If you sang out of a hardback hymnal this last Sunday called Songs of Faith and Praise, or if you’ve read any of the books by the cast of Duck Dynasty, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. But you may not know that John Howard—one of the company’s founders—got his start in retail, going head-to-head with Walmart.

Competing with Sam

“We were in the discount store business,” says Howard of his family. “We had Howard Brothers Discount Stores in West Monroe, LA. We also had Super Saver Wholesale Warehouse Club. My dad and his brother started the discount stores, and my dad and I started the warehouse business. We opened our first warehouse club about the same time as Sam Walton. We had always been competitors.

“When we sold the discount stores in 1978, we had about 78 stores,” he says. “We said we were never going to do retail again. But in 1983 I went out to the West Coast and saw a Price Club, which is Costco today. I came back and told my dad that this was something Sam will never do. It was just di event enough from Walmart that we could compete, separate and apart, but it was close enough that I didn’t think Sam would ever do it.

“We started a new chain of warehouse clubs, and sure enough, I was wrong about Sam. About the same year we opened our  rst one, he opened his. We built 24 clubs in 24 months and were about to go public when Sam called. He said, ‘We’d rather buy you than compete with you again.’ So, rather than go public we sold the 24 clubs we had to Sam.”

Hymnals and Duck Blinds

“All this time Howard Publishing was just a hymnal publisher with a few scattered books by pastors, doing business out of my dad’s garage. He decided to do a hymnal in 1969 and produced the  rst one in 1971. When we sold the stores in 1987, I said, ‘Why don’t we make Howard Publishing a real powerhouse publisher?’ So, we decided to do a new hymnal in 1990, Songs of Faith and Praise.

“In 1993, we had enough books to make it worthwhile for us to go to CBA. We went to our  first convention then. We hired a couple of people to help and then eventually sold to Simon & Schuster in 2006.

“What put Howard Books on the map was the ‘Hugs’ gift book line,” he continues.

“We sold about 10 million copies of those over the years. We had a number of bestsellers prior to our sale to Simon & Schuster in 2006. A er we sold, I stayed on for about three years as executive VP and publisher of Howard Books. A er those three years, they moved the company to Nashville.

Today Howard is executive VP of business a airs for Duck Commander.

“My daughter is Korie Robertson, the wife of Willie Robertson, who is the CEO of Duck Commander. Korie and Willie were the ones who got Duck Dynasty started,” Howard says. “I have stayed active in the industry because I’ve acted as the book manager/agent for all of the Robertson family’s books since Duck Dynasty took off . I also help some other people as an agent.”

Looking Ahead

“I think there’s a bright future for the industry,” says Howard. “I see continuing success for publishers. Christian content continues to be very needed and sought a er. I think that’s going to be ongoing until the Lord returns. I think that Christian bookstores also have a bright future. Seeing the slowdown in e-books and the renewed interest in printed books, I think people want to go back to bookstores to browse and see what’s available there and decide on a printed book to read. People in the industry need to hang in there, pray hard, study the market, and  find good mentors to help them along the way.”