The Gospel Shop Celebrates 50 Years

“We just kind of fell into it,” says Rhoda Mullet of her bookstore ministry with her husband, Freeman.

If you’re looking for evidence of the importance of knowing your customers well, visit The Gospel Shop in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Freeman and Rhoda Mullet’s understanding of their clientele has guided the store to its recent 50th anniversary with an approach that ignores some of the industry’s conventional wisdom.

For example, everyone knows that fiction and music no longer sell well—except they do in this small-town business in “Little Switzerland,” in the heart of the world’s largest Amish community. The Gospel Shop has some 20 feet of fiction in its 2,400 square feet—and most of it spine-out because there’s so much.

There are a couple of reasons for the high demand. For many in the area whose lifestyle eschews technology like televisions and e-readers, printed books are still the go-to form of entertainment. “Lots of people just like to hold a physical book in their hands,” says Freeman.

Then there are the many visitors drawn to the area who want to pick up some related Amish fiction, though the store carries a lot of other genres, too. Not surprisingly, the Summerside Press release Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio is a favorite, along with DVD copies of the movie version shot in the area.

Locally tuned inventory, if you will, is also behind the store’s healthy music department, much of it Mennonite style. “Music is not as big as it was, but it is still very important,” says Rhoda, who notes that the “WOW” compilations also continue to do well. “I wouldn’t want to drop it, that’s for sure.”

SEASONAL PROMOTIONS

In some ways, The Gospel Shop caters to two parallel groups of shoppers—the locals, most of whom the Mullets know from their lives spent in the area, and the tourists. That means meeting the need for German translation Bibles on the one hand and providing some impulse gifts for day-trippers on the other—though they don’t carry much in the way of Sugarcreek souvenirs because other stores have got that covered.

Though many tourists automatically make their way to the main-street store, the Mullets don’t rely on their location. They are part of a welcome package promotion for the slower end-of-year weeks put together by a local motel, which includes a coupon for a free Christmas tree ornament from The Gospel Shop.

The Gospel Shop is located in the world’s largest Amish community.

“It certainly seems to bring people in,” says Freeman. “We gave out over 700 between November and Christmas last year. Some people will come in and get their ornament and just leave, but others will shop and spend some money. It has definitely been worth it.”

The store also takes part in a spring promotion with the same group. For this one, they offer a 20-percent-off coupon. Another way the Mullets promote their store is through a booth at the flea market a few miles away, Thursdays to Saturdays from mid-March to mid-December. They offer some discount books, fiction, boxed cards, and Bibles, with a sign encouraging people to visit the main store location. “It’s not a big moneymaker, but it helps,” says Freeman.

But “we can’t just depend on all the visitors,” he notes. So for locals, the store advertises key new releases in area publications, sometimes offering $3 off a $10 purchase, which earns a good return. Regulars can also get a frequent shopper card, punched for every $10-plus purchase

— Andy Butcher