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
“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
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.”