Friday, October 05, 2007

Selling Books in the Church: Welcome to the 80s

This is the fifth post in a six part series on establishing and maintaining a church book table, stall, or store. Many of the ideas and experiences are based on the bookstall at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC where I have been blessed to serve as Deacon of Bookstall for over two and a half years. This post walks through the implementation of a basic electronic point of sale system.

Do We Need a Bar Code Scanner?

As I mentioned in the prior post, we made do without an electronic sales system for ten years. What pushed us to spend the money to implement one? In our case there were two factors.

First, based on the advice of our attorneys, we began to collect and remit sales tax for books sold at the bookstall. Prior examination of this issue had considered only whether we owed income tax on books sold (no, we don’t make money off the books) or whether we needed to pay sales tax on books purchased (no, we’re buying for resale).

Second, our sales reached a point at which it was difficult to handle particularly busy times using our paper-based system. Particularly during 9Marks Weekenders and on holiday weekends, we found that lines were long and accuracy decreased. In the past several weeks, we have seen an increase in accuracy and a dramatic increase in transaction speed where multiple items are purchased.

We installed a fairly basic POS system. We chose Wasp’s QuickStore Standard software though, in retrospect, I should have chosen a package tailored for book sales. We also purchased a very inexpensive tower computer, a bar code scanner, receipt printer, and label printer. We purchased label creation software from Wasp (to create and print labels for items that do not have barcodes), and we purchased a 19” LCD monitor. When the stand was removed from the monitor, it fit snugly into the top of the lockable media cart we purchased to hold the system.

It would be easier to install a system like this when a bookstall is started, but it may not immediately make sense to invest over $1500 in this sort of hardware and software. To transition from the paper-based system to the electronic system, I spent a full Friday and two of us spent a full Saturday calculating new prices, re-pricing books, manually entering data into the new system, and assembling, installing, and testing. Of course, this will take more or less time depending on the current stock levels (we had about 800 books spread across 300 titles) and the state of your data before the transition. Had we previously tracked publishers, we could have imported most of the data using a comma delimited file.

As expensive as this sort of system may seem to those who have no book ministry or who have only a small book table; my hope is that our experience demonstrates that an electronic system may make sense at some point down the road – and that it can be done without transforming your ministry into a full-fledged bookstore.

J.A. Ingold is Deacon of Bookstall at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. You can see what he’s reading at Bookpress.

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