Challenging Times for Christian Bookstores
Robert Vandervort, who operates a Christian bookstore in Allentown, Michigan, summed up the the financial situation that many local Christian bookstores face. He told Karen Dubis of the Detroit News, “This is a challenging time for Christian stores. Sam’s Club (a Wal-Mart division) carries some Bibles we carry, but they can sell them cheaper than we can buy them from our suppliers.”
Some Christian bookstore owners see last month’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Borders Group Inc. as a good thing.
Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president of Half Price Books and chairman of the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association, a division of the National Retail Federation, was quoted in the article as saying, “Independent mom-and-pops are expanding and capitalizing on Borders’ downsizing.”
Andy Butcher, editor of Christian Retailing magazine and the Church Bookstore newsletter agreed. He believes that consumers, searching for places to meet other book lovers, may seek out specialty stores, like Christian bookstores, again.
CBA, the Christian Retail Association reports that 500 book publishers and other suppliers have annual sales of more than $4.6 billion, but that often does not trickle down to Mom and Pop Christians bookstores. Christian publishers sell a huge number of books through Amazon.com, ChristianBook.com and other outline outlets, as well as big box stories like Target and Wal-Mart, all of whom have the buying power to discount heavily.
Vandervort echoed the philosophy of many small Christian booksellers when he told the Detroit News, “We’re here to serve, not sell.”
Vandervort has moved his Christian bookstore to a new location to better serve customers. He added a reading area, a meeting place for church training sessions and a children’s story hour, and coffee is always always available for browsers. He also uses social media, like Facebook, to reach out to customers.
Many Christian bookstores are becoming little more than gift shops, but Vandervort keeps his focus on book sales. His store carries more than 1,500 Bibles in stock and one of the largest commentary sections in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. He sells Bibles at a 25 percent discount, a competitive move the store made several years ago.