Christian stores try to gain off Borders’ loss
Piet Levy, Religion News Service
September 22, 2011

Christian stores try to gain off Borders’ loss

Christian stores try to gain off Borders’ loss
Piet Levy, Religion News Service
September 22, 2011

The saying goes that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

So when the Borders bookstore chain – the nation’s

second-largest – finishes closing all of its stores this month, Christian

retailers see a window of opportunity in the death of a mega-competitor that

once threatened to put them out of business.

With 70 percent of Christian retailers reporting flat or

declining sales last year, and overall sales dropping 3 percent according to

the Christian retail association CBA, proactive Christian booksellers, marketing

agencies and the 1,200-member CBA are taking any opportunities they can.

After Borders announced its liquidation in July, Colorado

Springs, Colo.-based CBA sent an alert to member stores: “Post Borders Growth Strategy:

As Borders Shuts its Doors, Christian Booksellers Should Open Theirs Wider.”

“Today, Borders is irrelevant in the world of bookselling,”

the document states. “If we do not adapt to the changing marketplace and new technologies,

our influence will diminish or disappear altogether.”

The letter offers suggestions for retailers including discounts for customers

with Borders loyalty cards and trying to lure former Borders customers into

Christian stores.

“It is always sad when a bookstore that makes Christian

materials available to the public can no longer do that,” said Curtis Riskey,

CBA executive director. “However, the chain’s demise does create more opportunities

for independent local Christian stores to fill the gap.”

Last month, the Munce Group, an agency in Indian Rocks

Beach, Fla., that provides marketing and business solutions for 498

independently owned Christian bookstores, analyzed where the remaining Borders

stores were located against a map of Munce-affiliated stores in those markets.

“We sent (the analysis) to all the Christian publishers we

deal with and reminded them there were stores still in these markets, and it

was a great time to send an encouraging word or send a sales representative in,”

said company president Kirk Blank.

It wasn’t the first time Munce spotted an opening – the

company executed a similar strategy last February when Borders filed for bankruptcy

and announced it would close about 30 percent of its stores.

According to Munce, their retailers saw a slight uptick in

foot traffic.

Blank said additional marketing materials will be available

for stores trying to capitalize on Borders closings, and some stores matched Borders’

everything-must-go sales with their own sales.

The Parable Group in San Luis Obispo, Calif., which provides

marketing for 109 Christian retailers, including 40 Parable franchise stores,

is doing more online advertising to attract new customers while Borders

liquidates, said CEO Steve Potratz. Some stores are offering more gifts, and by

year’s end, e-books to accommodate demand. Christian retailers have experienced

immense upheaval the past seven or eight years competing with Amazon, e-books

and big box retailers like

Wal-Mart and Costco, said Andy Butcher, editor for Christian

Retailing magazine in Lake Mary, Fla. One advantage that can help them stay

alive is serving a niche audience that shares the same passionate beliefs.

“We know where most of our customers are on Sunday morning,”

Potratz said. “The opportunity to work with a church, and partner with a

church, is critical, and I am seeing more and more of our stores looking for

and gaining opportunity to help and resource the church.”

While some observers may find it distasteful to find

business opportunities at the expense of a retail chain’s demise, Butcher said

he doesn’t see the CBA’s or Munce’s efforts as predatory.

“At the end of the day they’re looking to serve people with Christian

resources,” Butcher said. “I don’t think they are so much rubbing their hands

as far as holding their hands out.”