How to Start a Christian Bookstore Business

by Christopher Raines

As a prospective Christian bookstore owner, you may have sensed a call to share your faith or serve your community as well as pursuing an entrepreneurial dream. You need focused planning on the spiritual, physical and commercial aspects for your store to be effective as both a business and ministry.

Your Mission and Audience

To shape what products and services you plan to offer, discern what you consider to be your call and identify your target customers. For instance, according to Cathedral Consulting Group, some Protestant bookstore owners decline to sell Catholic-themed items like statutes of saints, while more theologically conservative owners shun liberal publications. You might decide on more, but not necessarily exclusively, liberal works if you or your community leans that way on religious or social matters.

Beyond a Bookstore

A Christian Booksellers Association survey says approximately 60 percent of bookstore sales in 2013 came from Bibles and books. Enhance your print offerings with categories such as fiction, Christian living and Bible study. Add gifts, music, movies, greeting cards, church supplies and wearing apparel to your initial inventory to increase sales. Focus on novelties that are more difficult to find online than books. Some retailers even sell materials for homeschoolers. While numbers vary by location, plan on an initial inventory investment of around $35 per square foot, according to ChristianTrade Association International.

Creating the Atmosphere

To contain your launch costs, don't start with a 30,000 square-foot free-standing establishment. Start with a smaller retail space and build from there. Incorporate variety into your displays. Christian Retail Association recommends not placing gifts on bookshelves or books on gift racks, but instead converting dressers, drawers, windows and other materials -- which you can find at thrift stores -- to bookshelves, tables and jewelry display cases. Keep your color scheme basic, such as painting your main walls with neutrals like off-white and beige and using navy blue, vivid red and chocolate brown for accent or smaller walls.

Find Church Partners

Cultivate connections with local churches. Cathedral Consulting Group mentions a retailer who states that a quarter of his sales come from relationships with churches. According to the Christian Booksellers Association, 73 percent of bookstore owners back ministries. You can, for instance, announce to church members promotions in which you will donate a portion of their purchases to their church's ministry. Ask pastors or leaders to display posters, business cards or flyers in church lobbies.

Name Recognition

To benefit from a recognized brand, you can purchase a franchised store instead of starting from scratch. According to the International Franchising Association, you'll need between $70,000 and $90,000 to start a Parable Christian Stores franchise, for example, while the total investment falls between $317,000 and $433,000. If you lack funding for a franchise, you can at least obtain marketing support from organizations, such as The Parable Group or the Association of Logos Bookstores. Whether you're a franchisee or a partner store, you can have catalogs, postcards and other advertisements distributed on your behalf to customers.

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