Why are Christian Bookstores Struggling?

Christian Finance Advice Blog is pleased to present this blog from two budding authors, Briercrest College & Seminary seniors, Nicole Chenard and Meghan Friesen.

Christian bookstore must follow solid business practices
Christian bookstore must follow solid business practices

There was a time when Christian bookstores were prominent in the community and seen as a relevant resource for churches and Christians. However, like so many other businesses, times and consumer demands changed and most Christian bookstores did not adapt. In fact, many failed. They struggled to provide adequate returns on investment, and often they did not implement effective marketing strategies.

Many Christian business owners justified their poor business performance by saying, God would meet our needs; but they did not perform critical research to adapt to the changing marketplace. This lack of research crippled their businesses. Simply put, Christian bookstores performed sub optimally because they did not apply effective Bible-based business strategies, management systems, and performance metrics routinely.

Why don’t these businesses provide adequate returns on investments? We believe there are at least five main reasons:

  1. Books and Bibles are significant products, but they do not generate enough income
  2. Christian bookstores carry too many slow moving inventory items
  3. Christian bookstores make their businesses “too religious”
  4. Christian bookstores did not adapt to the changing marketplace
  5. They ignored the impact of the internet

Books and Bibles do not generate enough income

Christian bookstores cannot make enough profits from selling books and Bibles primarily. The reality is that bookstores rarely break-even on book sales. These items do not generate enough profits and so, these bookstores need to find other profitable sources of income.

Christian bookstores carry too many slow moving inventory items

Christian bookstores sell “fluff” to compensate for slow moving inventories. They sell religious gifts, toys, and trinkets that are overpriced with high-margins. These items have become crutches for many Christian retailers; but still these sales don’t bring in needed supplemental income to run efficient businesses.

Christian bookstores make their businesses “too religious”

If Christian bookstores want to transform into pertinent, up-to-date, and successful businesses, they need to stop making them so religious (Crosby). Of course, God will provide for us, but that does not mean these bookstores can get away without having strong business plans. They need to know which items are their staples and which items they should scrap.

Christian bookstores didn’t adapt to the changing market

Curtis Riskey, president of The Association for Christian Retail, says that Christian businesses lessen their chance of success because of their refusal to adapt to the new culture (Martinez). If bookstores fall behind their competitors, they will never be fully utilized by consumers. Riskey stresses that Christian bookstores have an important role as they provide the necessary resources for people to grow in their faith. Therefore, business owners must evaluate their businesses and update anything that is causing them to lag in the market.

Christian bookstores ignored the impact of the internet

With the changing market, Christians no longer needed to leave their homes to purchase worship music, Sunday school curricula or devotionals. In fact, those items and more could be purchased online. Thus, Christian bookstores needed to do something else to attract customers. Sadly, many of them remained unchanged hoping they would keep their current customers. Many didn’t. And hence, many of them went out of business. They ignored the reality that keeping up with technological changes is essential to remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace.

What should Christian bookstores do to rise in a fallen market?

Let’s take a look at a Christian bookstore that has captured market share by becoming a comfortable meeting place. The House of James in Abbotsford, British Columbia has found a way to stay competitive and successful in a trying industry. The House of James hosts live shows by country, rock, blues, jazz, and folk musicians. The store carries cookbooks, garden books, hiking guides, and classical music (Crosby).

Owner Lando Klassen says he is always looking for reasons to draw customers in. He has created a place where Christians and non-Christians alike can feel at ease and comfortable—not to mention their café that also draws customers in. The use of this vertical marketing strategy has been very successful. Customers are not just coming into their store to buy books, but they come to listen to live bands, buy a cup of coffee and take advantage of their other unique services.

Experiencing firsthand the overall atmosphere and culture that Klassen created, we can attest to the fact that this is no ordinary Christian bookstore. They have truly found a way to stand out from all other independent bookstores. They are maximizing their resources and are keeping up to the changing technologies and culture. Not only has the House of James overcome many of the struggles that other bookstores have faced, but they are an effective ministry as well. Without a doubt, this bookstore should be used as a good example of what other Christian bookstores should strive for.

There is a way that Christian bookstores can survive in a tough market. But without a solid business plan and great discipline, this will never happen.

© Copyright 2015, Nicole Chenard and Meghan Friesen

Nicole Chenard and Meghan Friesen are followers of Jesus who are scheduled to graduate from Briercrest College and Seminary with degrees of Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration in spring 2015. They are passionate about future careers in communications.

Atkinson, N. (2004). The shrewd Christian: You can’t have it all, but you can have more than enough. Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press.

Crosby, C. (2008, April 11). How to Save the Christian Bookstore. Retrieved February 14, 2015, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/april/18.22.html

Martinez, J. (n.d.). Struggling Christian Bookstores Need to Track with Culture, Tech to be Relevant, Says Retail Leader. Retrieved February 14, 2015.

Sactum, Cerulean. The truth about Christian Bookstores. Retrieved February 14, 2015 from: ceruleansanctum.com/2008/10/the-truth-about-christian-bookstores.html#.VN-oUHZ9mCQ

Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of seven books — including his first children's book published in 2022 — speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), holds a Masters of Science in management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Business Administration honoris causa from Briercrest College and Seminary. He is founder and president of Managing God's Money™ and Stewarding God's Resources.

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