Saturday, November 13, 2010

Encouraging words: Valley Book & Bible is holding onto its laststore.(Entrepreneurs)(Company overview).

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Dave Wilke is in the encouragement business.

He, his wife and her sister run Valley Book & Bible, a Christian book and gift store in Van Nuys.

You can't sell what you don't have, and despite a tenuous atmosphere for retail in general and books specifically, Wilke is encouraged.

Their business, like every other independent book store, has been hit hard by the technological revolution of the Internet.

"Beginning of 2000 we began to feel a real shift in retail sales," Wilke said.

"What's really cut into our channel the most is Internet retailers" he said. "That just really chewed up the channel. There is no question that if you think about ordering a book, you'll go check out Amazon."

There are a lot of things that his store can offer, but some things at which he cannot compete.

"What drives people to the Internet isn't price, but convenience," Wilke said. It's the nature of how we live our lives. "There's a lot of congestion and traffic; people don't have time."

Valley Book & Bible until recently had seven stores. "There was a big shift and we felt it. We lost a lost of our volume and which makes it impossible to pay your overhead costs in these smaller markets," referring to now-shuttered shops in Santa Barbara, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. "With rents, escalating payroll costs and volume dropping," Wilke said his business has been "chasing the market down for eight years."

Since they own the Van Nuys building, and the two neighboring storefronts, he's encouraged about the future.

"Going forward, we'll be profitable here because we do enough volume and our operating costs here are very low," he said. Next month, their Spanish-language department will be absorbed from the neighboring storefront and then both units will become rental spaces, adding a revenue stream.

Citing the closing of the icon of the region's independent bookstores, Dutton's Books in Brentwood, Wilke said property ownership has made the difference.

"All the independent stores are closing because their volume had dropped so much they can't cover their costs," he said, whereas not having to lease, "for us it makes a huge difference."

Plus, Wilke said, it makes a difference for other business people also. Economic vitality is dependent upon retailers, he said.

"Cash flow starts at my front door," Wilke said. The customer pays Wilke, and he pays his vendors, and "they pay them, and they pay them, and they pay them, and it goes all the way down to wherever," he said. "When retails slows down, it backs everybody up."

To counter the downward trend, Wilke has done some Internet marketing, uses direct mail to service his 45,000-name-long mailing list (25,000 have bought something in the last 12 months, he said), and put ads on basic cable channels like Animal Planet, ABC Family and Fox News.

Valley Book & Bible has a rebate program and has run a "bring a friend" incentive program giving away books discounted from publishers.

"We are very committed," he said. "This is still our passion. We love what we do."

The family has been loving it for 56 years. It's a third-generation family business. Wilke's wife, Heather, has been working there for 38 years; her sister Becky Kim has been there for 33 years; Wilke for 30.

The three make up the "core team" of the store. It was Heather Wilke's father Bill Kidder--he passed away about a year ago--and his mother Anna who started the store in 1952. Heather's brother, Nathan, stepped beyond the family business into radiology about the time that Valley Book & Bible was contracting into a smaller business.

One of their vendors, family-run H.J. Sherman Company in Van Nuys is a wholesaler, importer and distributor of religious items. Proprietor Jeff Sherman has known them for about 45 years, be guessed.

"We're really fond of them. We like the whole family and got along with the parents," Sherman said. "Dave will come by to pick up an order and we'll sit here yakking," he said.

"I remember when they had that tiny little store near Oxnard," Sherman said.

The store moved to its present location in 1982, further north on Van Nuys Boulevard. Wilke is committed to their mid-Van Nuys location.

After they closed the store in Canoga Park, Wilke said some of those customers remarked that "Van Nuys is just is so crime ridden."

Yet, he said "I've never had a security issue ... never a patrol or anything here."

But in Canoga Park, "There was a 24-hour guard at that center because we had so many problems," Wilke said.

"The perception is that was safe, this is dangerous and that is not accurate," he said.

Some people "will not drive past the 405 Freeway." To them, he said, "Everything west of the 405 is bad. l live in Chatsworth," he said, and "I love it down here. It's a great area." Once active in the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, Wilke is encouraged by recent internal developments in the group that has him considering returning to the group.

"If the business owners will put in the effort, and keep their property clean," he said, the business district would have a better image. The city has to do its part as well, he said.

"Infrastructure's not being taken care of, and it gives it a rundown look," he said. "There are just a lot of issues."

He tries to practice what he preaches.

"I try to lead by example. I'm not willing to ask any of my staff to do something that I'm not willing to do. Every day I sweep the lot. I sweep the gutter. I want everybody who comes to this building to say 'Hey, this is really clean here.' It's my therapy," Wilke said. That therapeutic attitude extends to the service they provide.

"Everybody who comes through he door, no matter how much they're smiling, at some level they're hurting," he said, noting that most people know someone who is sick, physically hurt or recently passed away.

"Everybody needs some encouragement. Where else are you going to find that in the Valley?"

Wilke said "We want people to feel that this is a place to come for encouragement."

It's the nature of the business, he said. "Our main focus is the word of God, that's why we're here."

That feeling is embodied in meeting the personal needs, not just the retail needs of their customers.

"One fellow is in prison for 15 years upstate. His father comes in every two weeks and sends his son a book. He comes in like anyone else and you'd never know it, until he told you. This is a tremendous heartache for him and he's encouraging his son," he said. It's not as if he's "going to go into a hardware store and send him a screwdriver and hammer. This changes lives."

Wilke winds another example around that point.

"When we sell a Bible to someone we ask them 'who is this for?' 'I'm going give this to my daughter who just lost her husband.' 'Well, what's her name? Let's say a prayer for her.' It just takes a minute. We're sincere about it, and not because we're selling them a Bible, but because we care about them," Wilke said.

"You can't do that on the Internet."


Valley Book & Bible

Location: Van Nuys

Established: 1952, current location since 1982

Revenue in 2007: $1 million+

Revenue in 2008: (estimated)$1 million+

Employees in 2007: 14

Employees in 2006: 8


Senior Reporter

Source Citation
Hames, James. "Encouraging words: Valley Book & Bible is holding onto its last store." San Fernando Valley Business Journal 13.7 (2008): 23. General OneFile. Web. 13 Nov. 2010.
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