There was big news in the world of Christian retailing with the recent announcement that the 280 strong Family Christian store chain was closing all its outlets. After 85 years in business, Michigan-based Family Christian Stores, which employs 3,000 people in 36 states abruptly announced that it is shuttering all 240 of its locations nationwide. The store count reached its zenith in 2000 when the chain consisted of 356 stores in 39 states.
The last few years have been difficult for Family Christian Stores. Until 1993, the chain was part of Zondervan, the Christian publishing company that owns the copyright to the New International Version of the Bible. In 2012, the management team and a group of Atlanta-based Christian businessmen purchased the company from the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners which was the majority owner since 1999. The new owners pledged that 100% of store profits would go towards ministries serving widows and orphans. But only $300,000 was ever contributed to charities over the following two years, exhibiting how slim the margins were on the $450 million in gross sales the chain generated over the same period.
Revenue continued to decline and the chain sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2015 noting that annual sales had fallen 29% from 2008 to 216 million in 2015. At the time of the bankruptcy suppliers forgave Family Christian Stores $127 million in debt so that the chain could remain open. The final shoe dropped on February 23rd when, Family Christian President Chuck Bengochea made the announcement that “despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales have continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market. We had two very difficult years’ post-bankruptcy,” stated Bengochea, blaming “changing consumer behavior and declining sales” the difficult decision to liquidate was our only recourse.”