As Family Christian Stores closes approximately 240 stores around the country, indie Christian bookstores are ramping up efforts to attract new customers.
Baker Book House, an independent Christian bookstore located a mile from one of three Family Christian stores in Grand Rapids, Mich., is planning a week-long promotion called Discover Baker Book House from March 6-11. One store section is highlighted each day, with special pricing on books and gifts throughout the week
“Family Christian’s closing gives the indies an opportunity to step up and be noticed,” said Sue Smith, store director at Baker Book House. “This is an opportunity to capture the sales of disappointed Family Christian customers.”
Heather Trost’s store, the Greatest Gift and Scripture Supply in Pueblo, Colo., is located an hour south of Colorado Springs where two Family Christian stores are closing. She’s hoping to draw customers to her store instead of losing them to internet retailers.
“It’s been interesting to listen to customers. As much as people love the convenience of online shopping, they are still into personal relationships,” said Trost, who is considering a mailing to Colorado Springs residents to introduce her store. She is making sure the store’s online presence is strong—up-to-date website and active Facebook page—hoping customers will drive a distance to buy.
The Parable Christian Store of St. Joseph, Mich., is within an hour’s drive of five Family Christian outlets: three in northern Indiana, one in Kalamazoo and one in Holland, Mich. Lorraine Valk bought the store from her parents in 2006, who had run it for 18 years.
She’s planning to visit those nearby Family Christian stores to see if they’ll provide customers with a postcard with her store’s name and location. She is also checking into cable TV ads, and is “pounding Facebook quite a bit” to get the word out about her store.
“I think we’re enough of a destination store that if I can let people know we’re here, we will draw them in,” said Valk.
All three stores have fielded numerous questions, via Facebook and in person, about whether they will be closing, too. “To have people put us in the same boat as them is harmful to us,” said Valk.
Curtis Riskey is president of Christian Booksellers Association (CBA), the sponsor of UNITE, the annual convention for the global Christian products industry formerly known as the International Christian Retailing Show (ICRS). He said that the feeling from Christian retailers about the closings is “a general sense of surprise and initial sadness.” He’s not heard of specific plans for other Christian bookstores to step into vacant Family Christian spaces, but “there are definitely some options and opportunities to be considered.”
Family Christian has long been a presence at UNITE, but Riskey doesn’t forecast huge changes there because “that network is much larger than one company.”
Ultimately, Riskey interprets Family Christian’s closure as a reminder of changes in both the marketplace and in consumer behavior. “[This news] can be a catalyst that encourages us in the Christian products industry to find new ways to work together and learn from each other,” he said.
Meanwhile, Family Christian Stores, which operates in 36 states and employs over 3,000 people, is currently offering items at 30% off, with no refunds or exchanges. Announcing the closure on Feb. 24, president and CEO of Family Christian Chuck Bengochea cited “two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” but no details were made available about the timeline of the store closings. Family Christian has not responded to requests for information about when it will begin closing stores, and a retail employee in Grand Rapids did not know when the location would close. According to the Northwest Herald, a Family Christian store outside of Chicago is expected to close within eight to 12 weeks, while the Holland Sentinel reported that the company plans to shut down its headquarters in Grand Rapids and its distribution center in Kentwood, Mich. by the end of April.