Experienced booksellers apply both heart and head to business.

As my pastor says, we’re in a constant state of trying to figure out this Christian life we’re supposed to be living. None of us have it all together. And if we think we’ve got it nailed down, we’re not being honest with ourselves.

I think the same thing can be said for owning a Christian bookstore. If your doors are still open, then you’re obviously doing something right—something other owners and managers can learn from. We need to be looking to one another for guidance, help, and suggestions on how to better our ministries, our businesses, and ourselves.

That’s what I love about CBA’s UNITE philosophy: We’re all in this together. We need to link arms to help one another in this industry that we love so much. Our channel has strength, but we need to show it. Yes, we might be part of competing local markets, or even different marketing groups, but we’re doing the same work and selling the same products. We have more in common than we have differences.

DATA AND CUSTOMERS

I consistently hear retailers make statements that contradict each other. The first one is that Christian bookstore customers are interchangeable. Yes, each customer is unique. But he or she is trying to grow closer to Christ and share Christ just like the next customer.

So if I could find customers who frequented their local Christian store, but have moved and now live near you, wouldn’t you want me to tell them about your store? I don’t know of a single storeowner who would say, “No. They might have shopped in another store somewhere else, but they’re not like my existing customers. My selection wouldn’t appeal to them.” Of course not. You’d want them to find you. That’s why you spend money on websites and search engine optimization.

But if that’s true, then hopefully you aren’t one to say, “I know what my customers want. I don’t need to see what other stores are selling. My customer base is different than the rest of the country.” If your best-sellers are The Pilgrim’s Progress or More Than a Carpenter, I would argue that your breadth isn’t what it should be.

DATA AND SALES

Consider looking for free reports that show what’s selling across the country. Look for titles you might be out of, or haven’t ever carried. It can’t hurt you. It could only help. And it might allow you to serve your customers even better than you currently are.

A while back I was part of an analysis regarding nationwide music sales. We looked at sales across the country, as well as regionally. The common assumption was that some titles only sell in certain areas of the country, and there’s no way other stores can sell certain genres. But surprisingly, out of the top 400 titles, there were only six that differed from one region to another. The lists were ranked differently based on regionality, but the same titles sold across the county, and in every region.

It might not feel that we are similar. Our gut might tell us differently (and if you’ve been around as long as I have, your gut needs to be listened to), but data frequently tells another story that should be considered.

— Erik Ernstrom