Four steps to expanding your customer base.

Drive through almost any town in America, and you’ll see signs in front of churches promoting their preschool or mom’s-day-out programs. A number of trends have converged to build demand for these programs, but one aspect of their popularity is certain: Church-based, early-childhood centers organize an important audience for Christian retailers—new and growing families.

Follow these four steps to expand your customer base by serving these church programs.

1. ASK FOR THEIR BUSINESS

We’ll never know how many opportunities slip through our hands because we never asked. And so, as the saying goes, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Start with a personal letter to the program director, introducing your store and your availability to offer support. Personal letters are rare these days—especially to educators who are inundated with junk mail. The personal touch is bound to make an impression.

Consider hand delivering your note with one of your better-selling children’s books as an example of what you have to offer. Cast your net among all the local church-based programs.

2. DISCOVER WHAT THEY NEED

After your initial letter of contact, set an appointment to visit the appropriate person at the church school. Because educators are as busy as retailers, let them know you want to be a community partner to come alongside and make their job easier. Ask how you can support the academic progress and the spiritual growth of the students. Then dig deeper.

What’s the program’s primary mission? What are their needs and concerns? How can you help make their program more effective? Do they have a children’s Bible preference for their students?

The answers to these questions will most likely show that the needs of the church-based, early-childhood program align with your existing kids section. Your personal interest in what the school does, along with your desire to be familiar with it, will not only establish personal ties but also give you helpful insights into what the program regularly purchases and how it functions.

3. DEVELOP A CREATIVE CONNECTION

Every church-based program is different, so getting to know their needs will help you develop a tailored approach to serving them while adding to your bottom line. Maybe you visit a new school that needs to build a library. You certainly would want to be their main resource.

Consider offering some of the non- Christian book titles a program uses to supplement curriculum. Homeschooling parents will find value in these offerings, too. You could create an early childhood education section or a corner with a simple sign that reads, “As recommended by XYZ Church Preschool” to leverage the local connection into an endorsement.

Usually a core program value is to establish a lifelong love of reading. You could organize a church-branded book club or book fair with a discount. Poll the teachers for their top 10 favorite books for children under five, and then add your own to create a recommended reading list for students to take home with them. Be sure to include a coupon for parents who come in to purchase a book on the list.

Reach out to the whole family by partnering with a church-based program to host a family resources night in your store, showcasing all the products you have to support them. You could offer a fundraising coupon that sends 10 percent of all purchases back to the school.

4. RECOGNIZE THEIR LOYALTY

A powerful way to keep these customers returning to your store is your personal acknowledgement of their business. It can take many forms, from a simple thank-you to personal notes with new books you recommend or other beneficial information. Your actual personal connection will be far more sincere than an anonymous online retailer can be. Let the program directors know you are praying for their important work, and then be sure do it.

—Callie Grant