For the last five years, I have heard constant complaining about Christian retail. Publishers complain. The media complain. Even Christian retailers complain.
It is time for this to stop. Enough is enough. I believe we have talked ourselves into a slump. Therefore, I am declaring a moratorium at Thomas Nelson on negative comments about Christian retail. I don’t want to hear them. These comments aren’t helpful, and they sure aren’t empowering.
I want us to change our thinking. We can see the glass half empty or half full. I want us to see it half full. Things are never going to improve until we learn to give thanks for what we already have and start focusing on the positive.
To get us started, here are ten reasons why I am excited about Christian retail. I am deliberately choosing to focus on the positive.
- The demographics are in Christian retail’s favor. As people get older, they start thinking about “ultimate things.” Many ask, What does my life mean? Why am I here? Is there life after death? With the baby boomers hitting maturity, this demographic is swelling. This will continue for years to come. Christian retailers have never had more prospective customers than they have right now. This is a fact.
- People are more drawn to spiritual things than ever. The biggest selling books in the last ten years have been Christian books: The Purpose Driven Life, The Prayer of Jabez, and the Left Behind series all demonstrated that there bzillions of people who are hungry for more. Even a book like The Secret, though not Christian, is creating an enormous interest in spiritual content.
- Christianity has great visibility in the public square. There has never been a time in the history of our country when Christians had greater access to the media. People like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer have huge audiences. You can hardly turn on a talk show—from Dr. Phil to Fox News—without seeing Christians well represented. (Just today, I saw my friend Jennifer Rothschild on Dr. Phil. He even mentioned Women of Faith!)
- Competition has made the surviving retailers stronger. Yes, I know, lots of Christian retailers have closed up their shops in recent years. I hate that. But the truth is, that, by and large, these were the weakest ones. Those that have survived have fought hard to do so. They have learned valuable lessons. They know how to market themselves, and they know what it takes to compete. Like I always tell my daughters, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
- The Christian retailers that are left are the best of the best. I’ve spent a good amount of time with retailers in the past few months. I have to tell you, I’m been impressed. These men and women are tough and smart. The challenging competitive environment has made them grow into world-class merchants. I would put them up against any of their secular counterparts.
- Christian retailers are reporting great sell-through in recent months. This has been the most encouraging part. I can’t speak for other publishers or suppliers, but I have not met a significant Christian retailer yet who isn’t experiencing increased sell-through of our products. Based on this, and lots of anecdotal evidence, I think the tide has turned. Even though there weren’t as many retailers at CBA Advance this year as I would have liked, the ones that I met there were upbeat and positive.
- Many Christian retailers are planning for growth. Most have stopped playing defense. Something has shifted. They are now playing offense. Several of the chains are planning to expand. People are once again using the language of growth, and I think that, all by itself, will lead to more growth.
- Christian products have never been better. When I started in this industry, there were a handful of really good authors. Most everything else was mediocre. The demand was high and the supply was low. You didn’t really have to be good to succeed. Today, things are much different. Competition has made it tougher, but it has also made it better. Authors have had to write at a higher level to succeed. Publishers have had to get better at packaging and marketing in order to compete in general market. And all of this benefits Christian retail. We now have scores of great authors, tremendous variety, and great packaging. Can we improve? You bet. But it’s better today than it ever has been.
- Christian retailers are passionate, dedicated professionals. This is why Christian retail is different than any other channel. For these retailers, running a bookstore is not just a business. It’s a ministry. They have a drive to succeed, because they have a calling to do what they are doing. Yes, they have to be good business people. Today’s competitive environment demands it. But they haven’t lost their ministry purpose and that gives them a competitive advantage.
- God is at work. I sense this every time I talk to a Christian retailer. God has not abandoned Christian retail. You can take that to the bank. But He is working in new ways. The “wineskins” may have to change, but you can be certain He is at work. We just need to open our eyes to see the evidence and thank Him for the things He is doing.
Now, I’d like to encourage you to “pile on.” What encourages you about Christian retail? (If you are reading this via e-mail, go to my actual blog, scroll down to the bottom of this post, and enter your comments.)
If we want to change reality, it begins by changing our thinking.