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Why People Shouldn't Shop at Your Catholic Store

Following on the heels of a post discounting most of the reasons people give for not shopping at Catholic stores, comes a post aimed at stores. While you as a store owner may think that you deserve people's business, you don't: and here's why.

  1. You think God is going to run the store for you. Just because you think God inspired you to open a Catholic bookstore doesn't mean that He has any obligation to also infuse you with business sense. In fact, the act of opening a Catholic store is very likely a sure sign that you don't have business sense. Several hundred Catholic stores open and close each year, many in the same town. In a town near where we live it is almost a joke the number of times an individual has closed and reopened her store.Think carefully before you spend your money opening a store. Do you have connections with local parishes? Are the local parishes actually Catholic enough that the parishioners take their Faith seriously? Does the bishop like you? How little money can you live on and for how long? Those projections you created showing profitability in three years – burn them and make it six.Do you have any of the skills necessary to open a store? Are you capable of being an accountant, sales manager, marketing manager, bill collector, store manager, inventory controller and have a life outside of the store? When I finally admitted that I wasn't an accountant it took several months for a real one to straighten out our books. More on opening your own store.
  2. You think your store can look like a fifty year old curiosity shop and attract people.Complete with burned out lights, dusty counters, faded posters and books, the average Catholic store is one of the least appealing places I can think of to shop. You are going to have to go see where people buy books (hint: Barnes and Noble) and copy those designs. Good lighting and a clean store can make all the difference in that important first impression.
  3. You think that organizing your store means putting books on shelves instead of the floor.I am not joking. I have been in more than one shop where there was no categorization of anything. Jewelry cases (something you should definitely get rid of) are full of stacks of dusty items. Books were mostly on shelves but also stacked on window sills and on the floor.You have got to make it easy for people to find what they are looking for. Tower jewelry spinners and clearly marked book categories with some kind of rational ordering within those categories are essential. Group like items together – statues, crucifixes, scapulars, etc. People are much more likely to notice a display of crucifixes than a scattering of them throughout the store.You also have to be able to find things when people ask. There isn't much less confidence-inspiring than being told “I'm sure we have one of those somewhere.” as you wander aimlessly around the store.

  4. You think that your customers should pay for your inefficiencies.So, why do you have your jewelry marked up 3x wholesale? Is it to make up for your lack of a computer that keeps your ordering inefficient? Is it to cover the costs of doing your bookkeeping by hand instead of with Quickbooks?You have to automate as much of your business as possible to keep up with the rest of the world. I know that the owner of the largest store in a nearby state places orders by walking around the store to see what isn't in stock. Of course he has no idea what he actually sold and what was stolen. More on fair pricing.

  5. You Don't Know What You're Selling.When a customer comes in and asks for help differentiating between the Vatican II Sunday Missal and the St. Joseph Sunday Missal, can you provide a coherent answer? How about when a customer asks about differences between the Revised Standard Bible and the New American Bible?If you don't know your product, your customers won't trust you when you make suggestions and you won't set yourself up as a local authority. You want customers to trust that you know what you are selling. If they trust you, they are more likely to shop at your store and more likely to say yes to an up sell or cross sell.

  6. You Don't Discriminate in What You Sell.Take a look at what you have in your store and ask yourself, “Is this a Catholic store, a Christian store with Catholic stuff or an anti-Catholic store?” If you sell books that contradict the Faith, you are committing business suicide. If you don't have a clear Catholic focus then change the name and marketing associated with your store to attract the audience most in line with your products.If you really want to run a Catholic store you are going to need to commit to selling things that build up people's Faith. You are going to have to be discriminating about the books you carry and have the courage to explain to shoppers the reasons for not carrying books by Anthony de Mello and Fr. Mc'Brien.
  7. You Don't Pay Attention to Trends.Remember when the Passion of the Christ came out a few years ago? Did you plan ahead? Did you find merchandise that related to the movie? Did you set up a display with The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and other books by Anne Katherine Emerich? Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?If you want to be seen as the go-to source for Catholic things, you are going to have to stay on top of trends in Catholic culture. You should subscribe to the National Catholic Register, a couple of Catholic magazines and read your diocesan paper. Make note of books and authors that are featured and pay attention to topics that show up repeatedly. Did you do anything to beef up your pre-Vatican II Mass resources ahead of the release of Summorum Pontificum?Not only should you make sure that you carry products that relate to trends, you should also do enough research that a shopper with questions about the trend and not specifically about the products can still count on you for a knowledgeable answer.

Hopefully these tips will give you some things to work on so that the Christmas rush gives you the chance to really make such a good impression on your shoppers that they will recommend your shop to others – not because it's the only Catholic store in town but because they really enjoy shopping there.

If you don't own a Catholic store but can identify these problems with your local store, why don't you offer to help as a volunteer once a month to clean up or organize the place?

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  1. I know of one urban Catholic store that had been around for years, which fit your descriptions to a T — and which closed its doors just this summer. I moved into this city 2 years ago, and the only Catholic store in town was one of my first places to visit. It took only a few minutes of browsing to become disappointed by what I saw, especially the books, since that is my primary interest. I didn’t see anything that had been published in the past five years. And most of what was on the shelves was what I saw on Catholic bookstore shelves in my previous hometown ten, fifteen, even twenty years earlier. Same could be said of other products, like posters and music.

    I stood there and thought, “So much good going on in Catholic publishing, and you wouldn’t know it at all by standing in this store.” Your description of a 50-year-old curiousity shop fit this place exactly. As a newcomer to the city, I must admit it gave me a negative impression of the local Catholic community as well. “This is what passes for a Catholic shop around here?” I wondered. “This is what nourishes their faith? These are the resources that inform their catechists?” Unfortunately, there no other local alternative around here now.

    Thanks for the interesting reflections. Best wishes for much success in the efforts of any Catholic shop-owner in a business environment that must surely be a constrant stress and challenge.


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