I HAD BEEN Sales Manager for a buying group that works into the newsagents and card shops industries but had been getting a lot of attack from “the management” especially when I refused to support a Hallowe’en promotion they were doing for one of our linked distributors. I was looking elsewhere and, having applied for various positions and got nowhere, God prompted me to simply write a letter to this company in Exeter telling them my current situation. The answer to that was an invitation to see Steve Thornett at Christian Art which resulted in a job!
Following the merger between Christian Art and Kingsway and the redundancies that followed I spent a short time freelancing, but one evening received a phone call asking if I was interested in a full time job: the company was Kevin Mayhew Ltd and that was almost sixteen years ago. I think the trade was already starting to change at that time although perhaps we couldn’t see it. There had already been “warnings” from the USA about future trends but, as often happens, perhaps we ignored them.
The two most obvious changes which the trade has had to face (apart from changes of distribution) have been the move in music away from CDs towards downloads and the decline in the purchasing of books from bookshops. The former has been partially addressed by companies allowing retailers to link to their downloads and sell them through their websites (as Kevin Mayhew does), but this is an area that requires very careful marketing and promotion. The latter, that of book purchasing, is far more complex.
I remember going into a store in East Anglia and being told that we were selling hymn books direct through Amazon cheaper than that retailer could purchase them through us; a quick investigation found that we had not — and incidentally still haven’t — given Amazon trade terms: the hymn books could have only got onto Amazon via one source, a Carlisle source. Later Amazon dealings became more open as they advertised the sources as part of their marketing.
So the growth of Amazon has certainly had an effect, but I believe that there is a greater one: whereas there has certainly been a decline in books aimed at the more traditional denominations, the decline in more evangelical/charismatic has, to me, been more apparent. The truth, backed up several years ago by a survey of ministers done in Derby, is that as the church’s evangelical side is growing — thus recent increases in numbers attending church rather than the previous decades of decline — so too very important elements have meant a decline in reading. As an example, in the church I attend, out of a membership of about 250, I am the sixth or seventh eldest. The vast majority are younger families with children and jobs. Also we tend to be a church where people are involved in ministry, not only within our congregation but “Go ye into the world…” with Christians Against Poverty, Street Pastors, Healing On The Streets, Schools Ministry, Community Cafe, Feeding The Roofless, etc. etc., all ministries which not only take us into the highways and byways but — at long last — have straddled the denominational divides that have previously restricted the one church of Christ being “seen” in the community, bringing brothers and sisters in Christ together representing and reflecting Jesus outside the confines of our buildings.
Talking to fellow Street Pastors, the majority admit that they now read far less than they used to because they are spending more time in ministry and, as part of that, in prayer – either in groups or by themselves.
I have often felt that everything we sell in our shops is a “luxury” rather than a necessity. When I have mentioned this to customers, almost all have said straightaway, “Apart from the Bible, of course!” Then we start reflecting on how many Bibles each of us has in our homes already!
This is, of course, a simplification of the situation. It would take a book or a ridiculously long and tedious report to put down all the facts and incidents that have changed our trade during the last twenty years or so — and another to look into the future. However our emphasis needs to be better focused: the expansion of the Kingdom. After all, that’s the only reason we’re here, isn’t it?
Below are three actions that I think are very positive actions to develop trade in shops, most of which have previously been mooted from time to time:
Re-address the stock balance in the shops: if books and CDs are declining, what is increasing? Answer: Better quality gifts and greetings cards. I am so delighted that Kevin Mayhew Ltd decided just prior to the recession to develop these areas.
Talk to the churches: hold once a year meetings for some of them; hold schools/junior church evenings; take the pastors/ministers/priests out for a coffee every so often and talk to them about THEIR needs and how you can help them.
Introduce other products and services: do you have areas in your shop where you could sell products which would attract Joe Public in off the street? Our trade does tend to be a bit exclusive. I remember one of my first visits to Northampton and seeing that Joe Storey had completely filled one window with gift wrapping paper at a silly price — people were coming into the shop to buy it and suddenly finding cards, CDs and children’s books they were also buying. In North Wales one shop is also the main stationery outlet for their town whilst another sells maps, tourism books, children’s books and secular cards as well as having a snack bar and internet café, which draw in both locals and visitors. Many have poo-pooed the Living Oasis concept of having a quality coffee shop at the front of the store, but what an excellent way of bringing people in to find what else we have to offer! What else could we do? What else are we doing already that others may like to copy? Is your local Post Office closing: could you invest in developing an area in your store to take it? (Might sound extreme but you never know).
OK, that’s enough of my ramblings as I intend to write neither a book nor a report!!!
Last Saturday was my 65th birthday and I have no doubt whatsoever that God made it clear that I was to officially retire from fulltime work on that day — OK, I know all the jokes about Christians never retire and that I’ll be far busier once I do!! — but after a year in which I lost my lovely wife, Jackie, very suddenly from illness, it is obvious I need a bit of a rest. Thus I am writing this near Mazarrón in Spain, having a well-earned break.
Oh yes, I shall be at the High Leigh event next month and you will see me at other events as the company has asked me to help them in that way, and I’m sure there will be other ways in which I will be involved. Nevertheless this will give me time to rest, reflect, pray and seek — with emphasis on the rest at the moment! — and see what God’s plans are for me in the future, while I’m still young enough to fulfill them! I got a message from friends in Bedford who are both turing 65 within these few weeks which said, “Welcome to the OAP club.” My reply was very simply, “I have no problem with the P but what’s this about OA?”
It has been my privilege and pleasure to have served God full time in this amazing Christian Distribution Industry. Visits to shops have developed into an extension of church, a wonderful church without walls that crossed the differences of denomination and stream. To have true friends — fellow worshippers — spread across these islands from Jan in Orkney to Julie in Jersey and from Padraig in Cork to Graham on Lindisfarne is an amazing thing! Thank you to all of you for your support, friendship, love and prayers over the years. I pray that you will each be guided by God in the direction that He has in mind for your respective shops. Bless you.
Mike’s position with Kevin Mayhew was Retail Trade Manager. Mark Lee takes over Mike’s accounts in the Midlands, North, Scotland and Ireland; Malcolm Corden takes over his key accounts in the south.