LifeWay Christian Stores faces a number of closures amid “an accelerated rate of erosion” at brick-and-mortar stores, according to an email from LifeWay Christian Resources president Thom Ranier, as reported on BP News.
“We prayed and hoped that our investments would prove fruitful,” he wrote. “That just has not been the case.”
Ranier announced a “strategic shift” toward “a dynamic digital strategy,” which will see resources from stores transitioned to digital channels. “The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future,” he wrote in the email. “The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close."
LifeWay currently owns and operates 174 stores. A spokesperson for the retailer told PW it is "taking steps to meet customer demand for digital shopping experiences and to expand our reach globally," though no timeline has been announced. The number of store closures also remains to be seen, but already, the retailer has had "some layoffs last week that were related to LifeWay's focus on a new digital strategy," according to the spokesperson.
"Our strategy for the future will be a greater investment in digital channels and in events and services,” Ranier, who is retiring this year, said in the email. “We will have a smaller footprint for our brick-and-mortar stores.”
The news comes after nearly a decade of losses, according to financial statements in SBC Annuals, which indicate that the last time "unrestricted net assets from operations" had increased was in 2010.
Christian retail space is shrinking across the U.S. due in large part to changing consumer behavior and increased online sales. Family Christian Stores, which operated 240 stores in 36 states, shuttered in 2017 citing declining sales as well as challenges with pricing and terms from its vendors. The number of independent Christian store closures has grown steadily in recent years, according to state of the industry reports from the Association for Christian Booksellers (CBA).
This article has been updated with new information.