Christian Retailing

Great expectations Print Email
Written by Dr. Steve Greene   
Tuesday, 24 July 2018 10:52 AM America/New_York

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Dr. Steve Greene (Sean Roberts)

Your store’s customer service will determine its future

Familiarity breeds contempt” is one of those common expressions that appear to come from the book of Proverbs but fall well short of spiritual insight.

The phrase tends to indicate that the more time we spend with someone, the more likely we are to miss fresh and valuable experiences from the relationship. “I know you. I know how you will respond.”

I’d like to amend the expression and offer a cautionary exhortation: Expectation breeds contempt. Sometimes we see only what we expect to see. Many work teams are trapped in the zone of expectancy. Perhaps booksellers wake up every morning with dismal expectations. We look out of gloom-fogged windows and expect to see pieces of the sky littering the ground.

Some ask, “What’s the use? There’s a giant in the field, and all we have is a slingshot and a rock.” Trade news is filled with data that suggest there’s little we can do to rebuild foot traffic. Convention exhibitors and attendees gather in hopes that others will join them to develop a plan to sling the shot heard ’round the industry.

Some will suggest I’m waving pompoms for an “0 and 12” team. The coach’s home has a moving van parked in the front yard. No, the coach didn’t order the van; the fans did. It’s time for a new leader.

Leadership in our industry has the opportunity to agitate acclimation. We must lead others away from their daily routine. Leaders must shake up artificial boundaries established by their teams and tear down those “falling rocks” signs. We must pull down the paradigms that hang from the rafters of the shop like last year’s backyard corn crop.

Leaders must fight the gravitational effect of performance expectations inside and outside the store. Effective leaders continue to enlarge the performance arc. We must develop work teams who look beyond the problem in an industry full of opportunity.

We need change agents to invite a few bulls into the bookshop. There’s no need to hold on to what isn’t working. Change must percolate from the ground up.

We also need leaders at store level who are willing to sit at tables with their customers and listen. We must ask better questions than “Are you satisfied with the customer service at Amazon?”

I believe the only way we can attract new customers to our stores is with higher levels of customer service than ever offered in the industry. We need to rethink, redefine and revive what we do and how we do it. Revival must begin with leadership and emanate from everyone on the team.

When I visited my favorite bookstore last week, I found nothing to revive. I didn’t bother to ask for the shock paddles for the heart of the store. It had flat-lined. Management just didn’t know it.

I truly believe more of our bookstores close due to service issues than industry shrinkage. Which came first? Poor customer service or declining customer counts?

Great customer service is marketing. It’s the best marketing. When we deliver memorable service, customers return.

When I worked in broadcast television during my years in marketing consulting, I learned that most business owners have an inflated opinion of the customer service they provide.

I met with over 1,000 business owners throughout my career. Not one time did an owner tell me they had a problem with customer satisfaction.

Based on customer satisfaction research for most of those clients, customer service was a major problem, and owners were delusional.

When we shuffle out poor service, we should stop all forms of advertising. We don’t need new customers to find us with our service down. I’ve told many store owners, “All advertising can do for you now is help you go out of business faster. You are running people out the back door faster than we can bring them in the front.”

Consider this oft-quoted rant from a Seinfeld episode: “No soup for you.”

Maybe chasing customers away is a sign of a wildly successful business. We’ve all met people at a service counter who seemed too bothered to serve. Does your team dish out no-service stories that could be developed into Seinfeld scripts?

Find ways to overserve at every opportunity. Do what others cannot or will not do. Exert every ounce of energy toward the delivery of a customer service level that exceeds any business in any industry.

When is the last time you surveyed your customers? The truth might set you free.

We cannot allow performance contempt to creep into our organization. It’s just too familiar.

Dr. Steve Greene is publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His Charisma House book, Love Leads, shows that without love, you cannot be an effective leader. Follow his Love Leads blog and listen to his Love Leads podcast.

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

What bookstore owners can learn from vinyl records

Chopin played for me last night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank possesses a gift unique but necessary for any entrepreneur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therein lies the lesson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are analog retailers.

Dr. Steve Greene is publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. He is the author of Love Leads (Charisma House). Follow his Love Leads blog at charismamag
.com/blogs/love-leads and download his Love Leads podcast at Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Aim at a small target Print Email
Written by Dr. Steve Greene   
Wednesday, 21 March 2018 09:38 AM America/New_York
Photo of Dr. Steve Greene
Dr. Steve Greene (Sean Roberts)

Store owners often ask, “What media work best for attracting customers to my store?”

This seems like a good question. It may be good, but it is the wrong question to ask.

Retailers must think of their stores as a product or service. What need does the product fill in the target market? And who needs the product?

So the first question a store owner must ask, ask and continue to ask is “Who is my customer?” Here are a few corollary questions:

How would I describe my regulars?

How are they different from people who buy from competitors?

In what ways are my customers alike?

Why do customers return to my store?

The answers to these questions form the essence of annual marketing plans. The questions point the way to finding our ideal customers. We must determine which products are in demand in your market.

A loyal customer base is rarely achieved by accident. We attract customers by design. This is the essence of a target market. A target market is not a random group of people who visit your store.

A target market is not a mass market. We cannot profitably operate a store that offers everything for everyone. Specialists do better than generalists. Bigger is not better. Better is better.

Your store improves as we better understand the needs of a well-defined target market. There is a common denominator among your best customers. Keep searching for it as your store grows.

It is much more productive to develop a quality advertising campaign for a smaller, well-defined target audience than a broad one. Marketing is more affordable. Your budget becomes more effective. Your best brand evangelists emerge from small circles.

You must also take care that your store doesn’t become a commodity store. I’ve seen way too many neon-lit “Book Store” signs. Surely, our industry can do better.

Chicken is a commodity. We know from research that shoppers list “chicken” on their grocery list, but not a brand. Chicken is chicken. There is no perceived difference between one chicken and another. There is no brand awareness, brand loyalty or brand insistence.

Your store needs customer awareness, loyalty and insistence.

Amazon took a significant share from the book market because stores allowed themselves to make the trip to Commodity City. A bookstore became a place to buy books. “Come one, come all.”

At the exact moment in retail history when we needed a revolution bolstered by different and compelling operations, many stores dug in their heels and denied the existence of a monster in the deep. The monster is real—and feeds on chicken.

The manner in which you address a customer’s felt need is your point of differentiation. Your operations and marketing message separate you from a pack of commodity options.

What is it you do best? How do you help people meet their needs? Do you have certain solutions that are better for specific groups?

Do you communicate your points of difference or your aging inventory? Tell your target market what you do best.

Select your ideal target market from several possible segments. Think about your best customers and consider this list of possible points of store segmentation:

What is their lifestyle—what do they do on weekends?

Where are your customers located in your geographical area? Are you affected by drive patterns and egress issues? (If these issues are difficult for your customers, and they still get to you, it’s a good sign your store is meeting needs.)

What is the cost to reach various market segments?

Do your customers respond to benefits offered? What benefit seems to matter most?

Notice I don’t recommend targeting on the basis of demographics. We need predictors rather than descriptors.

From your segmentation analysis, select one target segment. What group of similar customers can you reach and generate the most profit? This is much different than selecting the largest population size.

Focus your marketing efforts on a homogenous customer base. Spend less money in an attempt to reach a broader market.

Deliver a targeted experience. Some experiences cannot be delivered online.