Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 29, 2005
Evangelical bookstores open to Catholic materials
Ecumenical outlook lowers traditional barriers
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Christian bookstores, often run by evangelicals who see their business as a ministry, are becoming increasingly open to selling Catholic books and products.
One Catholic distributor sees the changes as a sign of growing ecumenism, but it could also be a sign of pressure from U.S.-based retail giants like Wal-Mart and Costco.
Those retailers now see best-selling Christian fiction and non-fiction as hot commodities and are selling huge volumes of books like the popular Left Behind series or Rick Warren's A Purpose Driven Life, undercutting family-run businesses with discount prices.
Whatever the cause for the new openness, when Christian booksellers converge on Ottawa for the national convention of CBA Canada (Christian Booksellers' Association) Aug. 26-31, B. Broughton Company Ltd., the largest supplier of Catholic books and merchandise, will have three booths in prominent locations instead of the small, single booth Broughton's has occupied at previous regional CBA Canada conventions.
Broughton's national sales manager Stuart Sone said his company is selling to about 70 per cent of CBA stores now. Books are already a much easier sell, especially those by Catholic author Michael O'Brien, who will be showcased among other CBA authors from across North America.
Sone says five CBA bookstores recently cooperated on a promotion of O'Brien's apocalyptic literary thriller Father Elijah, selling more than 200 copies.
"We still have some customers who won't sell rosaries, or medals or statues, but it's changing," Sone said, noting that rosaries are sold inside First Communion sets in some of the stores that won't sell them separately.
"I think the Christian stores have finally seen the light, really, that they get Catholic customers in and they've been sending them away and throwing them to their competition," he said.
Leading the way for the sale of Catholic products is Les Reynolds of the Blessings Christian Marketplace, the largest chain with 27 stores across the country.
In a telephone interview, Reynolds said Blessings became involved five years ago when it opened a store to serve pilgrims - mostly Catholic aboriginal people - at Lac Ste. Anne, Alta.
Through that store, Blessings began building relationships in the Catholic community.
Reynolds says that even within evangelicalism there are differences that need to be overcome.
He admits that at first about 30 per cent of his people were uncomfortable with Catholic product. "We went through the process of educating our people."
Reynolds says the Catholic Church is also doing a better job explaining its doctrines and practices and "that's been a tremendous eye-opener for us."
"The challenge is that a lot of evangelical people have a mistaken idea of what things mean," he said.
CBA Canada executive director Marlene Coghlin says CBA Canada has always had "the welcome mat out" for Catholics.
Coghlin points out that several CBA suppliers such as Sperling's Church Supply, Novalis and Augsburg-Fortress also provide Catholic books and products. She attributes much of the growth in Catholic products to Sone's sales ability.
Both Sone and Coghlin acknowledge that some of the move to open up across denominational lines may also come from economic pressure from big retailers.
"That's a huge problem, the national chains carrying the books, and it's not so much they are losing the book sales, it's the incremental sales," Sone said. Usually when a customer comes in to buy a book, he or she will buy other books or products, too.
Sone said Costco approached Broughton's to make a deal after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope.
"We turned them down," Sone said. "It would have killed our other customers. We appreciate what our customers do for us. We are loyal to them."
Broughton's does sell to Chapters, but Chapters sells at the same retail price as the Christian and Catholic bookstores. "If they were undercutting the Ma and Pa stores, we wouldn't sell to them."
"Companies in the States are killing the market by selling to Wal-Mart," he said.
Coghlin says that what distinguishes CBA stores is excellence in customer service, personalized care and product knowledge.
"A mass marketer isn't going to know which Bible I should be looking for for my 16-year-old daughter," Coghlin said.
"The CBA retailer has ministry as the foundation of everything they are doing. The mass marketer is just selling," she said. "CBA retailers, they are the gatekeepers to the integrity of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whether put out through a Catholic or an evangelical store."