Nearly two years after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Family Christian Stores decided to cease all operations in late February. That’s 85 years of bookselling coming to an abrupt halt. All of that after the Borders collapse. Another large ABA chain is suffering as well.

As former FCS customers saunter through our door for the first time, the questions we hear are “Is Baker going to close as well?” and “Do you have the great deals that Family Christian offered?” These customers are in search of a trustworthy Christian bookstore at the same time retailers are facing a major disruption to how we’ve done business thus far. The real challenge is, amidst these changes, do you see an opportunity to gain a new customer base for your store?

FILL THE GAP

“The options for reaching consumers interested in religious materials through brick-and-mortar stores have continued to shrink over the years” says Jim Milliot and Emma Koonse in the Publishers Weekly article “Publishers Plan for a Future without Family Christian.” “Independent Christian stores have struggled, and may not be in a position to take advantage of FCS’s collapse the way ABA stores did with Borders.”

I agree that we may not be in a position to take advantage of the collapse in the same way, but we are certainly nimble enough to fill a portion of the gap. Querying fellow Christian retailers was encouraging. I asked how they plan on winning the disappointed Family Christian customer. Their responses were thoughtful and showed great initiative:

  • Honor Family coupons.
  • Take store-embossed bookmarks to FCS during their closing sales to help direct customers.
  • Send out a mailing emphasizing their own website and physical location.

Another store reminded me that it’s wise to make sure that you’re serving all of your church community. His FCS drew in African-American authors and charismatic titles that they couldn’t get anywhere else.

BOLSTER BOOK INVENTORY

My own hope for filling the gap and reinventing the Christian store is simple: Let’s return to carrying a healthy book inventory. In an attempt to win margin, FCS minimized their book inventory, carrying a heavy amount of gift product. The life-changing impact of Christian books left their store, along with their most faithful customers. Let’s redirect those customers, coming in for the first time, to their new favorite store. We have a great opportunity to serve the church, by equipping them to live and grow in faith.

— Sue Smith, CBA Board Chairman