Watching a child read is a delightful thing. Children are so much more animated than we adults are and often use body language, intonation and even acting as they are going along. They normally don’t have the same inhibitions that we do and have been known to stop mid sentence to ask, “What does that mean?” or to say things like, “That doesn’t sound right.”
Each summer, CLC hosts a kids book reading program for children in the community and provides a reading list of suggested books as well as prizes for accomplishments that the kids make. At the end of the summer, we hold a big celebration and award the prizes in a fun and engaging way. This year, I was able to be at our Moorestown store when they held their end of summer party and what a party it was. Over 60 kids had signed up for the reading program during the summer and 30 or more showed up with their parents to see what they had won. Our team had connected with a local church that put on a puppet show for the kids and presented truths from the Bible in a fresh and innovative way. All the kids who had read the required number of books got a prize and enjoyed celebrating their accomplishments with our team. Interestingly and not surprisingly, none of the kids complained about being “made” to read and actually seemed excited about the books they had devoured.
Recently, I have been asked if I think that this next generation of kids will actually be readers at all when they grow up given the proliferation of distractions they face and the many gadgets that compete for their time. Some writers and futurists have even called this “the most distracted generation ever”. I beg to differ with that assessment. It seems to me that in every generation, there are distractions that vie for kids time whether it was chores and outdoor activities many years ago or the TV generation that I grew up in. More recently, parents and educators were wringing their hands at the advent of the internet generation and then Harry Potter came along. Who could have believed that pre-teens would stand in line at midnight to get a hardcover 400+ page book that they would take home and read immediately and then discuss ad nauseam with their friends.
As we think about the future of Christian retail and publishing, I believe that a focus on kids and our children’s product sections is essential. This is a category that is often overlooked and yet has great potential for ministry impact and financial viability. Too often, no one on our teams is assigned to nurture and grow this area of our stores and as a result, our products are not always meeting current needs and sit on the shelf far too long. This becomes a self defeating cycle and we can become tempted to reduce the shelf space for these items because we do not see them selling fast enough. Ironically, this is an area that may be least affected by the internet, e-books or price sensitivity. Rarely have I ever had a parent quibble about the price of a book if they feel that it is the right resource for their child. Additionally, grandparents are notoriously big spenders on educational presents for their grand children.
As we move into the future and consider how our stores must transform and evolve to meet the needs of consumers in this generation and the ones to come, it seems imperative that we refocus on this critical product category. Fortunately, many of our publishing partners and some leading Christian stores have already figured this out and are developing and featuring innovative new products. Recently, DaySpring launched recordable Christian story books into our marketplace that have been phenomenally successful in the secular marketplace in stores like Hallmark and others. What grandparent wouldn’t want to leave the legacy of a book read and recorded in their own voice for future generations to enjoy and remember them by.
Three keys steps must be taken for us to be successful in this venture:
1. We must hire and train team members who are passionate about kids and are willing to learn the products that are going to be key in this growing area.
2. We must stock the right products and keep on top of trends as interests do change with each successive generation. Developing a core list of hot items and keeping them in stock is vital.
3. Creating events to draw children and parents in to the store is critical. These can be as simple as a weekly reading time sponsored by the store or as elaborate as an annual kids day with games, activities and rides in the parking lot. The key is doing something to get them in the door.
I am more convinced than ever that the successful Christian retail store of the future will have kids at the center of the plan – they are our future.