Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Service Cross

An older man phoned today. He related part of his story to us. In 1966 when he was in Viet Nam he had an Episcopal Church Service Cross attached to one of the cords on his parachute. He found it very comforting when he was descending in his chute into a war zone.

Over the years he has missed having that Service Cross with him. When he found it available on our website he was very happy and phoned us so that we could send one to him.

Helping veterans connect with their past in positive ways is just one small but significant part of this ministry-which-is-the-store.

Thanks for “listening.”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Contrasts of three businesses, and what will the future bring?

The bookstore giant Borders is going out of business and is for all intents and purposes a failed business. It is reported that the decision makers at Borders made a series of bad decisions over many years. They initially farmed out to Amazon their online sales when they should have been growing their own website. They invested heavily in music CDs just as the market for CDs was collapsing. Their heavy investment in large stores in malls across the country saddled them with real estate commitments that kept them from being flexible and adjustable to changing conditions.

Elliot Handler died recently, at age 95. Mr. Handler and his wife grew a different business. It was named Mattel. Mattel began as a small home-based picture-frame business that branched into toys. They created a brand of small cars, Hot Wheels. Mrs. Handler created the Barbie doll in 1959 and named it after their daughter. The Handlers made different business decisions than did Borders, with very different results.

Nancy and I own and manage our single-location religious bookstore. It remains a ministry for us as well as a business. Almost daily we are confronted with decisions that would affect the future of the ministry and the business. Do we try to compete on price with the Big Boys? Can we afford to offer discounts like many big retailers or will we continue to offer our books at fair market prices and help assure the continuing progress of this endeavor? Should we increase our take home pay to be comparable to other businesses or keep the money in the business to keep it healthy?

We exist in a niche market. So far any attempts to step out of our niche market have not been beneficial. We like our niche market. We have no desire to become either a Borders or a Mattel. We love our customers and our staff. Both are the best that we could imagine a business having. In putting our customers and our staff first we think that we will be able to continue as a healthy business for a while longer. And who can really expect more than that?

Who can know what will happen, even after August 2nd and the decision by the federal government to either raise the debt ceiling or not to? Will we survive if the country encounters a financial collapse? What happens to this ministry which is the store if our individual health suffers a major collapse? We continue to plan for a healthy future, as individuals and as a ministry and business, but who knows when events outside of our store will impact us all? So, we continue on in faith, trusting that good will come out of whatever happens, as we always have.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vegetarian reasoning

A woman shopped in our store yesterday for a prayer book. After several minutes she had decided on a prayer book with an imitation leather cover. At Check Out she mentioned that it was a difficult choice because she is a vegetarian and although she really wanted a leather prayer book she could not purchase one that was wrapped in a cow.

She seemed open to conversation, and she brought up the topic. It is one of my favorite topics; hearing which values of a person helps them decide to become a vegetarian or vegan, or not.

This woman stated that she does not eat mammals because they are too much like humans, who are also mammals. Besides, mammals have feelings so it’s not right to kill them and eat them.

“So, just mammals?”

"Until I met a woman who raised chickens. She showed me how much she loved chickens and how nice they were, so now I don’t eat poultry. As I get older I am becoming more selective in what I eat.”

“But it is okay for you to take a nice fresh, live carrot an peel its outer skin off and eat it live?”

“Carrots are alive, but they don’t have feelings. Although it is kind of bad that I eat them when they are alive.”

I find it fascinating that some individuals offer the reason that they won’t eat certain foods because those organisms have feelings and other foods do not have feelings. Two aspects fascinate me about it. Having feelings becomes a very important determiner. How do we know for sure which living things do have feelings and which ones don’t? Or, perhaps, how much feeling is needed to cross the threshold of “feeling?” Have you ever been fishing and poked a worm with a hook, or perhaps gardening and noticed a half a worm squirming? Do worms have feelings? (Worms are just an example of a "lower" animal that feels pain. I know, most of us don't eat earthworms--knowingly. "What's worse than a worm in an apple? A half a worm in an apple!" Fact check: there are apple worms that are not earthworms.)

There are many aspects to our decisions of what we think is ethical to eat and what is not. The cattle were not killed, “harvested,” for their hides, but for their meat. So is it cruel to then use their hides to cover a book? Is it ethical to drink milk from a cow when the cow is not harmed, and it may be argued that it is helpful to the cow to be milked? Where does it fit in the decision about eating animals or their products whether it is ethical to use their excrement for fertilizing our plants that we accept as food?

I’m thinking of a diet where no living things are harmed. It could include fruit from trees, like apples, because the tree will produce apples whether we eat them or not, but not carrots or potatoes because they give up their lives for the harvest. And not grains or corn, because it is “toast” for the plants that produce them. Perhaps vine produce is okay. Grapes and berries. Squash, pumpkins, and watermelons? You can pick them without killing the plant. And, milk, cheese and eggs would be okay because the animals do not die as a result of the harvesting. Oh, the eggs would need to be unfertilized, otherwise we are eating babies.

Some individuals eat in order to stay alive. The starving may not care where their food comes from as long as they can eat some and live a little longer or a little better. Others have the great luxury of choosing a diet based upon their ethical standards. I find examining the ethical decisions that we make about our diets to be fascinating topic.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A thought on a dark, rainey Saturday morning in July.

I expressed this in a message to a friend this morning and include it here to share with you.

Some stuff that I have been reading lately has been referring to how God is present in our worship services, in our sanctuaries, and even in the adoration of the consecrated communion host. And I think "How narrow is that thinking!" God is with us all the time. St. Patrick's Breast Plate: before me, above me, beneath me, around me, in me. God is there before we get there, wherever "there" is. We don't have to go to church to be in God's presence. Yes, it is good to worship together. Worshipping together can heighten our sense of Presence, but it is not the only place where God is.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Inspiration from one customer/friend's life

This is an exerpt from a message from a customer/friend. It inspires me to care for others and not just myself.

Well, let me just tell you and your wife that, as you know, there are several places online to purchase these types of items, but because of your outstanding customer service, for me, there is only one place online and that is the Episcopal Bookstore.

**** is my families business. I'm a writer, but I moved back to Colorado to help out my family with their business. My father's health is not all that great. I write books as well as bits for celebrities including **** and ****. I had to leave my beloved church in Hollywood, St. *****, which I am a member. But I know in time I will return. So my identity as an Episcopalian is something I hold near and dear. Thank you for products that help me to remember who I am and why I love Christ (my family are Non Denominational). Thanks again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The best customers in the world, chapter 357

This morning a new customer entered our store. Her priest told her to visit us to shop for a new study bible. She has worn out her old one. (!)

I offered four books for her consideration and encouraged her to sit at the nearby desk, opened them to the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggested that she read the study resources in each one for comparison. Twenty minutes later she said that she had decided on the book that she wanted. It surprised her because it was not the one that she thought that she was going to choose when she began.

She also informed me that she had inadvertently tore one page of one of the books, not the one she was buying. It was page 1884. She had laid another bible on top of it, then slid the top one off which tore the thin paper on the bible beneath. She was willing to purchase the $52.00 bible with the tear on page 1884.

We negotiated a compromise. I reduced the price of that volume by four dollars and wrote on the price label, “As is” “Page 1884” and the reduced price.

The woman insisted that she pay the $4.00.

How many customers in how many stores would have quietly closed the bible with the torn page and returned it to the shelf? Not this one. Not our customer.

We have the best customers in the world!