Blog

Research Confirms Locations Of 1,800+ Christian Retailers: See Map At Get It Local Today

Research Confirms Locations Of 1,800+ Christian Retailers:
See Map At Get It Local Today

In an effort to provide a comprehensive and current representation of the scope and scale of independent Christian retailing, the Get It Local Today team has launched an interactive map identifying more than 1,800 existing retail locations who sell mostly Christian products. This database represents the largest online directory of verified independent Christian retailers today. Every one of these locations has been included in the Get It Local Today program and are now featured on the customer-facing map on GetItLocalToday.com/Map.

“These 1,800 retailers are important lighthouses—their communities need them, as do their Christian publishers and vendors,” says Greg Squires, President of The Parable Group. “This research demonstrates that there is a substantial group of indies that should not be overlooked or abandoned. As a consortium of industry advocates, we are inviting retailers and vendors to support each other by supporting this program.”

Christian publishers can drive consumers to these 1,800 brick and mortar locations by including Get It Local Today buy-links online and in email marketing. GetItLocalToday.com/Map helps the public find Christian retailers near them and confirm stock at nearby locations. For Christian publishers and vendors, the list may be used to identify new accounts, find regional hotspots for author visits, and prompt indie-first initiatives or offers.

“This is a new day in Christian retailing. Though CBA and LifeWay stores have disappeared, we are working in partnership with many different industry leaders from both the marketing group and service provider areas to carry this important industry initiative forward,” says Chuck Wallington, President of Covenant Group. “To strengthen the industry, retailers need to come together more to offer vendors greater scale; and vendors need touchpoints like this to integrate retailers while serving the shopper.”

Christian retailers are encouraged to view their free listing on the retailer-facing version of the site—
GetItLocalToday.com/Store-Map—to confirm their store’s information including providing a key contact to receive and respond to customer “reserve online, pick-up in-store” orders. In addition, retailers can also elect to display their current on-hand quantities to help encourage local customers to choose their store for purchases over online competitors.

# # #
The Parable Group is a Christian marketing agency based in San Luis Obispo, CA. Since 1985, they’ve
served over 1,000 Christian brands; including publishers, independent retailers, churches, non-profit
ministries and more. Today, they pair decades of Christian consumer data with proven business practices
and digital technologies to drive measurable results for those they serve. For more information, contact
sally.ross@parable.com or visit www.parablegroup.com.

Covenant Group provides a host of retail marketing services and promotional tools for leading independent
Christian retailers. Their offerings currently include both print and digital catalog programs, branded ecommerce
websites, in-store merchandising materials and more. For more information, contact Chuck
Wallington at cwallington@covenantgroupstores.com.

We’re Hiring!

Join our growing team! If you enjoy fast-paced, problem-solving environments that require creativity and curiosity, check out our current openings.

 

Digital Marketing Strategist

Please submit your resume to Laura Clark at laura.clark@parable.com to apply for this position.

And the winner is…

We are very proud to announce the winner of our Parable Gives Back Refresh | Restore makeover giveaway!  

Congratulations to Kevin Ferguson of Willamette Valley Christian Supply in Corvallis, Oregon. 

Willamette Valley Christian Supply will receive free store design and merchandising services, valued up to $10,000 in material and services for enhancements, and on-site assistance to finalize the project during the summer of 2019. 

In his application, Kevin Ferguson wrote: We exist to connect individuals and churches with the resources they need to grow in Christ. Four principles are applied daily: People over product; Mission over money; Neighbors over numbers; Get to know our gueststheir names and their personal stories. 

We were overwhelmed by the tremendous group of entries—there are many deserving stores. Here are some of the awesome comments from just a dozen of the numerous applications we received: 

“We have served our home county for nearly two decades, listening to those who are hurting, speaking encouragement, praying for needs, and many days giving away more than we sold. We would just love to see our community blessed with a refurbishment of their source for Christian products.”  

“We are at a pivotal point. Our business is right on the precipice of becoming the regional hub for all those who want to shop at a “brick and mortar” store. We are ready, willing and able to make great strides forward to help people grow in Christ. We have the heart, soul, stability, name recognition and willingness to give it our all. Yet, some help right now could make all the difference in us having the right flow, right signage, the right atmosphere, and the right color-coordinated themes. We are truly excited about being able to make a statement about the importance of helping people find answers to life’s most perplexing problems with Biblical solutions.”  

“I am dedicated to this industry and have unwavering loyalty to our community to stay here. Our store isn’t grasping at straws to stay afloat, we are looking for avenues to increase our reach…and improving our interior would be a huge benefit to all the people we are currently serving, and hopefully, the new clients that we draw in. Thank you for having a vision for stores that are making a difference!”  

“It is our mission to share the hope and restoration of Jesus through the products we offer. We hope to be here for a long time, offering a peaceful place for people to gather and find life-giving products that bring them to Jesus and helps them grow in him.”  

“In addition to serving our congregation, in the wake of chain store closures, other people are discovering our store and traveling long distances to view and hold product and receive caring service. We would like to see that continue and even expand.”  

“We followed God’s leading to get into the industry in 2004 and He has continued to guide our steps. We will continue in it as long as He leads us to. We want to be a light in our community, a place that people want to come for not only product but support and prayer.”   

“We continue to work hard to create a shopping experience for our customers through the way we work our displays throughout the store. We have customers who shop our store daily, weekly, and monthly – so we work to keep fresh product and to keep our displays moved around. We continue to work to provide our community with product that helps them and their family in their Christian walk…”  

“I believe that a little bit of work could go a long way to making our store even better. I think there could be a great impact made without a huge budget. We are constantly coming up with ideas and dreams of what would be fun to change, but we don’t always have the dollars to do it. It would be great to have an “expert” opinion and just a push in the right direction.”  

“We enjoy a great reputation with our customers and have every reason to expect to stay in business for a long time. We can serve our customers better if they are able to see all our offerings well-displayed. I am committed to learning more and adapting to all recommendations to give a great customer experience.”  

“We have been in business for over 30 years and need a fresh look as well as updating our space. Our colors are outdated and the carpet is worn out. We’d love to offer a fresh look as we move forward to the next 30 years of business.”  

“We are showing great sales of Bibles, and Book sales are up, these areas are fresh whereas our Children’s area is just not right and we believe that to reach the younger generation we need to do a better job merchandising and stocking in our children’s area. This will help us in our social marketing and in additional sales from grandparents looking to introduce and encourage their grandkids in the faith. We need help visualizing what that space can look like and putting it together and coupling it with a marketing plan.”  

“I’m currently in the process of purchasing the store from the current owner and would love to start off the new ownership with some updates to signal to the community that things are changing, for the better.”  

Stay tuned for updates about the Willamette Valley Christian Supply Refresh | Restore makeover later this summer! 

 

Jeff Bruenning - The Parable Group

Jeff Bruenning
Jeff.Bruenning@parable.com
805-329-4008 

 

Resources to Guide an Expansion of Christian Retail

Dear friends,

We believe there is a future for Christian bookselling. The demand and desire for Christian content remain strong, and retailers have a unique way of curating products for the customer and gathering customers in community.

With the Family and LifeWay closures over the past 3 years, over 400 Christian bookstores have closed. We’ve found that there are many U.S. local markets with 50,000 people without a Christian bookstore within an hour’s drive.

Here’s the question: Is this is the end of bookstores or the beginning of a rise for independent retailers? We believe it is the latter. As one example, Borders’ closure of 500 stores in 2011 was followed by a steady rise of ABA general market independent bookstores over the past 8 years. ABA membership is up, ABA store sales are increasing, and 28 ABA stores changed hands last year—all signs of health.

The ideal Christian bookstore operator has a passion for ministry and a strong work ethic. There are large groups of middle-aged Christians who long for fulfilling work in the form of “Kingdom business.” I personally know dozens of these ministry-minded business people and know that there are thousands more.

In response to these matters above, we are kicking off an awareness campaign that has the following goals:

  1. To make a case for Christian retailing, addressing misperceptions about print books and bookstores, and offering a suite of resources to those interested in Christian retailing
  2. To identify parties who are interested in owning and/or operating a Christian bookstore in markets that need one and don’t have one
  3. To facilitate a connection for Christian retailers in need of a business succession plan. The 2018 Christian retailer survey revealed that 18% of retailers want or need this. If this effort connects interested buyers with stores ready to change hands, we would be thrilled to help.

Here is the link to the landing page we have developed, which answers key questions and links to a variety of industry resources. We see this as an industry-wide initiative intended to help as many as possible.

We want you, our industry peers, to be aware of these plans and to pray with us. We need God’s wisdom, God’s favor, and God’s Spirit to grant generosity and compassion with each person we connect with.

I would love to hear your feedback on this; we value your perspective and support.

Here to serve,

Greg Squires

Greg.squires@parable.com

805-329-4001

Christian Bookstores are Not Dead; Resilient Indies Carry On

Christian Bookstores are Not Dead; Resilient Indies Carry On

By Greg Squires

Contrary to news headlines and the perception of some, bookstores are not dead and gone. With LifeWay’s announcement that it will close all 170 stores by the end of 2019, preceded by Family Christian going bankrupt and closing 240 stores in 2016, it naturally raises questions about the viability of Christian bookstores.

Retailing and publishing are industries undergoing radical transformations, and the rise of Amazon has made a big impact on these market shifts. This is undeniable. But this story is still being written.

The print book is also not dead. The Kindle and eBooks brought dark clouds of pending doom to the book industry 10 years ago; now in hindsight, we see that people still buy print books and eBook market share did not rise as forecasted.

Independents Remain

Based on a variety of industry sources, there are 1,500 – 2,000 independent Christian bookstores, including traditional retail brick and mortar stores along with church bookstores (ranging in size from small to large). These independent bookstores are operating in the age of Amazon and finding ways to survive despite the changing market landscape.

Independent bookstores in the general market are showing signs of life and are not going away. ABA (American Booksellers Association) reports that membership has risen over the past 10 years and ABA bookstore sales have had compound annual growth rate of 5.4% over the past five years. Two-thirds of ABA bookstores report a net profit after all expenses including manager/owner salary, with the top third reporting 8.8% net profit—not bad for a retail shop today.

Nationally—both in the general market and Christian booksellers—new stores are opening, established stores are finding new owners, and a new generation is coming into the business as both owner/managers and frontline booksellers. (See this week’s PW story on this young couple named bookstore of the year.)

Why Chains Failed

Many of the reports that described the closures of Borders, Family Christian, and LifeWay point to a changing retail landscape, margin compression, and changing customer preference as drivers of their demise.  There is more to each story here.

  1. Chain stores were too big.

The overhead and fixed costs for stores with 10,000+ square feet was too much to operate profitably. In addition to rent costs, the inventory and staff required to fill the space created too great of a burden on the store’s expense profile.

Dozens of independent bookstores have right-sized their store over the past 10 years, reducing their footprint to 2,500 – 7,500 square feet. They improved their profitability and saw little reduction in sales as loyal customers followed the store’s move. For many, this was a difficult decision that required some staff and inventory reductions; but because of their “independence” and resilience these stores were able to make the decisions necessary to keep going.

  1. Chains have managers; Indies have owners.

There is a dramatic difference in ownership mentality between a chain store manager and an indie bookstore owner. Indies have explicit and tangible ownership; they manage the profit and loss closely because their livelihood depends on it.

Managers of chain stores have an inherently different approach to their responsibilities. This may be an unfair generality, as there are great people managing stores with an incredible passion for the customer and the book product. But there still remains an inherent difference between the rightful owner of a business and a hired manager.

Each chain had its own model for managing their stores, sales targets, profitability, and approach to local adaptation. None of these were models of a successful retail chain.

Granted, there are/were some great booksellers in chain stores that have lost their opportunity to serve customers and sell books—this is a sad reality. But, the booksellers that believe their community needs a bookstore will explore or consider ways to open an independent bookstore.

  1. National chains lack local market flexibility; Indies adapt.

Chain stores offer a consistent and common customer experience; when you walk in the door in any city or state, you know what you’re going to get. We appreciate this about Starbucks and Target, but it’s arguably not what the bookstore shopper is looking for.

Indie bookstores are attuned to their local market and shopper, listening to their requests and observing purchases every day, and doing whatever it takes to stock products that sell.  Local authors get prime placement in indie bookstores because there is a personal relationship that creates authenticity and taps into our sense of place.

Listening to the needs of the customer is essential for survival, and it’s very challenging to do this across regions of the United States. Even a dozen distinct merchandising plans in chain stores would fall short of targeting the right products to the target customer base in each market.

  1. Chains carry heavy corporate infrastructure; Indies are lean.

Retail chains require layers of management and a corporate office that centralizes some functions. The premise is that this centralization creates scale and efficiency; that is not always the outcome. The chain bookstore still requires the manager, floor staff, and buyer functions, just as the independents do. But, rather than offering efficiency to the store, the corporate office, regional managers, and leadership teams creates a financial strain on the store that erodes overall profitability.

Indie bookstores operate as local “lean machines” that must manage their cash and expenses to carry on month by month. Those that have done so to this point have found a way to survive.

  1. Chains lack personal relationship; Indies know your name.

Customers shop in bookstores today because they want curation (discover the new and recommended) and they want community (personal relationship and authentic trust) with real human beings. This is the bookstore’s advantage over Amazon.

Chain bookstores—again, not true in every case but generally—didn’t overwhelm the customer with personal recommendation or authentic community. It’s expensive to provide human coverage of a store of 25,000 square feet or more. I’m amazed at how many red vests I see in my local Ace Hardware—they are committed to deliver on their promise to be the “helpful place.”

To add to that, independent bookstore owners and staff generally have more longevity than chain bookstore staff. With less turnover, there is a greater personal connection with customers and stronger bonds of trust. People shop in bookstores largely because they are looking for a book or gift and aren’t sure what to buy—they are expecting someone to help them, and it’s even more satisfying when the person knows your name.

  1. Chain corporate goals trumped customer needs.

LifeWay made substantial merchandising decisions over the past 18 months that are important to understand. There was an increased presence and positioning of B&H Publishing product (the publishing house owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, which also owns LifeWay). Simultaneously, there was a substantial reduction in placement and inventory of other publishers’ products. This seemed like an effort to improve margins, to focus on the theologically conservative product, or both; but it did not serve the customer’s needs. If a customer is looking for a key title that is out of stock or is told “we don’t carry that,” the customer will likely never come back. A turn toward margins or theological preference is a turn inward that pushes customers away and leads to demise.

Frankly, all publishers are challenged to serve the entirety of a customer’s needs because, in most cases, they don’t sell the breadth of product that a customer is looking for.  This further reinforces the need for a retailer to represent breadth and service to all customer segments.

It’s a new day

The bookselling and publishing industries are at an inflexion point; “what is the future of book retailing?”. Will publishers double-down on direct-to-consumer and allow Amazon to expand to an even greater share of sales? Or, will there be a rise in count and reach of independent stores to fill in where chain stores have left customers under-served?

There is a group of resilient, adaptive, locally-engaged independent Christian retailers that are determined to carry on. These bookstores have become regional stores and are drawing customers from much farther distances.

Churches and their leaders have long relied on local booksellers for book recommendations, Bible studies, and other resources. These needs still remain, and some of the strongest Christian bookstores have found ways to engage with pastors, serving as a guide to their book selection, and offering them focused attention to serve their needs in ways Amazon can’t.

These independent retailers are collaborating more than they ever have. Many are sharing transaction and inventory data via ParableConnect and are making smarter merchandising decisions and more intelligently managing their product mix. Retailers are getting assistance from vendor sales reps to accomplish the same, which helps everyone. And, there is increased collaboration among the marketing groups as the Christian Products Expo (CPE) has become the meeting place for the industry in the absence of CBA.

The map below demonstrates that there is strong nation-wide coverage among active independent stores—this is not every Christian bookstore but a strong representation of known active accounts. The industry needs these stores to survive and thrive, and customers want this too.

Bookstores carrying on with ownership change is another sign of life. ABA reported 28 such transitions in 2018. There are several Christian bookstores that have changed hands in recent months, and more are pending. After 45 years, Bill and Isla Ballou sold The Solid Rock in Kearney, Nebraska in January to a vibrant new owner with a vision for serving younger customers. And Heritage House Bookstore in Brockton, MA just announced their sale to new owners after 55 years of ownership, to name a few.

Christian bookstores are not dead. It’s not an easy business but it’s a good business and an essential part of book publishing, author’s success, and the consumer discovery of books. Independent Christian bookstores have not given up and will continue to serve customers in their local markets. Regardless of your connection to this industry, you have a role to support your local independent bookstore. Perhaps it is your calling to open one in your area or advocate for someone else to do so. There are plenty of good examples and models for profitable book retailing today.

For more book retailing recommendations or further commentary on industry trends, see the Christian Retail 2018 Year in Review.

With stores selling to new owners and passing on to the next generation of Christian booksellers, this should be an exciting time in our industry. Independents remain, and independence remains. And those are good things, because they’re what built the industry and will continue to move us forward.