–The Christian-products industry is at a crossroads of growing big or dying slow.
Tony Hawk, founder and CEO of consulting firm Resources for Leading, once told Christian-product industry leaders they were operating out of a mentality of scarcity, not abundance. More than a decade ago during a strategic summit, he warned this mindset would keep the industry fragmented and unable to live up to its potential.
The industry needs leadership that can pull people together around practical solutions, not another trade show.
Not much has changed since then. With the apparent recent demise of CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, and the clustering of industry marketing groups around a trade show instead of practical solutions, a valuable card is not being played: collaboration. Collaboration enables market place competitiveness and empowers omnichannel retailing—overcoming a mentality of scarcity, not abundance.
Mistrust, territorialism, and theological divides have prevented the more than 2,000-outlet network of Christian stores to cooperate and leverage the power they have. Yet—as Ace Hardware independent stores discovered decades ago—cooperation helps even lone wolves survive.
Some very positive indie retailers are individually developing innovative ways to compete with online mega-retailers, but daily “woe is me” comments from many indies ask why they are victims. In the dark recesses of Facebook groups and huddled retailer gatherings, it’s more about what “they are doing to me,” not “here’s what we’ll do.”
The problems are not going away as online sales take larger shares of retail sales. In a McKinsey Group white paper on omnichannel retailing, the piece wrestled with the fact that U.S. online sales are rapidly growing but retailers are slow to embrace the technology. Up 14 percent in 2017, online sales accounted for 12.9 percent of total retail sales, according to Forrester Research. Forrester forecasts online retail sales will grow to 17 percent of all retail sales by 2022.
McKinsey says the fastest online growth is in omnichannel retailing, where brick-and-mortar retailers have online stores that allow ordering online and picking up in store, for example, or have product delivered from a local store. Between 40 and 70 percent growth has been seen in use of these retailing capabilities, McKinsey reports.
CBA association research years ago pointed out that online customers buy up to four times as much than when they buy from a single-channel retailer, and when customers order online and pick up in store, they often make additional purchases while there. The McKinsey report reaffirms this continuing phenomenon today.
Lead report author, Raj Kumar, a partner in McKinsey’s New Jersey office, identified five distinguishing characteristics of successful omnichannel projects. They are intensely cross-functional with specialized teams, they have a clear and focused omnichannel strategy based on customer needs and insights, they custom-design their supply chain network, they build or acquire new supply-chain capabilities, and they have a transition plan in place to move the company into this complex omnichannel world.
Kumar emphasizes that moving a company or group of stores into the future calls for far-reaching changes in forecasting, inventory policies, and order-management processes. This is where a fragmented group of indie stores must come together and figure out collaborative solutions that will help them connect with and serve customers through their entire process of product discovery, research and consideration, selection of when and where to buy, and seamless fulfillment to home or store.
Christian Supply’s Chuck Wallington is on the right track with the new Get It Local Today! project. It diverts some sales from publisher direct-to-consumer websites to local stores. However, it’s a small step on a long journey. Perhaps a strong, mission-minded leader from within the industry will step up with a vision to re-think and reorganize what the industry needs and inspire people to work together on an actual plan to accomplish that. Someone whose only vested interest is to see the entire industry grow.
Wouldn’t that be a change in thinking.