Celebrate Your Independents
Updated: Jun 2
by Ann Kardos
Sometimes owning a Christian bookstore can feel like a thankless occupation. We can have painfully slow days, when it feels like maybe it just is not worth unlocking the door or turning on the lights in the morning. Those days are hard. Those days are stressful. Those days are lonely.
The good news though is that we are not alone in those lonely moments.
We are working in a unique environment. We are surrounded by the Word both literally and spiritually. God is with us in the slow days and in the busy days. We must keep our eyes focused on Him. We also must ask for His eyes and heart to see who He sees in the customers that come through our doors.
There are some customers who are “difficult.” They can be cranky, needy or even downright mean. They are hard to appreciate and very hard to love. Yet, the Holy Spirit may whisper in their ears something like, “Hey, that Christian bookstore down the street . . . you should check them out. Maybe they have what you’re looking for.” It may or may not be a product that they need, but sometimes it is more like a dedicated person who will be kind to them, pray for them or just have a place of quiet peace open for them to just “be” in.
I will tell you that in 2010, when we were still really struggling to keep our store open and our shelves stocked, I experienced a truly unlovable customer. He called looking for yellow Bible highlighters. I was out. They were on order, but not in stock. He called every day for a week, checking to see if the highlighters were in. They weren’t. I was stressed because that is one of those “never be out of” items . . . and I was out of them. I was trying to juggle paying staff, paying taxes, paying electricity. I did not have money to pay to order highlighters, and no sales to get money to buy stuff to sell. If you have ever been there, you understand. If you have never been in that place, count yourself very fortunate indeed! This customer was frustrated but strangely persistent. One morning, he called again, and I told him that they were not in yet. The man lost it. He cussed me out . . . for not having Bible highlighters. I felt horrible. I was angry. I was done! “That’s it, Lord. I can’t do this anymore. This is stupid!”
we are not alone in those lonely moments
Then . . . then God. One of my sweet customers, Joyce, showed up with the ladies from her Bible study. In a week of maybe four customers a day, this woman brought a group of women who had never shopped at our store before. There were maybe eight people, but to me it felt like a bus tour full of women! They looked at our old, tired inventory; but they saw it for the first time. They shopped and chattered. It was a delight! When they were leaving, I stopped Joyce. I gave her a huge hug. With tears streaming down my face, I told her, “Do you realize that you were used by God to answer my prayer today?”
I said, “I’m serious. I was about to lock the doors, and not come back!” With a relieved giggle, I said, “Thank you.”
I immediately called my vendor and got those Bible highlighters shipped. When they arrived a few days later, I called my “difficult” customer. He showed up first thing in the morning to pick up his order. He reeked of alcohol at 10:30 in the morning. I felt so ashamed of myself. My attitude of anger and indignation melted. I was filled with compassion and hope for this man. He bought the highlighters. I promised him that I would make sure that we always had these for him.
Through the coming months, he came back to the store often. We developed a friendship. He was working to reconcile with his family. Every time he came in, he looked a little better, seemed a little happier and smelled a lot better. He was invited to his grandchildren’s events. God was working a miracle of healing in his life, and a big step in that process started by cussing out the bookstore lady. Mysterious ways, indeed.
I am telling you all of this because I am sure that you have stories to tell too. I want to hear them someday.
Independent Christian bookstore owners and managers, we are in the trenches with our front-liners. We can see what our customers need up close. Sometimes we make emotional buying decisions based on what is happening in our town. Sometimes we buy based on just a few customers and what we know they are needing.
Being an independent store allows us to be flexible, nimble and specific. The key, though, is to be wise with our financial resources and our marketing strategies. I am a work in progress—even after 12 years. I need to be reminded to keep my focus on God and His people.
I still have plenty of slow days. But I am learning to find the blessing in the quiet time. I was recently reminded of this verse, and clinging to it brings me joy: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, ESV).
And finally, I am learning to remind customers that our store is here for them. I encourage you to use this quote from Horton Hears a Who as the basis of your marketing strategy too:
“We are here. We are here! WE ARE HERE!!”
And when people find out that we are here, whether they are lovely or difficult, thank God for them. Thank Him for trusting you with the privilege of serving them. That might be hard, but it might become the biggest blessing of them all.
I am cheering you on!