|VBS goes year round at retail|
|Written by Dr. Julie Horner|
|Wednesday, 07 October 2015 10:50 AM America/New_York|
Adopt a monthly checklist to stay on track for VBS success
Christian retailers can serve as vital partners to the church in the ministry of Vacation Bible School. If your store has a well-planned effort to promote VBS resources, you’re all set! But if you have never carried VBS resources or stopped doing so a few years back, the following checklist is designed to help you reconsider getting involved in this life-changing ministry.
The bustling holiday season may not be the time you want to think about VBS product plans for 2016, but VBS has been on the minds of early planners for some time.
Order VBS product. Choose which VBS kits to stock and which ones to order by customer request. Having at least a few kits on display will remind customers that the local Christian retail store is a helpful resource for this ministry need. Plan for demo kits so that customers can open them to see what comes inside. Add catalogs and other VBS promotions to the order so that shoppers will be able to pick up information about the different theme options available for their outreach ministry fun.
Schedule a VBS showcase. Offering a special opportunity for customers to explore VBS options lets the local Christian store help churches decide on their theme and curriculum. Get the date(s) on the calendar even if plans about what kind of event to offer are not finalized. Some stores invite customers to gather as the store closes one evening. Others choose a Saturday morning or afternoon session if there is space in the store to host a gathering and allow customers to freely shop at the same time (see the February/March section below for more event ideas).
Think beyond the typical VBS customer. While VBS is often directed by the same children’s ministry leader year after year, the potential customer base has expanded through the church in unusual ways or even outside the church. For example, VBS kits are used for mission trips both at home and abroad. A church in Fairbanks, Alaska, held its own VBS and then hosted it again as an outreach in a neighboring community. A church in Springfield, Missouri, hosted a one-day “missions trip at home” to reach kids—and parents—needing childcare on a day off from school. Christian schools, daycares, churches with day camps and faith-based after-school ministries are additional customers to connect with regarding VBS.
Start promoting early. Reaching these new customers about VBS begins now. With all the traffic coming through the store during the holidays, consider announcing a VBS event with posters on the door and flyers in every shopping bag. This allows customers to plan ahead and get the showcase date on their calendar. It also introduces VBS options to nontraditional customers as they shop for Christmas. Add the same information to your store’s website and all social media outlets early in 2016.
With Christmas products packed up, it’s time to dedicate more shelf space to VBS products.
Set up a VBS product display. Decide where to display the VBS resources. Some stores add this line to the children’s area, but nontraditional VBS customers may not stop there. Other stores feature VBS more prominently near the front of the store. Add some signage to draw customers’ attention to traditional and alternative ministry uses of VBS resources.
Label VBS demo kits and determine checkout policy. For demo kits that customers can open, considering labeling not only the box but also every piece that’s inside, just to be sure all of the products are easy for customers to match with the right kit. If customers can check out the demo kits, establish a policy and train staff members to carry out the plan. It’s not unusual to charge customers for the kit and then refund their money when the kit is returned. This helps to assure that the customer returns the demo kit promptly or covers the expense if they opt to keep it.
Promote new VBS resources on social media. Posting pictures on Facebook, Twitter and your store’s website is a great way to alert customers that products are in stock.
Test customer traffic with different VBS display locations. Consider testing a couple of locations in the store to see if there is a difference in customer awareness and response. Try different signage to alert customers about nontraditional uses of VBS. A portable shelving system makes testing different locations easier or provides an easily accessible backstock of products.
Now that the VBS display is ready, it’s time to finalize plans for hosting a VBS showcase event. Consider these ideas:
Host a VBS showcase. Some stores host an evening or Saturday morning event and invite attendees to listen to presentations about each kit. This is an efficient way to give buyers an overview of the options. If you’re not sure how to give the presentations, contact VBS suppliers to see if they have presenters and other resources available, or assign store staff to become familiar with a kit and present it. Consider asking church VBS directors to do the same and offer a discount to customers who would make a presentation. Also try to invite customers who have used VBS kits for mission trips and other nontraditional uses to share their ideas.
Set up expanded kit displays. After your VBS showcase, consider leaving the displays up for a few days if your store has the space. VBS customers might appreciate knowing they can still examine the kits even if they couldn’t make the event. (Don’t forget to let customers know on social media.) For example, if the event is Thursday after the store closes, continue to display the theme kits through the weekend.
Try a VBS make-and-take event. VBS themes often come with fun craft and snack ideas, so why not make an open house hands-on by inviting kids and adults to participate? Set up snack and craft stations based on ideas featured in VBS kits to let customers “try out” the theme before they buy the curriculum.
Spread the word about church VBS outreaches. Become an even more vital ministry partner by offering to promote community VBS events to customers. In addition to placing posters in the store window, share the events through the website and Facebook page. Plan ahead by making a note of who hosts a VBS, and add them to a mailing list for next year.
Manage VBS inventory. Note that VBS purchases for ancillary items increase as kit sales decrease. Review stock levels and place orders as needed to provide easy access to resources for your customers.
Add prize options to the VBS display. Many churches look for affordable prizes for kids who attend VBS, so be sure to display best-selling items that might make great prizes near your store’s VBS display. Keep in mind that a VBS participant may or may not regularly attend church, so featuring easy-to-read kids Bibles, comic books and DVDs are ways to help churches send the Christian message home with kids.
Be prepared for customers’ last-minute purchases. Since most VBS events are Monday through Friday, the preceding weekend and Monday evening will be times when churches are looking for extra student resources like T-shirts and other themed items. Consider alerting staff to watch the VBS display area for customers who need extra help finding what they need. The VBS director might have sent a willing volunteer who isn’t quite sure what they are looking for among the many VBS resources on your store shelves.
Celebrate the VBS successes and pray for effective outreaches. Remember that VBS is all about introducing kids to Jesus, so pray together as a staff for the events happening at churches each week. Ask customers who rush in for extra items how their outreach is going. Watch the websites and Facebook pages of area churches, and share VBS testimonies on Facebook and your other social media outlets.
Return overstock. Check the return policies of all of your VBS vendors to ensure you send back leftover kits and related products on time. Some vendors require that returns be completed by an Aug. 15 deadline. Don’t get stuck with products no one will want next year!
Most VBS events in your community will be done by now, so it’s time to transition the display.
Extend the VBS season. Not all outreach resources become extinct at the end of summer, so consider keeping a smaller display through the year. For example, Group Publishing offers holiday event outreaches that are fun ways for churches and Christian schools and daycares to reach out to families. MEGA Sports Camp kits continue to be available through the school year to allow churches and schools to follow the sports seasons for their events.
Effective outreach doesn’t always require an elaborate VBS program to reach kids. Evangelism can happen right in your store too! Make a permanent display in the kids’ area that includes simple salvation items. Place items in an easy-to-reach area so that kids who come into the store will find these resources. Whether you choose to go all out for VBS or simply add salvation resources in your kids area, as a Christian retailer, you can choose to be a significant part of outreach in your community.
Dr. Julie Horner is the managing editor of learning resources with My Healthy Church in Springfield, Missouri.