Glen and Wanda Knabe may be first time entrepreneurs, but considering Glen’s experience managing the shipping and online functions for the Bible House, and Wanda’s years in retail, they definitely bring relevant skills to the table. They’re also content creators, having written and marketed a children’s curriculum for several years, so they also have intuition about the creative side of the publishing business. Buying an existing business, such as the 40-year-old Bible House, would be intimidating for most people — but the decision seemed easy for the Knabes.
A few years back, Glen resigned a full-time preaching position to return to pursue graduate work. He needed income, and was employed by the previous owner as a shipper. Eventually his position evolved into managing the online store as well. “When Dennis decided to retire, he asked me if I would be interested in buying the store. Since I knew so much about it, it felt right.”
“I have managed different retail stores,” Wanda said, “so I understand how to track inventory and listen to customers.” She also realizes the importance of thoughtful merchandising, and has already set about revamping the store layout to be more customer friendly.
What will change under new ownership? Wanda is passionate about making shopping easier for parents, and providing enrichment for children. “We watch moms try to handle their children while they shop, and we’re now working on furnishing a special children’s area and rearranging the women’s studies section to be nearby — so parents can more easily keep an eye on the little ones. We’ll have a featured kids’ book each month and we’ll have a reading and craft in the Kid’s Corner to go along with that. Parents can order the book in advance and the children can take their copy home after the reading.”
Wanda is also evaluating vendors for gift items that would appeal to younger customers; for instance, she recently changed t-shirt vendors to one that provides a fresher look.
A relatively small space serves as both the office and their shipping and receiving area. Glen notes, “We have developed an agreement with our vendors to effectively act as our warehouse and ship on request,” which is convenient, but it also means it is essential that someone be monitoring inventory at all times.
Known as Bible House Supply, the well-established online portal has a national customer base.The online business is developed from what was originally a mail-order catalog business. “Dennis, the previous owner, invested heavily in traveling to conventions and trade shows for many years — and carefully cultivated his special order customer pipeline through doing that.” Glen explained. Supply orders from institutional accounts provided a stable revenue stream through lean times, which included a fire that destroyed the previous Bible House location and all the inventory. Glen emphasized the challenges of maintaining the portal well while being preoccupied with reconsidering the merchandising and making decisions about what lines to drop and which new lines they’ll bring on board.
A real area of growing opportunity is with LifeWay Christian Resources. The Nashville publisher closed all its corporate stores this year, so now their widely-used materials are finally available to independent retailers like the Bible Nook. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to upgrade our inventory and offer Bible studies and books by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer and Lysa Terkeurst. We can also special order older studies that might not be currently on the shelf.”
The Knabes’ guiding principle while in this transition year is “evolution, not revolution.” They want to try to understand the reason things were handled in a given way by the previous owner before making sweeping changes. The stability of the online business allows them a little more time and freedom to do that than a new owner of a brick-and-mortar retail shop might have.
So what inventory management software and other tools do they use? “Bookstore Manager is an integrated system that houses our online portal, tracks inventory and sales, provides analytics, and serves as our point-of-sale system. We use UPS Worldship and Stamps.com for our online shipping through the portal.”
What other advertising and promotion efforts have been effective? “Dennis used Google AdWords for a while, and had real short-term success generating orders. Then the store worked with a marketing company that tracked the Google analytics and emphasized some particular items and promoted those. We did see a significant increase in sales to new customers through that, but then eventually it ceased to be effective. We’re reevaluating those plans going forward.” In the meanwhile, the part time help is upping their social media game and planning for some organized promotion of the newly-available LifeWay studies and Kid’s Corner activities.