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POS Systems: Who needs them?

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

with Rick Adams

It might surprise you to learn that in a recent CRA store survey, it was reported that 31% of independent Christian stores do not have a POS system. A POS, or point of sale, system enables store owners to track sales, inventory, customer buying habits and employee hours, among many other things.

With so many features to help a store run smoothly, is it even possible to operate a Christian bookstore without a POS system? According to Rick Adams, owner of five Rainbow West Christian Supply stores in Washington and Oregon, the answer is yes.

“The truth is it’s not that hard,” Rick says. “You put a Bible on the shelf, and when someone buys it, you take their money and jot it down. And the next time you order from HarperCollins or Spring Arbor, you get another Bible.”

While operating without a POS may sound simple, it is not entirely rudimentary.

Just because you don’t have a point of sale system doesn’t mean you can’t use computers to help sell things.

“Just because you don’t have a point of sale system doesn’t mean you can’t use computers to help sell things,” Rick clarifies. Case in point, their number one resource is Spring Arbor’s ipage® website. Rick uses the information on ipage® to determine what products he brings in. So when a sales rep pitches a new title, and Rick isn’t sure if he wants to buy it, he checks what Spring Arbor’s buyers are doing. If they are bringing in a lot of that title, Rick will order some too.

But the question most people ask isn’t how he knows what to bring in, but how he knows what is going out.

“People ask how I know what I’m selling,” Rick says. “We keep a very simple spiral notepad next to the cash register, and we use inventory tags that Anchor and Spring Arbor provide. So when someone buys a book, I peel that little tag off and set it on the notepad. Then later in the day, I look at it. And all that I need to know is on there.”

Rick uses a Monarch pricing system for products that come from a publisher or a Spring Arbor or Anchor tag that has the date on it. Looking at the tags helps him determine how long he’s had a book and whether he wants to re-order. Using these tags is also helpful for inventory and returns.

“I actually look at the books to determine which ones I want to send back,” Rick says. “It’s not as fancy as a report with percentages and things like that, but it’s free.”

Rick does a storewide inventory once a year, but he says he is constantly returning things. As he visits each of his five stores, he keeps an eye on titles from a publisher that already has returns. For monitoring inventory, the process is also very hands on. If he wants to know what books he has in stock, Rick says he checks the shelves.

“I can go look at the shelf probably faster than I could create a report,” Rick explains. “It’s not perfect. I’m certainly aware that I miss some stuff.”

When a customer comes into a Rainbow West store, looking for a book that the staff is not sure they have in stock, the first place they check is Spring Arbor’s ipage® website for inventory. Once they know how many books are in stock at Spring Arbor, Rick says he will tell the customer, “I have 10 in my warehouse. Now let’s go look on the shelf and see if I have a copy here.”

To check inventory at another store location, staff simply uses email. If someone requires one more copy of a book to complete an order, but it’s in a different city, the store with the inventory puts it on a shelf and marks which location it’s going to. Once a week, Rick transfers products between stores as needed.

“My thinking is a little more unconventional,” Rick admits. But he adds, “Our average stores do half a million a year, and they do it just fine with a cash register, inventory tags and looking at the shelves.”

Since Rick’s dad opened the first Rainbow West store in the early 1970s, they did at one point have a POS system. But Rick says two things happened that caused them to “pull the plug” 12-15 years ago.

“We had staff that was just not very computer savvy, and my father would not touch a computer.”

While he does miss the data he used to have with a POS system, Rick adds, “There’s a plethora of data that you can still access.”

Rick can track what has sold from the cash registers by categories, such as books, Bibles, jewelry, etc. And Spring Arbor is willing to share with him what he’s selling in his five stores.

The difference, Rick says, is that he does not spend his time creating as many reports or resolving incorrect inventory because something was scanned improperly.

While Rick is very aware that retail is changing, not just Christian retail, he believes it is a sense of calling, hard work and good stewardship that have contributed to the store’s longevity.

“We’ve negotiated leases. We’ve asked for reduction in rent. We really have been frugal in our buying and operating,” he explains.

They keep their overhead very low, and Rick says part of that was the choice to operate without a POS system.

“We found we were putting our energy into a system rather than into people and selling things,” Rick says.

Now one of the things Rick says Rainbow West does well is having a wonderful staff that has personal relationships with their customers.

“The big message is that it is possible to do Christian bookstores without a point of sale system,” Rick concludes. “I had a store do $850,000 one year with two cash registers. Some people would say, ‘If you had point of sales, you would have done a million.’ And maybe they’re right. But I also would have invested a lot of time in a screen rather than talking with people and looking at my shelves.”

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