This post was inspired by a lively discussion over at Open Book here and here. What I plan on doing is breaking this up into at least four posts. First, why your excuses for not buying from a Catholic store don't always hold water. Second, why as a Catholic store owner you shouldn't act like you deserve Catholics' patronage. Third, what is wrong with the business side of Catholic retailing from publishers to trade associations to the stores themselves. Fourth, what is wrong with the Church that contributes to the problems that stores have. These posts are going to be pretty critical and some might say harsh. Unfortunately, there is a lot to be critical of and harsh about in this industry. Don't worry, I'll spread the blame around.
First, why don't you buy from a Catholic store (whether local or online)? Here are some common objections:
- Items at the store cost more than at _____.
- The store marks things up more than is fair.
- The store isn't in a convenient location.
- The store is disorganized, dusty, scary, old, poorly lit, badly stocked, etc.
- The store doesn't look like Barnes and Noble.
- The store doesn't have a coffee bar.
- The store is full of pastel colored junk and sappy music.
- The store sells stuff that is anti-Catholic.
- They don't have what I'm looking for.
I think this about covers it.
The Catholic store is too expensive.
Your local or online Catholic store is most likely a single entity making between $300k and $2 million gross a year. Out of this comes about 58% in cost of goods, rent, employee pay, insurance, taxes, fixture maintenance, utilities, charitable donations and advertising. If there is anything left, the owner might get a paycheck.
Amazon, BN, Borders, Walmart, etc are multi billion dollar companies with multiple offices, thousands of employees and the buying power of medium-sized countries. These stores can tell publishers that if they want their books on their shelves (virtual or otherwise) they are going to have to a) give 60%+ discounts b) send them books on consignment c) allow them to return whatever they want whenever they want without restocking fees. If your local Catholic store tried to make these demands the owner would be locked up as a lunatic. One commenter on Amy's blog pointed out that Amazon is selling Jesus of Nazareth for about 20 cents more than he pays wholesale for it.
Your Catholic store cannot compete with these places on price and stay in business.
So the real questions come down to “What are you doing with that extra $8 you saved by shopping at Barnes and Noble?” and “What is the money you spent going to fund now that it is spent?”
If you need that extra $8 to complete your house payment, buy gas so you can get to work, feed your kids or pay for health insurance, then by all means, buy at Barnes and Noble or better yet, buy used.
If you drink Starbucks once or twice a week, enjoy your Itunes, drive a brand new car, shop for your clothes at the mall and own a few tvs, your need to save $8 rings pretty hollow. You see, we talk about “saving” money on a purchase only to turn around and spend it on something we don't really need anyway. In this case you have just deprived a Catholic store of a sale that helps keep it in business. Your single purchase won't make or break the store but the hundreds of times this happens every year can mean the difference between bankruptcy and profitability for the Catholic store. What happens to Amazon if Catholics don't shop with them? Absolutely nothing.
When you shop at the Catholic store you are most likely supporting a Catholic and possibly one with a family. You are helping a business to spread the Faith and possibly make a difference in someone's life.
When you shop at stores like Barnes and Noble you are supporting a business that has no problem selling porn, homosexual propaganda and anti-Catholic drivel along with the Catholic stuff. You are supporting an organization that donates to gay-rights causes, environmental extremism and population control groups. These companies have no interest in saving souls, they just want to make the largest profit they can.
If you are comfortable with your money going to places like that and “save” your $8 so you can go buy your venti double mocha latte with cream and cinnamon on top, I really can't argue with you. I just hope you're happy when you go to buy a First Communion gift and find that the Catholic store is out of business and the family is in bankruptcy. But hey, you saved $8 so it's all good.
The store marks things up more than is fair.
What exactly is “fair” markup? Is it the 3-5 times you find at the local jewelry store? Is it the 20% or less for computers? Is it the 5+ times for cheap Chinese toys and clothes?
I think “fair” can be defined as: “The amount of profit you need to make to cover expenses, build the business for the future, make a living and support your family now and in the future.” Unfortunately, “fair” for one store isn't going to be the same as “fair” for another store so you can't say that because one store marks things up two times wholesale and another 2.5 times the second store is ripping people off.
What I can say is that stores that don't try to be efficient, don't bother to modernize and still are charging 2-3 times wholesale are doing their customers a disservice because they are forcing the customer to pay for their inefficiencies and that isn't the customer's job. More on this in another post.
As the customer you need to somehow divine the intent of the owner, the profitability of the store and whether the store seems to be run like a business instead of a haphazard hobby. If the store isn't run like a business or the store is obviously overflowing with cash then you can probably say that the store needs to lower its prices. Unfortunately, making that judgment isn't very easy and I am pretty sure that assuming the worst of someone without any proof is a sin.
So I ask you to consider: Is the item you want to buy really too expensive or is it just that you don't want to pay the asking price? Is the item you want to buy really too expensive or is it just that you have gotten so used to buying Chinese junk that you think that things from parts of the world where they don't artificially deflate their currency and pay bare subsistence wages are overpriced? Do you buy drinks at Starbucks? Why is it that you are willing to pay $5 for a cup of flavored liquid that will be gone in 20 minutes but think that $25 for a hardback book that contains great insights into the person of Jesus Christ that you will probably read more than once is a ripoff? Why is it that you are willing to plunk down $50 a month for Dish when most of the programming is crap but think that $35 for a sterling medal of a saint that may serve as the inspiration someone needs to stay on the path to holiness is cheating you? Why will you spend $5 for a greeting card at Target but think that $5 for a rosary chaplet is asking too much?
If you actually shopped at the Catholic store instead of going to these other places, you might find that 1) the prices aren't that bad when you consider the actual reason you are buying the item and 2) the store is much more likely to have competitive prices if people shop there regularly.
The store isn't in a convenient location.
Catholic stores aren't like Starbucks. First, there aren't enough Catholics who care about their Faith to have one (or two) on every corner. Second, they have to go where they can afford the rent. Since most Catholics don't buy Catholic stuff and many Catholics who do would rather save a few bucks instead of shopping at the Catholic store, they have to go to places that aren't the happening spots for shopping.
Catholic stores are what are considered a “destination store”. You don't just drive down the street and wander into a Catholic store. You almost always intend to go there. If you want Catholic stuff, and you want your Catholic stores to be in convenient locations, you have to frequent them so they make enough money to move out of the low rent district into more desirable digs.
If you don't have a local store or really can't make the trip to it, there are Catholic stores online, such as ours, that would be grateful for your business.
The store is disorganized, dusty, scary, old, poorly lit, badly stocked, etc.
This is one of the biggest complaints I have about Catholic stores. Most are run by older people who don't really seem to have an interest in making their stores welcoming. This isn't always the case but frequently it is. I mean, how much effort does it take to organize books by subject? Or vacuum occasionally? Or maybe replace the burned out lights?
When stores are like this I can't blame you for not patronizing them. They have basically assumed an attitude of “We are here so we deserve your business no matter how we treat you.”
If you do really care though, you might ask if you can work on a volunteer basis and help straighten up the store.
The store doesn't look like Barnes and Noble.
Your local Catholic store isn't Barnes and Noble. Get over it. Barnes and Noble has millions of dollars to spend each time it opens a store. I know. My sales manager used to open them. Your local Catholic store MIGHT, if it is extremely blessed, start with $100,000. Most likely it is starting with under $50,000 and a lot of prayers. If you happen to know some rich Catholics who want to invest in Catholic stores, we'd be happy to meet them. As far as we can tell, rich Catholics for the most part aren't interested in Catholic retail.
The store doesn't have a coffee bar.
See The store doesn't look like Barnes and Noble above.
The store is full of pastel colored junk and sappy music.
When we started our store this is the very thing we wanted to avoid. Catholicism doesn't have to be a bunch of cheep porcelain trinkets. We believe that things should be beautiful, high quality and not come from China. This puts us in a position where we sell very few statues and our prices are higher than your average store but we don't do junk.
Sappy music is also something we avoid. Catholicism doesn't have to be made from saccharine and pastels. There is plenty of beautiful art and good sacred music to fill a store without resorting to My Little Porcelain Chinese Angels.
The store sells stuff that is anti-Catholic.
If there is anything that should disqualify a store from receiving your business, this is it. If a store is willing to poison the souls of its shoppers, it deserves to go out of business and quickly. Ask your local store (or your online store) if they have any sort of guarantee that the stuff they sell is really Catholic. If they can't answer your question, put your hand over your wallet, back away and never come back.
They don't have what I'm looking for.
Have you asked? If a store isn't willing to special order, that's another sign that they don't really care about you, they just want your money with as little hassle as possible. I wouldn't spend much time there either.
I think that about covers the objections to shopping at Catholic stores. Some are legitimate, most aren't. Think very carefully about whether you want a place to buy Catholic stuff from Catholic families or if you would rather only have Amazon and BN as your options. If you think having Catholic stores is a good idea, skip Starbucks for a day and go buy that book at a Catholic store.