How to Start a Church Bookstore

Initiating and operating a church bookstore in your community is a great way to not only encourage an exchange of ideas and shared philosophies amongst your target clientele but also to help raise money for worthy causes that your church endorses. In addition, its neighborhood presence can attract potential new members to the congregation as well as serve as the backdrop for book discussion groups, lectures, church socials, newcomers' meetings and religious studies classes and workshops. Here are some tips on how to decide what type of merchandise to sell in your shop and how to generate local support in launching a successful opening.

Identify your core demographic. For instance, will the bookstore primarily be for the benefit of the members of your congregation or do you want to attract non-members to the products and services the store has to offer?

Determine the best location for your bookstore. Is there currently an unused space on the church grounds that would lend itself to your vision? If your target market is strictly the congregation, your "built-in" audience can easily visit it before or after church services. If you want to court non-members, however, your shop needs to be visible, have convenient parking and be open more hours.

Research the community bookstores within closest proximity to where you want to open shop. For your bookstore to be a success, it has to offer something different from the competition. A Christian-specific bookstore, for example, is a different enterprise from a retail chain even though the latter may offer religious titles.

Decide what you want to sell. Will it strictly be reading material or do you also want to offer items such as greeting cards, bookmarks, stationery, coffee mugs and picture frames?

Research how you're going to acquire your initial inventory. If all of the books in stock are going to be new, you'll need to survey publishers and query what kind of discounts they can offer. If the books are going to be used editions, will you be relying on donated copies or investing the time in trolling flea markets? If products other than books are going to be sold, you'll need to identify vendors and get estimates of their prices.

Determine whether the bookstore can be a multi-use facility. If the space is large enough, for instance, it could be used for meetings, lectures, tutoring or Bible study classes.

Decide how your bookstore will be staffed. Unless you feel comfortable running the entire show by yourself, you'll need to have an assistant or two. Ideally these can be volunteers from your congregation or students who want the experience or school credits provided by an internship.

Visit the website of the Small Business Administration. This not only walks you through the steps of starting up a new business but also offers advice on how to secure a loan. Since it's unlikely that the church itself will underwrite your enterprise, you'll be responsible for acquiring the capital to get things off the ground.

Draft a preliminary budget that addresses space rental, purchase of books, purchase/construction of shelving units, office supplies and equipment, and advertising.

Present your proposal to the church clergy. Whether the bookstore is going to be set up on the church grounds or in a separate facility, the more benefit they can see to the members of the congregation, the more likely they are to support it.

Start a buzz in the church newsletter. When the bookstore gets ready to open, you'll also want to put an announcement into the community newspapers.

Design a website to attract online book buyers. Invite fellow church members and site visitors to make book recommendations and participate in discussion groups.

Tips

  • Consider putting your bookstore on wheels. This unique aspect of distribution would appeal to congregations with older members who aren't getting out as much as they used to. A mobile bookstore will also increase the visibility of the church because it can be driven to different locations throughout the community. As with any mobile operation, of course, you'll need to make sure you have the appropriate business licenses from your city or county. If a brick and mortar operation just isn't feasible, don't rule out the inventiveness of a "virtual" church bookstore. The advantage is that you can run the entire business yourself from home and, further, not have to worry about the storage space needed to carry a full inventory. When a customer wants a particular book, your only job is to sleuth out where to find it and order it for them.

Warnings

  • If you're not sure whether your new bookstore is going to be successful, it's better to lease a space than to buy an existing store and then worry about having to sell it. Your store will need to comply with federal regulations regarding access by individuals with disabilities (stairs, narrow aisles, curb cuts). It will also need to comply with fire safety regulations. If you have employees working for you, you'll need to carry workers' comp insurance.

Resources

About the Author

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.