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Is This a Business?

Merchandising the business of a mission

"It started as a mission". No matter if we are discussing a shrine or gift shop located on the campus of the parish church, or if we are discussing a multiple location chain of Christian book stores, mission was traditionally one of the foremost ideas in the initial thought process. Some of those interviewed for this article stated they felt it would be very difficult to be a part of this industry if their mission was solely to be a business.

If we were to take the mailing list of a trade organization, and visit all of the locations across the United States we would most definitely see a broad array of styles of operations. Perhaps the first we would see would be the all volunteer shop that does not have set hours of being open, and operates in a corner of the parish hall.

And within our travels, we would also see the location bearing a strong resemblance to the Christian retailing store that we would expect to see in a mall, shopping center, or in a stand alone location.

If we stated that the initial task of each of the shops was that of inviting the parishioner to visit, we would immediately see the differences in these operations beginning to surface. The parish shop is most likely to attract people from their own parish and from parishes that do not have a shrine or gift shop as a mission of their church. Visitors from another parish are likely to find this parish shop through word of mouth or the traditional small ad in their parish bulletin. And, folks that are not of the Christian faith are at a disadvantage in finding these shops when they are wanting to make a purchase for a Christian friend or family member.

For the shops that are located in stand alone buildings or with other businesses in a traditional shopping center, the task of attracting parishioners becomes more complex as the traditional components of advertising are involved. Most stores have utilized mailing lists for direct mail, yellow pages, and Christian oriented magazines.

While many of the shoppers in these locations have made the store their destination on a shopping trip, businesses are more apt to have an occasional or even frequent non-Christian shopper.

From these two basic premises, we will begin to see the difference in how these more traditional businesses are merchandised. With books being a strong point for many shops and stores, many have placed their book displays in the rear section. The logic most frequently given is that people interested in books like to thumb through a book before making a selection and purchase.

Placing the books in the rear creates a draw through the store, and eliminates much of the possibility of clogged aisles that you frequently experience with book stores. The exception to this merchandising technique is the placement of new titles in a display near the front door so that customers will know the store is stocking the latest releases.

In designing book racks, displays should not be higher than six feet as the books above that height are out of reach of most customers. Books that have their cover facing the customer provide more appeal through their attractiveness, but due to space limitations this method is often not possible. And in using your book racks, they should be designed so that no matter if the customer is standing at the side of the rack or at the end, there should be something for sale for the customer to see. Ends of book racks are a great place to have a small display of inspirational book marks and book covers.

The space from the front to the back of the store or shop is often a progression from "soft inspirational" products that would appeal to Christian and non- Christian alike, to the rear of the store which will have more of the traditional Christian sacramental items.

The forward sections of the shop are the ideal locations to place seasonal merchandise and products that appeal to impulse purchasing. If your shop is selling cd's then you need to have an album playing, or make it easily available for the customer to play the album before making their selection.

One shop owner, noting that many times the shoppers had young children with them, created an area of children's books and products that children would be most likely asking their parents to purchase for them. There was even a couple of child size chairs provided so that the parents could shop without distraction.

Many of the businesses that sell to the parish itself include displays of vestments and other non-consumer products in these sections in the rear. Again the thinking given is that the representative of the parish has driven to the store or shop to s elect merchandise for their needs and after being greeted by your staff, will ask for anything they cannot locate themselves.

No matter who your audience is, the key of good merchandise, well displayed, and reasonably priced will always be attractive to shoppers.

The managers and owners that we spoke with explained that their shops were always decorated appropriately for the season. As one merchant stated, "my customers shop according to cultural moments. I need my business to reflect that feeling and be able to assist them."

Most of the shops evolved to their present design. As sources of inspiration, there were many ideas seen in both secular and non-secular bookstores, as well as gift shops and card shops in general. One unique shop placed the register at the rear of the store so that each customer making a purchase would have to travel throughout the store. This shop owner was thrilled with the result as she mentioned that customers were often returning to the register after having made a purchase to pay for "just one more item that I saw on the way out."

Throughout our tour of these shrine, gift and book shops we will find varying levels of success; whether as a business for profit or as a group of volunteers looking to increase the amount of mission money they give to their parish. And with each of these, they have not relied upon an expected level of loyalty from the past and prospective customers, but have instead worked to help shoppers set up a chapel in their or someone else's heart, and are serving Christ in the world.

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