A number of LifeWay Christian Stores face closure, LifeWay Christian Resources president Thom Ranier said in a e-mail to employees Jan. 15.
According to Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention-owned publisher is shifting to a new “dynamic digital strategy” after years of losing money at its brick-and-mortar stores.
The last time LifeWay’s sales exceeded its total operating expenses was 2009. LifeWay’s total assets increased over the same period, due in part to sale of its 14.5-acre campus in Nashville, Tennessee for a reported $125 million cash in 2015.
In 2013 LifeWay disposed of the 2,400-acre Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico for $1, saying the camp opened by Southern Baptists in 1952 had become a financial drain.
Rainer, who is set to retire in August, didn’t say how many of the chain’s 174 storefronts will close or when. Rainer told employees he had hoped a new model announced last year making stores more inviting places to hang out and read would result in greater sales, but instead “we have seen an accelerated rate of erosion in recent months.”
The move toward digital sales follows an industry trend. Family Christian Stores, a LifeWay competitor with 240 stores selling books and other religious merchandise, went out of business in 2017, blaming “changing consumer behavior and declining sales.”
With the closing of Book World in 2017, Amazon Books, owned by the online retailer that changed the way America shops, became the fourth-largest bookstore chain. Amazon forced Borders, once the second largest bookstore chain in the country, out of business in 2011. Sales at Barnes & Noble, the largest book retailer in the U.S., have been on the slide for 11 years.
“In simple terms, a strategic shift is required for moving more and more of our resources to a dynamic digital strategy,” Rainer wrote to LifeWay workers. “We will be transitioning many of those resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels. The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.”
According to The Tennessean, LifeWay spokeswoman Carol Pipes said some workers were laid off this week, but she did not have the exact number.