Patronizing Christian retailers

For those who want to, Christian retailers have made it awfully hard, CVH notes, especially for music shoppers.

As far as the Christian bookstore question goes, I decided a number of years ago that loyalty to the concept of Christian brick and mortar retail is no longer valid. Thirty years ago the only place you could buy a Christian album or Bible or religious book was a Christian bookstore. Today most Borders or Barnes & Nobles have much more selection. Christian music is available in many retail locations. I’ve lived in several parts of the country and with two notable exceptions the majority of Christian bookstores I’ve patronized have had 1)an increasingly limited selection of product, 2)higher prices and 3)a lack of customer service.

My own sense is this decline of Christian retail is just one more symptom of American evangelicalism’s fragmentation. On the one hand, the internet has made it much easier for the “be ye not of this worlders” to live out their separation from secular American life (home school, online retail, discussion forums, news sites). Meanwhile the main currents of evangelicalism have for some time now been busy rebranding evangelicalism as user-friendly to the wider world – witness Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and the rise of the social gospel that packages Christianity as a ready-made self-help handbook for modern life. Or closer to home: CCM crossover acts like Mat Kearney and Switchfoot. Instead of “be like us,” it’s now “we’re like you.”

Osteen and Kearney are in Target, at Costco, on the shelf at Wal-Mart and BestBuy. And the fact that people buy these products there is not just a testament to the value that economies of scale can pass along to a consumer. Buying Christian merchandise in mainstream stores lets Christian shoppers tangibly realize the new evangelical aspiration for widespread cultural relevance.

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Comments

  1. Hello? wrote:

    CVH said:
    “Today most Borders or Barnes & Nobles have much more selection.”

    With all due respect, that’s just ridiculous. My Barnes & Noble has a limited selection, and the clerks have no knowledge of Christian music genres. Some Christian bookstores will be solid, and some will be pathetic, but that’s true in any field of retail; some people should be in business, and some deserve to fail because they’re not good at what they do.

    The real issue is this:
    If you don’t want to shop at a Christian bookstore, then don’t. But be honest about it. Reading between the lines, I’m guessing you think Christian bookstores are completely unnecessary concepts, “holy huddles” of some sort — and represent a conflict of interest between profit and ministry. So you’d rather buy your “Christian” music from a “business.”

    I have wrestled with the whole issue, but I’ve decided that as life in our world becomes even more challenging, it’s a pretty great thing to have a place like a Christian bookstore for people to visit — for personal help, for answers, for prayer, for music — when they’d never darken the door of a church.

    On a personal level, I feel free to buy music from many sources, including ITunes. But there are things that I make a point to buy from a Christian bookstore because it just makes sense. And when it’s done right, a Christian bookstore is still a place of hope; I think that’s something worth supporting.

  2. Keith wrote:

    I would prefer to buy my Southern Gospel CDs at a Christian bookstore, but like CVH I find them to be woefully lacking in inventory. And, also, I find Christian bookstore staff to be as ignorant as any Barnes and Noble employee when it comes to Southern Gospel music.

  3. CYNOTSYF wrote:

    1. Why should a Christian bookstore start stocking your favorite type of music if you walk in and walk out without saying a word about what’s missing on the shelf? It’s your responsibility to help them understand their customers’ needs. If the store is lacking in SG inventory, ask by name for the artist. Special order a specific title if necessary, just to get them going in the right direction. Get all your pals from your church or your Bible study group to do the same thing. The owners of the store will pay attention if the requests keep coming.

    2. As for staff, do you expect Target clerks to know every item in the store? Of course not. Then why should a poorly paid, part-time, hourly employee in a Christian bookstore have all your answers about SG (or any other) music? Do your homework, and then educate them kindly. Good things can happen!

  4. 1 old fan wrote:

    I see 2 problems with mom-and-pop brick & mortor Christian bookstores:

    1) Too many are under-funded operations run by people with no business experience, and have no business being in business. They give other well-run retailers a bad name (as do hypocrits to the rest of Christianity.

    2) They are not frequented by Christians. Christian Booksellers Association (the trade organization for these stores) has never claimed that more than 10% of the church-going public has ever darkened the door of a Christian bookstore. Is that because people are not hungry for the word, or because the stores don’t let us know they’re there? Maybe some of both.

    And if your local store doesn’t stock the cd, book, Bible, picture, greeting card, candle (whatever) you’re looking for, ASK THEM (in a nice way). Maybe they just don’t know what the public wants. Let them know you’re interested. Their crystal ball is probably broken.

  5. Keith wrote:

    CYNOTSYF, you’ve made some assumptions that aren’t founded, while also exaggerating some of my observations. While I personally offer my suggestions to store staff, I don’t have enough time or passion to organize a drive to bring more of the genre to bookstores. That’s not at all realistic. The reality is that SG isn’t viewed as being as marketable as CCM and more mainstream acts. When you combine that with the fact that most SG projects on the shelves are out of date customers have enough reason to take their business elsewhere. Now, please understand I support Christian bookstores, shop there when possible, and want them to succeed.

    As for the staff, I do think they need to have a working knowledge of the product they are offering. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, by any means, but they need to possess at the very least an idea of what they are selling. It was expected of me when I was a poorly paid, part-time, hourly employee of Walmart and should be expected of a salesperson in any business, Christian or otherwise.

    Now let me get back to my original observation. “Hello?” (#1) found the local Barnes & Noble employees to be ignorant of Christian music in general. My experience has been that Christian bookstore employees (for the most part) are ignorant of Southern Gospel in particular.

    It is interesting to note that more and more people are buying Christian products at national-chain, “secular”, super-centers. Is price the only consideration that consumers are concerned with? If it’s not pricing, what would lead a Christian consumer to buy from a national chain as opposed to the local Christian bookstore? Convenience? Or maybe it’s primarily non-Christians buying Joel’s latest book at the neighborhood Walmart. Hmmm…

  6. CYNOTSYF wrote:

    #5: Let’s be fair.

    There aren’t enough hours in the day for Christian bookstore employees to become equally knowledgeable about every genre of Christian music — whether it’s SG, rap, praise & worship, instrumental or children’s music. It’s just not possible. Each person will have an area(s) of expertise. Further knowledge will grow only as they work to find answers to the questions that customers ask.

    Also from #5:
    “The reality is that SG isn’t viewed as being as marketable as CCM and more mainstream acts.”

    Okay, then how is that perception going to change? It will only change if SG fans buy (and request) SG product from Christian bookstores (and support local SG radio and concerts, etc.). It doesn’t take an exhaustive campaign. It takes one person at a time asking politely and consistently for what he or she wants, and then buying those CDs once they are available. If the CDs on the shelf are old, the store can (usually) return it for credit and get new releases — IF you as a customer give them a reason to do.

    The good news? Some stores are slowly realizing that SG (and black gospel) listeners can be more loyal and knowledgeable than fans of other styles of Christian music — AND are less likely to download from the Net.

  7. douglas wrote:

    Another thing to throw into the pile is that many churches now have their own “bookstore”, making it very easy to pick up what you want while attending worship services. I wonder if this has hurt christian retail as well. The nearest christain retailer is about 30 miles from me. They do have a new soundtrack system on computer where you can burn the song that you would like for $10.00. I wish they would offer SGM CD’s in the same manner. I live in Michigan and SG is not something we can find easy here

  8. Pedantic wrote:

    A quick observation. For many years, Southern Gospel fans were perceived by some (many?) bookstores to buy music predominantly at concerts (rightfully “supporting” the artists) and leaving the dregs, for lack of a better term, to the retailers. I think this has contributed to the perception that Keith and CVH have pointed out. There was no incentive to stock “fresh” SG, because folks were either thrilled to find what was available, or walked out without asking for what they really wanted and came in for.

  9. quartet-man wrote:

    There are advantages to all and many different ways to look at it. First I will go by practical ways if you want the music, but don’t particularly care who you support. Then I’ll get into less “wordly” things.

    Wal*Mart and Target will likely get you the best price except maybe online or from artists at concerts. You can pick it up when you are there. They are usually pretty good at getting stuff out by the release date. If they don’t have it. Tough. One exception might be site to store for Wal*mart, but you might wait longer and if you are ordering and paying online, not much reason to unless you want to save postage costs, but with the price of gas these days.. :)

    Barnes and Noble etc. Probably not much better price than Christian Bookstores. What is stocked depends on which you go to (as it is with Christian bookstores.)
    Might be able to order for you.

    Christian Bookstores. Price as high or higher than most anyone. Should be able to special order for you. Probably carries Accompaniment tracks and many other Christian things.

    Now onto other things to consider. One one hand you might want to support a Christian bookstore because you hope they have Christians working there and want to support them. You might want the bookstore there to get these other harder to find items that no one else is going to have and the ability to order many things. You might want the place to be there as a ministry. You might hope that the owner tithes on the income and you might not want to give your money to secular companies who gives some of their profit to causes you do not want to support. You might hope it is ran and owned by Christians, although there are undoubtedly secular companies who have bought or run enterprises that sell Christian materials for the bucks, not their beliefs.

    You might want to support the chain stores be it department stores, music stores, media stores because you want to see religious items in them to reach those who wouldn’t set foot in a church or Christian bookstore. If we don’t buy from there, they won’t carry them and you miss the chance of reaching someone. This could also help your favorite artists to get more sales by having their merchandise somewhere that might increase customers. You might want to save the money in purchasing so you can buy more Christian products or use it to support charities or your church you couldn’t otherwise.

    So, you see, there are many ways to look at it, and probably not one that is the only one right. I think there is enough for all.

  10. quartet-man wrote:

    A pre-quartet-man’s internet buying, Christian bookstore post.

    We had two local owned Christian bookstores in town. I found one employee in one best versed in music and with my working with her, would do a good job in getting just what I wanted. This was especially true of tracks as I wanted the originals, not the generic Christian World or Daywind (before they released some originals) etc. I would give her info and she’d order. This worked out well. She did a good job. I became seen as an expert in certain artists and she even called me at home occasionally to find out songs or artists that she had no luck finding for other customers.

    This bookstore was eventually was bought out by a chain. It closed a few years later. The other one had already moved and expanded prior to this. It’s owners sold out to employees. When the chain store bought out the other one and had much better prices, deals, and a perks card, this one had to compete, but never had the same backing. They did finally offer a little incentive, but not nearly the same. However, they have kept this program going since the other store left, when they could have forgotten it.

  11. Regina Brandts wrote:

    if we are expecting the great musical message of Christ to keep going forward, we have to help. Go the extra mile by stopping by a Christian bookstore and making your purchases. Go to the concerts and by CDs from the artist. There are several artist that are spreading a great message in great musical abilities (the Lefevers, the Crabb Family, Jeff and Sherry Easter, Young Harmony, Signature Sound, The Lesters, Paid In Full, Living Water Trio) These are some artist that I have personally been to hear. Lets help them keep going.

  12. Jim2 wrote:

    I am admittedly biased toward Christian Bookstores. I worked for my “Pop” in a Mom ‘n Pop bookstore for 5 years, worked as a Music Buyer in a large bookstore that has since been bought by Family Christian stores and for the last 12 years have worked for a Music, Book and Gift distributor working directly with independent christian bookstores.
    I could tell you horror stories of churches who don’t even buy communion supplies from a store owned by one of their own deacons, stores closing with hundreds of dollars of unclaimed gift cards given out at the owner’s church (these 2 stores were about 900 miles apart, so it’s not a regional thing). I know firsthand of spouses coming out of retirement to pay the household bills just so the store could hang on for a few more years.
    There have been some valid points made here, but I think it boils down to the age old question of ministry and business. My guess is that about 98% of bookstore owners feel “called” to open a bookstore and minister to their community. Some have the business experience, knowledge or whatever to make it, and some don’t.
    I cannot tell you how many times over the last few years I have presented a quality project to a potential buyer and have them say to me “I’m not getting any requests”.
    As was noted on another thread, there is a glut of music (and books, IMO) out there and it takes true discernment (and suggestions from loyal customers) to know what to carry.
    The Paredo Principle or 80/20 rule applies in Chrisitan Bookstores just like it does in life. 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your stock. 80% of your church financial support comes from 20% of the members. 80% of the work in your office is done by 20% of the employees.
    Well guess what? In most cases, the SG Music section falls in the 80% of stock that is only generating 20% of sales. That is part of the reason why the music is not as current or as good a selection as we’d prefer. The squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease, and young buyers are more likely to ask why their music isn’t stocked and get action from the music buyer or owner.
    Is it your job to educate the 20 something hip-hop fan? No. Are those ministry minded individuals (who could have opened a Chik-Fil-A franchise and made a lot more money instead) interested in ministering to you? You betcha.
    I’ve rambled long enough - so I’ll leave you with this - check out CBA online or Dayspring or Daywind websites for a Christian bookstore near you, give them a call to check out what they have to offer that you need - if they don’t have it, they’ll try to get it for you, and that is more than Walmart can offer anyday.
    Like commenter #1 said, Christian bookstores are places of hope, and that is well worth supporting. It’s amazing what a difference a little bit of Jesus can make in your day and your life.

  13. gc wrote:

    I have a great friend who owned the Bookstore here and it was an awesome store that was managed and handled in the most professional manner. It was a lighthouse in our town of 150,000 for years.Increased his square footage several times and set it up first class. He recently sold out to Lifeway and retired.
    He had told me that SG was less than 3% of his musc sales some 4-5 years ago. I believe retail sales are slow for SG because it has always been a buy when you see type market. 4 for $10 does not happen much at the bookstore.

  14. Derek wrote:

    I talked with a bookstore owner a few months ago about the lack of SG in her store (and lack of CD’s in general) and her response was that the demand wasn’t there. She said nobody ever came in asking for a CD other than the youth asking for Casting Crowns. Plus, I know from personal experience that the profit margins are, well, marginal. When I gave the bookstore business a whirl some of the most popular items at the time was the Gaither videos and my profit was only 30%. Most of the music was only 40%…maybe 43% if you ordered a large quantity…and that’s retailing them for $16.99. Add sales tax and you’re paying almost 20 bucks for a CD with 30 minutes of music if you’re lucky. It’s not the bookstores’ fault, but the customers don’t know that. All they know is that Wal-Mart has it for $13.99 and they can get groceris while they’re there and save money on gas by shopping for everything there. Go figure… It’s a jungle out there!

  15. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I worked in Christian retail for about eleven years. There should be no compelling reason to shop at a Christian retail establishment just because it’s run by “good people.”

    Christian retail works just like any other brick and mortar store. Those that provide good customer service have the greatest chance of growing while those that fail at this very basic level of doing business don’t.

    I had six great years in Christian retail working for a lady who was always seeking for new and effective ways to service more and more customers. I worked five more years after she sold out to Family Christian Stores. For the first six years, our store (note the “our” mentality) had growth of 20-25% every year over the previous year. We expanded into next door shops several times and ultimately moved into an 8000 square foot facility. The store was recognized by the Christian Booksellers Association as the best in the region one of those last years.

    Once Family took over, sales leveled off the first year, then began to decline slightly each year thereafter. This was despite the continuance of mostly the same staff (at least for the first couple of years). This was despite Family’s aggressive Perks program to direct market to customers.

    It was all due to the abrupt differences in management style from the upper levels.

  16. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    #6 wrote:
    “There aren’t enough hours in the day for Christian bookstore employees to become equally knowledgeable about every genre of Christian music — whether it’s SG, rap, praise & worship, instrumental or children’s music. It’s just not possible.”

    I completely disagree. It is possible. There are plenty hours in a day to learn about the product you’re selling…and not just music, throw in books and bibles and gift items and church supplies as well.

    However, I would agree it isn’t possible when a store is operated with the same level of employees you’d find at a McDonalds…bringing them in for three hour shifts, etc.

  17. CVH wrote:

    Wow…didn’t realize this would be such a hot topic.

    Hello?, my comment about the selection of B&N/Borders vs. the average Christian bookseller was based on the larger B&N/Borders where I’ve shopped. These stores run 25,000 sq. ft. or more, and in them I have often found a wider selection of Christian music, albeit not as much SG, than in the larger Christian bookstores, whether chain or privately-owned. I’m sure some stock more or less, depending on local demand. They also often stock a greater selection of books targeted at the evangelical market. But it’s all about the size and quality of the store in question. I don’t think Christian bookstores are
    “completely unnecessary concepts” at all. I just believe that as an industry they are going to have to do much more than they have thus far to remain viable competitors in the marketplace.

    Some of it is regional too. Our Southern Baptist friends will always shop at a Lifeway store; national chains like Lemstone or retailer associations like the Parable group may have a better shot at it than the mom ‘n pop store down the street. But they’re all under pressure from sources that didn’t even exist a decade ago. How they’re going to compete, either in product, price or service is the question I’m asking.

    Across the board, southern gospel is a niche within the Christian record industry. As others have stated, it’s not easy to find a good selection even in most typical Christian bookstores. You also won’t find traditional black gospel in many stores. It’s the willingness and/or economic tenacity of the store owner/music buyer to decide whether to stock something that’s a niche product. You’ll find more southern gospel in the south than you will in New York and more black gospel in Detroit than Abilene. A bookstore can’t compete with a download or online retail in that sense.

    I agree with Hello? that a Christian bookstore can still be ‘a place of hope’; the question is, at what cost? My point wasn’t to beat up on good or bad Christian bookstores. But as our esteemed host has already pointed out, evangelicals are saying ‘Instead of “be like us,” it’s now “we’re like you.”’ Christ has become a commodity. He’s a brand. Christians have become just one more affinity group among many. So we expect variety and good value in our religious experience just like we expect to have twenty brands of cereal on the shelf at the grocery store. (Oh, and I have a coupon for that too.)

    We’re a consumerist culture and as such, Christian bookstores, while they may provide a sense of ‘hope’ along with the Jesus junk and Tim LaHaye novels, face an increasingly tenuous future.

  18. CYNOTSYF wrote:

    #16 DBM:
    Maybe I should have emphasized “equally” to show it’s the key word:

    “There aren’t enough hours in the day for Christian bookstore employees to become EQUALLY knowledgeable about every genre of Christian music.”

    Certainly Christian music buyers should have the best possible knowledge about every genre they carry, but if they have more personal expertise in praise & worship and Rap, chances are that they may not know exactly which SG song tells a particular story.

    Customers often think they can ask for songs without doing their homework; they say the song they need is about the love of Jesus, and they just heard it on SG radio. That’s pretty tough for a part-time employee to locate.

    I imagine even you, DBM, might find it tough to answer a question about a Christian rap lyric with the same knowledge as one from an SG project.

    And for those music buyers who receive free demonstration CDs for their stores, I stand by the statement: There aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to every CD that’s received from every genre. It’s impossible to absorb that many songs from that many artists.

    Of course, in spite of all the challenges, bookstore employees who see themselves as Christian music professionals DO keep learning and adding to their knowledge, and it’s time to honor the ones who do a great job — and to patronize the stores that employ people with expertise. And some stores realize they can actually call their vendors to find additional information to answer the questions of their customers; customer service is a team effort, after all.

    So, here’s the bottom line:
    If the 21-year-old music buyer at your local store doesn’t yet have much knowledge about Southern Gospel, give them a break. They’ll keep learning with time.

  19. Tony Watson wrote:

    I too can’t agree with the comment that there is as good a selection at the Barnes & Noble, etc. - though that could depend in what part of the country you live in. In Texas, the LifeWay stores carry at least a decent selection of SG music and it’s even better in places like Tyler where SG music is more commonplace. Not so much in the bigger cities like Dallas and Houston.

    As far as the bigger stores, Wal-Mart, in certain cities, has a small selection, primarily Gaither and a few of the Daywind artists, but certainly not in most of the secular stores.

    Sure you can find some top-selling “Christian” books in those stores like Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, etc. but it’s primarily that not very meaty stuff that Osteen, TJ Jakes, Joyce Meyer and the like write.

    Point taken though that the days of the mom and pop Christian retailer being able to make it are coming to a close, but I think that’s the same as with most any mom and pop genre.

    With Christian books and music, so many are downloading, ordering through the net, etc. that it has to affect all of the retailers, mom and pop or chain.

  20. mp3guy wrote:

    Another factor, as noted by douglas is the rise of church bookstores. Usually their rent, electricity etc. are not a separate budget item for the church, generally run by volunteers (or 1 paid staff and the rest volunteers) sometimes don’t have to charge sales tax. These factors allow them to discount items, thus reinforcing the idea that “regular” bookstores are overpriced. The plus side is it is easier to coordinate with the pastor what books an music to carry and recommend.

  21. mark forester wrote:

    There is a MAJOR sg group releasing a cd later this year that they are not going to carry on their table for one full year. It will only be available retail. (not sure about their website) I personally think that this will not work, but this news came straight from the horse’s mouth.

    It will be interesting to watch because this is a hot group right now. I hope it does work for them. I just cant see people hearing some new songs at a concert and being told they have to go to a bookstore to buy it. I am not sure this works in SG.

    I have the utmost respect for this group and manager so maybe they know something I don’t.

    Can’t say who it is. I don;t know if that is for public knowledge so I will leave the artist out for now.

  22. Robert wrote:

    In the span of 7 years I saw our local Christian bookstore go from 3 whole isles of SG to 1/2 isle. I don’t think you can blame them. You know, supply and demand. At the same time when I would go in and ask for a certain SG soundtrack or CD the employee would not only act like I was weird or something for even wanting the CD in question but wouldn’t have a clue as to who I was talking about.
    SG product sells best on product tables at concerts and, if it hasn’t already happened, will become the only place you can find them besides the internet.
    Now if you want Third Day, Casting Crowns, etc. the Christian bookstore employees are an authority on the subject.

  23. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    “I imagine even you, DBM, might find it tough to answer a question about a Christian rap lyric with the same knowledge as one from an SG project.”

    Currently, no…but from 1992 until 1998 when I was actively working as a music buyer, I kept up with the majority of artists that we stocked…even those genres I didn’t count as being among my favorites. I could tell customers that Steven Wiley recorded “Teenage Mutant Youth Group Member” and show them where we kept it on the shelf, for example.

    And if that same customer was interested in buying a Bible, I could explain the nuances between a dynamic Bible translation, a literal translation, a paraphrase and an amplified bible. This isn’t because I’m sensationally smart. It’s just that I had enough interest in my job to keep my customers satisfied.

    You’re correct that no employee is going to “equally” know every niche in the store. My point is that a reasonably intelligent employee should know the niches well enough to converse and sell you the product you want…IF they work enough hours and have enough experience to know their job.

    There really is no excuse for a dumb look when you ask if there’s a new Dove Brothers CD in stock, and it’s an employee who has been working for 30 hours a week for the past twelve months. At the very least, they should be able to get on the computer and see if they’re supposed to have one on the shelf.

    That level of basic service should be the premium you receive from paying $2-5 more per CD than you’d pay with no help at all from the employees at Wal-Mart.

  24. mp3guy wrote:

    David,
    Enough! you and Cut-Your-Nose-Off- To- Spite- Your- Face are both right. There was a time when Stephen Wiley and Bible Break was the only significant rap album out in the Christian Market (and it wasn’t that significant), and you my friend are a bit more anal-ytical than you like to admit.
    In today’s environment where there are sometimes 20 CDs released BY THE 3 MAJOR COMPANIES in the same week, it’s a bit tougher for an after school student to keep up with, especially if they are not involved in the buying/selection process. Yes, by now Dove Brothers have achieved the status you seek for them, but even 5 years ago they were not even distributed by a “reputable” SG company.
    You do make a good point about the 30 hours and 12 months, albeit from your perspective of 11 years.
    2 statements in this thread really grate on me, first CVH to start it off said “loyalty to the concept of Christian brick and mortar retail is no longer valid.” and then you said ” There should be no compelling reason to shop at a Christian retail establishment just because it’s run by “good people.” My contention is, unless there IS a compelling reason, patronizing a Christian establishment should be a matter of course for those in the body of Christ.
    Maybe I’m “old school”, but my plumber, mechanic, hairdresser, yard guy are all believers - it may cost me a bit more, but what is that compard to the opportunity to bless them with my loyalty?
    Grigs,
    How ’bout them Celtics?

  25. Hello? wrote:

    15. David Bruce Murray said:
    “I worked in Christian retail for about eleven years. There should be no compelling reason to shop at a Christian retail establishment just because it’s run by ‘good people.’”

    I’m confused.

    So you’re saying that customers should stop shopping at local independent Christian bookstores — even if they are run by “good people” — because those owners made the mistake of employing any less-than-expert staff people?

    Okay, then I guess we consumers need to do all our shopping at Christian retail chains?

    But no, that can’t be right; chains can be bad. You said the independent local store you worked at declined once it was taken over by a chain; there was no longer an “‘our’ mentality” in the store, and poor decisions were coming from the top management.

    OH! That’s right. I forgot. The solution is for us to do ALL our Christian shopping at secular chains or big-box stores, since they don’t have to live up to any expectations at all, except price (which we assume is always lower there). Obviously, we don’t expect these companies to be run by “good” people, and we don’t expect them to offer great customer service.

    Wow.

  26. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    “My contention is, unless there IS a compelling reason, patronizing a Christian establishment should be a matter of course for those in the body of Christ.”

    Given the option to patronize two similar businesses…one owned by non-Christians and one owned by Christians…I would opt for the Christian owned business if everything else is equal. I will buy gas at a store that doesn’t have porn sitting on a rack behind the counter over one that does, even if I have to pay more.

    But that wasn’t my earlier point.

    The point was that choosing to patronize the Christian owned companies should not include compromises in the areas of service and price. If the price does happen to be more, then the customer service quality should be better to compensate for the higher cost.

    Also, I don’t know what you’re basing the “more releases today” theory on. I’ve glanced at release schedules from time to time in the past few years. It doesn’t seem to be any greater now than it was ten years ago. There looks to be a more frequent regurgitation of former releases (see EMICMG’s upcoming slate for June/July), but no significant increase in genuinely new releases.

  27. mp3guy wrote:

    The harsh reality is that due to economies of scale, it is impossible for an independent retailer, be they a boutique, home-owned grocery, pharmacy or Christian Bookstore to compete on price with the chains or big-box stores.
    I agree that there is no excuse for poor customer service, but please understand that is a separate issue from cost of goods and shouldn’t be lumped into the same argument.

  28. Kyle wrote:

    For the last 8 years, I have worked for a Christian bookstore (Family Christian Store, with a short stint at Berean Christian store). For three years, I was a full-time music manager at Family. What used to drive me nuts was the fact that our southern gospel section was INCREDIBLY weak. After a year of complaining and arguing, I finally convinced our store’s manager to let me place a massive southern gospel order. I basically got on the phone with New Day and said, “I want this, this, this, this, this……”, and we filled the shelves with SG.

    Two months later, when our corporate office saw the mass amount of product sitting on our shelves, they ordered us to return it all to the vendor. I resisted at first and left a lot of it on the shelf, but in the end, it simply did NOT sell. The people who wanted SG came in and headed directly for the Gaither display, and the ones who wanted anything else either ordered it online or got it at concerts.

    Southern Gospel DOES NOT SELL in comparison to the rest of the music genres. The majority of people who buy SG don’t go looking for specific titles; they impulse buy. You can’t depend on impulse buys to carry your sales.

    By the way….more than anything, SG buyers never said, “I’m looking for SOUTHERN GOSPEL,” they said, “I’m looking for the GAITHER MUSIC.” Gaither = Southern Gospel. Gotta hand it to the guy, he’s got the monopoly, no doubt!

  29. quartet-man wrote:

    Great post Kyle, but I have to argue a few points. :) First is that Gaither doesn’t have a monopoly anymore than Microsoft does. Gaither has just done a good job of promoting, putting out quality product and getting customers. There are still other products out there. Some good. It’s just that they haven’t done as good of a job of selling it like Gaither has. He has the money and connections to get it done. Just like Microsoft. The comparison ends in a few ways. Microsoft’s quality isn’t as good as Apples from what I hear, but they managed to become the gorilla. Their techniques in doing so might even be questionable, so that is where it ends.

    Nonetheless, getting a lot of customers in favor of a competing business doesn’t a monopoly make.

    Also, I believe there are several people out there usually of the older generation, who doesn’t buy online, but enjoys Southern Gospel. You just might not have had the product on the shelf long enough for them to find you, or perhaps they don’t buy as much. Maybe they get it from somewhere else. One thing that helps is to have a SG radio station.

    I kept our local stores busy with SG purchases long before I bought online. We’re talking around 15 years or so. Sometimes I did mail order when items weren’t in stock and ordering was easier from mail order, but a lot of times I went in and had to have them order. Nonetheless, even before the SG station (although there was a few hour Sunday morning SG program even then), one of the two stores had a nice SG section. Then at least after the station came in the other started carrying a larger section. It also might not have hurt that they did so about the time that Family Christian bought out the other and might not have kept as much SG. They did do some, but I think they probably stuck more with the Gaither stuff and maybe a few of the more popular artists seen on all things Gaither, whereas the local owned store got into some lesser known artists as well.

  30. quartet-man wrote:

    Kyle, I also want to talk about another comment you made. I think at least some SG customers look for a particular song or artist and not so much impulse buy. They probably aren’t there on the release date of a new recording like I was, but they might see the Hoppers doing Shouting Time, The Talleys doing Searching or Karen Peck and New River doing Four Days Late and want to get it.

  31. Jim2 wrote:

    Kyle,
    Excellent points. 2 months is not long enough time to get that word-of-mouth machine running, but in today’s climate, it’s all about results, and we want them yesterday.
    There are definitely stores out there that sell good quantities of SG music, lots of Michael Combs, Carroll Roberson, Greater Vision, Legacy 5, Perrys etc., but they have a reputation of being willing to carry or special order those items the SG fan is looking for - you are right that it is not an impulse thing.
    Quartet Man makes another good point. Several Christian Bookstores that I had personally dealt with, in NC, FL, TN, and OK that all did good business with New Day buying (and re-ordering) independent SG and Gaither titles all ended up closing after the SG radio station in their area switched formats. While it may not have been the killer blow, it was definitely a contributing factor.

  32. Bill wrote:

    Enough already. It is simply a case of supply and demand as with any business. If enough people want a full-service So. Gospel Christian Music store or at least a full selection of that genre it will be there. Southern Gospel radio has been its own worst enemy by and large which reflects in low or no sales of So. Gospel music to speak of, in especially smaller markets. They usually try to become all things to all people, AOR radio which is…………..
    all over the road Radio! They play a lot of tunes that sound very home-spun, some would-be or wanna’ be talent and the songs sound like they were cut down in somebody’s basement, ye ole million ‘cellar’. They play too much hillbilly stuff that is more like country music with Christian lyrics and they lump it all in under the heading of Southern Gospel. So. Gospel still suffers from an identity crisis. Bill Gaither is responsible for so much of this confusion. He is a marketeer deluxe but he is not a So. Gospel purist as he oft likes to portray himself. He’ll throw it all in like goulash in his homecoming videos and I’m sure if true he would tape the 2nd coming and sell DVDs of that too. I got news for So. Gospel and you can call it racist if you want to, even though it is not, just pure and honest observation. The black singers known as The Reggie Saddler Family is NOT So. Gospel music! Never will be. They are invited every year to sing it seems at the NQC. That is nothing but Black Gospel music. There is a difference folks but So. Gospel leaders to be PC I suppose sell out and pull a Bill Gaither in order to look like it offers a big tent for everybody like politics does these days. I would bet that the Black Gospel gatherings will not invite a Palmetto State or a Florida Boys to sing at their affairs. You’ll see that the day that you see a Mason invited to speak at a Knights of Columbus event. Stop trying to be all things to all people So. Gospel industry. Get pure, get real and get more fans as a result. If you wear a Union top and Confederate pants and both sides end up shooting you! Stop bringing strange fire unto the altar, don’t be lukewarm. Be hot or cold says the Lord. Bill Hanson

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