adopted Internet and digital technologies, but their positive personal experiences were somewhat tempered when it comes to applying the same tools on a store level. 

Only two-thirds (63%) of Christian retailers had a Facebook page for their store. Of those who did, one in four updated their status “two or three times a month,” nearly a third did so “seldom or never,” and 21% posted updates to their store’s Facebook page two or three times a week. 

Just over half (55%) sent email promotions to their customers, with the most popular frequency being two or three times a month. Less than half (43%) sent an online newsletter to customers, and one in three used Twitter to send messages about promotions at their store.

The majority of stores (83%) told us they have a Web site, an increase of 10 points over the number that did so in March 2008 (73%). Promotions on store Web sites, we learned, were  updated two or three times a month by 37%, once per quarter by 17% and seldom or never by 36% of stores.



While they saw strong personal benefits to social networking technology, retailers for the most part rated its value to their marketing efforts as “neutral,” with 48% placing the marketing value right in the middle. 

Staying current on the rapidly changing, digital playing field was the greatest technology challenge identified by retailers. Many echoed the comments of one who wrote that “technology is very time-consuming. In order to be relevant, you need to be continuously updating content.” 

The use by consumers of e-books and downloadable content was a growing concern. Although 80% of retailers said that they did not sell e-books, 18% were “considering” their options related to carrying digital readers.

When asked about the “benefits you have seen in your store” as a result of technology, some viewed the glass as half empty while for others it was half full. Responses ranged from “none that I can see” and “very little” to “cost-effective communication with customers” and “increased sales plus increased awareness.”


Jim Seybert is an author and consultant living in Arroyo Grande, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
A party for the ‘People’s Bible’ Print Email
Written by Gary Davidson, senior vice president and Bible group publisher, Thomas Nelson   
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 09:02 AM America/New_York

Davidson_GaryAn industry-wide opportunity to build on global interest in God’s Word

Our industry is celebrating a significant birthday this year: The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible turns 400. It’s time for more than a rousing, industry-wide chorus of “Happy Birthday.” It’s a rich opportunity to pay tribute to the version of the Bible that made God’s Word more accessible to people all over the English-speaking world. 

As we’ve seen at Thomas Nelson, where we are in the midst of “400 Days of Celebration” that kicked off last November, the opportunities extend beyond our Christian retailing world to the broader culture. 

Interest in this landmark occasion is widespread and has been acknowledged in major national press. A recent New York Times editorial noted, “It’s barely possible to overstate the significance of this Bible. Hundreds of millions have been sold. ... to Christians all around the world, it is still the ancestral language of faith.”

The Wall Street Journal, in an essay on the KJV’s influence on the English language, said, “The translators of the KJV understood the dignity and moving directness of the original Hebrew, which is why, after 400 years, the King James Bible remains a stylistic model that writers might well want to emulate.”

As the world’s leading publisher of KJV Bibles, Thomas Nelson has fielded numerous media inquiries from Christian and mainstream journalists working on anniversary stories. National media such as USA Today, National Public Radio, major metropolitan daily newspapers such as The Dallas Morning News, wire services such as Religion News Service and many more have been seeking to convey to their audiences the remarkable theological, literary and cultural impact of the King James Version of the Bible.



Dozens of media outlets covered the “Living Legacy of the Bible” exhibit that we hosted at this year’s National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) conference in Nashville. The exhibit, which featured more than 4,000 years of Bible history, including Dead Sea Scrolls’ fragments, numerous historic Bibles and an original 1611 KJV Bible, was a hit with NRB attendees.

We expected Christian media to be interested in the exhibit, but we were pleased to see how that interest was matched by counterparts in the secular media. The exhibit was the subject of a satellite media tour to TV news outlets in 20 markets. 

A crew from the PBS TV program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly traveled to Nashville to film the exhibit and interview Nelson representatives as well as NRB attendees who were able to share their love of the Bible and talk about their interest in the KJV anniversary—all for a large mainstream television audience. 

In addition, 18 other Christian TV and radio programs taped interviews at the historic Bible exhibit as part of their KJV400 coverage. All told, these stories will reach millions of people around the world.

Our partners in the KJV400 Celebration offer another example of the crossover interest in the historic mile marker: among them, The History Channel Magazine and the History Channel Club, which reach a community of engaged and active history buffs.

Meanwhile there has been media interest, too, in the recent launch of The Green Collection, one of the largest private collections of biblical manuscripts and artifacts in the world gathered by the family behind Hobby Lobby and our industry’s Mardel Christian & Education stores, and unveiled in celebration of the KJV anniversary.

The robust mainstream media interest in the legacy of the King James Version is evidence of how the Bible continues to inspire people from all walks of life. Even in the broader culture, which we often assume is dismissive of Christian faith and of the Bible’s role in the life of the nation, there are opportunities to celebrate God’s Word. 



This is good news for all of us in the Christian retailing industry and the church at large. It’s not too late for Christian retailers to initiate their own in-store celebrations of the KJV400, leveraging the interest in this historic event in their own communities.

The numbers tell an impressive story: The King James Version is the No. 1-selling Bible of all time. There’s no way to pinpoint the exact number of KJVs printed or sold in the last 400 years, but our company alone has sold 60 million copies since the 1980s when we began keeping records. 

Based on those records, we estimate that we’ve sold well more than 100 million copies. And sales are growing: industry reports show that sales of the King James Version increased 11% over the previous year.

Retailers can be encouraged by what we have learned about the King James Bible buyer—it’s everyone. There is no single group or demographic who use it. Men and women from all walks of life and of all ages embrace the translation.

The KJV is a magnificent treasure for retailers to share with their customers. It has been called “the noblest monument of English prose” and “the most beautiful piece of writing in all the literature of the world.” Its impact can be seen in great works of art and in everyday speech. 

It is the source of some of our most common phrases, with its wording and imagery used to such a degree that we often don’t realize we’re quoting the Bible. Sayings like “the salt of the earth,” “the apple of his eye” and “the writing on the wall” all come from the King James Bible. No other translation has found its way into our culture like the KJV has. Its impact on literature, politics, language and religion is unmatched.



As “the people’s Bible,” the KJV brought the Word of God to more people than ever before, the beginning of a centuries-long legacy of inspiring and empowering believers. Aware of the curiosity about why this particular version has had such a lasting impact, as part of our KJV400 celebration we have released a number of well-received, limited-edition commemorative Bibles, such as a replica of the 1611 edition and a new KJV Study Bible.

Committed to showing how the KJV legacy is alive and growing today, we want to join with colleagues and partners in the Christian retailing industry to encourage people to respond to God’s call to share His Word and offer hope and inspiration to the world. To that end, we have launched “God’s Word in Action” as part of the anniversary celebrations.

This effort is inspired by 2,000-plus verses in the Bible that deal with God’s view on justice and poverty, particularly Ps. 82:3 “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (KJV). God’s Word in Action seeks to start a movement of people helping others in tangible ways and inspiring others to do the same. 

One way we’re doing this is through a partnership with World Vision: “Buy a Bible, Help a Child.” For every Thomas Nelson Bible purchased at a U.S. Christian retail store through March 31, 2012, we will donate 10% of year-over-year net revenue growth achieved during that period to World Vision. 

CompeTuition June 2011: retail lessons from other businesses Print Email
Written by Mary Manz Simon   
Monday, 13 June 2011 10:55 AM America/New_York

Toys “R” Us: Experience and explanationsToysRUs


 I was dazzled—literally—from the start of my visit to the flagship Toys “R” Us (TRU) store at Times Square, New York City. The flash of a camera greeted me on entry, with a store photographer explaining that for a mere $13.99 I could purchase my photo with the TRU mascot superimposed on an image of Times Square.

That blaze of light set the tone for a high-energy environment in this multi-level, 110,000-square-feet retail extravaganza. While clearly not all the over-the-top ideas could immediately transfer to Christian retail, there were still lessons to be learned.

Posted on a pedestal sign at the entrance, a list of benefits asked and answered the question, “Why Shop Anywhere else?” It occurred to me that Christian retailers might easily highlight at least two of the same points: baby registry (get ready for your baby) and wish list (make a birthday special).

I also loved the handy store directory alphabetized by product category—from air hogs to video games—another easily adaptable idea.

Beyond these common-sense marketing aids, the store offered a larger-than-life experience. Among the features were a 60-foot Ferris Wheel with 14 themed cars, including the obligatory pink Barbie car; a two-story Barbie dream house with accessories, clothing and collectibles; and a collection of 25-foot-tall Lego replicas of iconic skyline buildings, including the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. 

A catwalk allowed customers to stroll past an expansive row of plush placed high above the sales floor. Throughout the store, this strategic use of air space gave the illusion of an even larger area; too often, floating space at retail is totally bare.

Beyond all the noise and action, however, the store was clearly organized. Varied floor surfaces defined the different  departments. In the Babies “R” Us section on the second floor, large wall photos showed the product in use: a parent pushing a stroller was above the stroller section; a child in a car seat was shown above the travel systems. What an effective way to communicate product location.

Looking beyond the crush of customers, inventory was deep; shelves were totally stocked. Almost every 20 feet, an employee demonstrated a toy or game. These hawkers added to the hubbub, but also contributed an element of surprise. The interesting and unexpected elements created an exciting retail backdrop.

The variety of entertainment for children of all ages—from watching the 5-ton animatronic T-Rex in Jurassic Park to creating programming and activating a personal robot—skewed my focus away from spending toward fun. In a similar way, purchasing becomes an add-on to the experience when a Christian bookstore hosts a preschool story time or family fun day.

Employees who demonstrated toys and games were occasionally overly assertive, making understandable one online reviewer’s complaint: “From the second you walk in, they’re trying to hustle you.”

Purchasing was made easy with a bank of registers adjacent to the escalator on the second floor, multiple registers on the first floor and cloth shopping bags at high-traffic junctions. 

Online and offline retail merged at the baby registry stations in several locations. Signs read: “Gifts granted the easy way: make wish list in store or online. Share with family and friends. Visit guest services or to start your wish list today.” So seamless for the customer.

“Instant credit” blinked off and on above the escalator to the basement. Downstairs, a variety of customer services included an Internet café and a UPS store. And amid all the mass-produced plastics was a token nod to the greening of America: Customers who traded in video games or used hardware earned a store gift card.

A uniformed guard and a security gate were positioned at the entry to the downstairs video games and music section. The steel-gray floor, industrial crates and gray ceiling with futuristic stars visually separated this department from the rest of the store.

But even at this retail tourist attraction, all was not glitzy—a reminder of the need for vigilance. In Barbieville, open double doors revealed damaged goods stacked along a concrete wall and a gritty linoleum floor, in spite of the presence of a mop and red bucket. Simply closing the door would have removed the eyesore. 


Mary Manz Simon is an author, speaker, children’s market consultant and member of Christian Retailing’s editorial advisory board.