The Future of ABCs: What Are They Doing to Stay Afloat?
Story by Debra McKinney Banks
For many years, the conference Adventist Book Center (ABC) was the place to get your “veggie meat.” Traditionally, located in the basement or backroom of a conference office building, church, or on an academy campus, and mostly geared to Adventist customers, the ABC of 20+ years ago has had to evolve to stay alive. Unfortunately, not all of them have survived.
In November 2016, the Pennsylvania ABC located on the campus of Blue Mountain Academy in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, closed their doors—the second ABC to do so since the Ohio ABC ceased operations at the end of 2013. Former patrons are now being redirected to other ABCs in the Columbia Union, to churches or schools that are operating small stores, or to contact the main Adventist Book Center (www.AdventistBookCenter.com) to place orders for books and resources.
Now only four ABCs are currently operating in the Columbia Union. One of them is in the Chesapeake Conference on the campus of Highland View Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. “We are very conscious about keeping costs down,” says Choi who is the business manager for the academy and also assists the store by serving as the ABC manager. “We hire students to reduce overhead and are careful with our inventory so that we don’t order so much that we are not able to sell it.” Choi is also looking to increase marketing for new customers and having monthly sales to encourage regular patrons to keep coming back.
Ronald Reeves, manager of CBL (Cummings, Beasley, LaGrone) Resource Center at the Allegheny East Conference office in Pine Forge, Pa., has seen the need for a paradigm shift. “As they say: location, location, location. The old model works if you are in a good location. Our location makes no sense to cater to foot traffic,” explains Reeves. CBL primarily focuses on institutions, churches and schools by facilitating pre-orders for large amounts of product. “The way we see the industry panning out, we have drifted away from the typical ABC model. We no longer carry large amounts of inventory to simply sit on the shelves and lose money.”
In New Jersey, the ABC managed by Rivera is combined with the Adventist Community Services (ACS) ministry of the church. “Our focus is not so much as a retailer, but to provide support to the community through ACS,” says Rivera. As people from the county come to the free ACS food pantry each week, they ask questions about the vegetarian food and books prominently displayed. “We are then given the opportunity to share about our faith and the health message, all the while building relationships with individuals from the community that would not otherwise have shadowed our doorstep.”
Several years ago, LivingWell in the Potomac Conference moved their operation to a strip mall with ample foot traffic from busy shoppers visiting the Target also located there. “Seventy percent of our customers are non-Adventist,” says Wolf. Always looking to connect better with their customers, LivingWell continues to take a proactive approach and frequently analyzes the buying patterns of their clientele and makes marketing decisions based on their findings. “We have to be smart about being good stewards and business minded so we can continue to help people lead healthy physical lives through our ministry.”
*Blue Mountain Academy is opening a Health Food Store on their campus in Hamburg, Pa., February 19.