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Christian Book Trade – It’s time to change the mood music

October 29, 2012 2 comments

Last week the UK came out of recession and into growth, albeit at just 1%. The naysayers feel that we may well slip back again but hey, for the moment even the media is upbeat about the economy.

For me, this underlined how important the mood music is to how we feel about our lives. For as long as I can remember, the Christian book trade has always ‘been getting worse’! We seem to believe that things are ‘not as good as last year’ or ‘sales are not what they used to be’. Now it’s possible that this could all be true but it could also be that we are creating (and believing) our own negative PR and adding to our own gloom. No-one likes to be around gloomy people – or patronise gloomy retailers. Or for that matter read gloomy blogs!

It really is time to change the mood music in this trade. Someone else said last week, ‘This is the new normal, get used to it’. Change is here to stay; trade structures and loyalties are shifting before our very eyes and the way people shop has already altered – just look at the recent Argos announcement.

I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a new Facebook group dedicated to the sharing of useful retail tips – and maybe I will do just that. Somehow we must ramp up our effectiveness for the sake of the business and the ministry. There are some things out there that we simply cannot change but we do not have to cower as victims. The Gospel demands that we live our lives with joy, optimism and hope; how much more so when we are in this particular trade.

So how to move on?  Well, we have to accept that, for starters, it’s not all bad. This has definitely become the day of the Indy bookshop, no question. Chains no longer work for all the reasons we know so well. There are many new, vibrant entrants to the trade. This is bringing in new – and hopefully younger – blood, and better ideas with different ways of doing things.

Actually, despite appearances sometimes to the contrary, publishers and suppliers still need the whole retail piece to make their own numbers work. I would hazard a guess that for most product originators, retail still represents c. 55% (maybe more) of their turnover. The balance of power within the industry has substantially altered in recent years; retailers’ are better off, suppliers less so (I know to some of you it doesn’t always feel that way). There is still way too much product out there so retailers can and should use their buying power to favour some suppliers over others – and therefore certain product lines over others. You just cannot buy or stock everything you are offered!

What action can retailers take – practically – to avoid falling sales? Let me sketch out some of the more obvious ways here. Feel free to offer your own as a comment and let’s start a conversation.

Here are my top two observations and recommendations which I believe can quickly impact your sales for the better. You may have to readjust your timetable and your shop to carry these out:

  1.  Re-engage with your local churches and church leaders – but make friends with them first. Even the best of shops can do better in this area. What prevents you from getting out there?
  2. Increase the amount of space given to Children’s books – ramp up your range – stats prove that this is the ONE area in publishing that continues to thrive despite the ongoing shift to digital.

Try these other top tips: 

  1. Become known locally for doing great deals – be flexible – match online prices if you have to. Join the fight-back against the online competition. Badger suppliers into helping with margin. Take a lower margin if you really have to as ‘less margin is better than no margin’.
  2. Stats prove that it’s wise to trade upmarket with card and gift – avoid tat, embrace quality.
  3. Make more use of staff and personal recommendations when speaking with customers.
  4. Keep stock looking fresh. Return stock wherever possible; mark-down stock, dump old stock. Take extreme care with stock levels. Buy wisely. Buy tight. Make sure stock works for YOU.
  5. Engage in positive PR – let your customers know what’s new and what’s happening.  Use social media – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and make yourself heard in your own locality. Build community. Build links. Do visits. Share ideas. Above all, realise that you are not alone in this trade. Use the Facebook CABP group and get help and advice from others online.
  6. Keep up with digital developments – sign up to KOBO, HIVE and others as yet unknown!
  7. Stay positive and avoid the ‘numbers’ game (bigger, better, more). Be proud of your own calling and work.
  8.  Pray constantly – on your own, with your trustees, with your staff and with your customers.

Maybe together – and ever so slowly – we can change the mood music? Together we should strive to build a vibrant trade sector where we feel proud to be known as Christian retailers. Eschew any perceived downward spiral and stay positive. Don’t despair. Don’t lose heart.

If you really have had enough of the trade, then perhaps you should call it a day because life is too short to be gloomy!

Christian Book trade – Good News Centre, Newent: a photo update

November 15, 2011 3 comments

I visited Good News Centre Newent again this weekend. It’s always a pleasure to go there. It was looking even more splendid than usual and was really busy – important in the run-up to Christmas. The shop continues to defy all the normal location rules of retailing, situated as it is in rural Gloucestershire.

They have an excellent card and gift range including a really good range of Indian crafts, with which I was not familiar. It was especially good to see lots of books being sold.  Good to see the Bookseller Association’s marketing campaign kit in use – ‘Celebrate Bookshops in Your Community – Keep Books on the High Street’.

I couldn’t resist taking this shot of the CWR Cover to Cover Bible Study spinner! Those of you who know me well know how much I love spinners in shops – something about a poacher and a gamekeeper, I think!

Here’s my mobile phone photo update and my earlier GNC post;

Opinion – Support your High Street – Local retailers and small shops

August 11, 2011 4 comments

Listening to Liz Pilgrim, a riot-hit small retailer from Ealing on BBC R4 tonight was an inspiration, providing a strident rallying call for support to the High Street.

Events of this past week have demonstrated that the UK High Street is hurting badly – in more ways than one. Shops in riot affected areas will have an uphill struggle to get their businesses back on track. Retailers everywhere are finding it hard work to make headway against strong and adverse economic headwinds.

If these local businesses are forced to leave their High Streets, it will be very hard, if not impossible, to open them again. Does that matter? Yes, I think it does. Those communities losing local traders are negatively impacted in a considerable way. We could all do much more to help – by stopping to think whether we can buy locally, by switching our purchasing from the internet to local shops (where possible) and from chain stores and supermarkets to the local trader. Yes, there’s often a price differential and I know that we all have time constraints but there is a positive social impact.

Some of you might say that it’s already too late. It’s not. You can make a real difference locally.

So much of retail in the UK is comprised of fairly small units and these outlets provide considerable levels of local employment in so many of our towns and cities. It cannot be all about Tesco’s and Debenhams.

Use local markets wherever possible as these too continue to help commercial life to thrive in our neighbourhoods and communities. Yes, it’s hard to do this but it’s also worthwhile. At the moment, any help for smaller retailers, and sole traders in particular, is very welcome.

 If you agree with this please ‘like’ it and post it elsewhere and let’s help bring more footfall to our High Streets. Do we really want to live in a homogenous world? Do we want all of retail life to move online? We all have to buy ‘stuff’. The only question is; where will we actually do our purchasing?

So go on – Support your own High Street. Support your local retailer. Support your small shops. Support your local Market. You might even enjoy yourself!

 

Update and postscript:

The key figures for UK retail. (Source: Dept for BIS)

• UK retail sales are around £300bn, the 3rd largest in the world, after the USA and Japan.
• The retail sector generates 8% of the GDP of the UK, and 5.2% of GVA.
• The retail industry employs around 3m people. One in ten of those in employment currently work in the retail sector – the highest proportion of UK private sector employment.
• Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK with one in ten of the workforce working in retail.
• There are 450,000 shops in the UK owned by 300,000 enterprises, including 9% (190,000) of all VAT-registered businesses.
• Shops account for more than a third of consumer spending.
• Despite being the third biggest casualty of the recession with over 6,000 insolvencies, the sector continues to grow.
• The value of overseas shoppers in London is around £2bn p.a.
• Despite strong growth in recent years, internet sales currently account for only around 7.5% of total sales.

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