Have you heard this little saying at any time: ‘I saw a guy today at Starbucks. He had no smartphone, tablet or laptop. He just sat there drinking his coffee. Like a psychopath.’
I laughed when I first read it. And then just today I saw it happen first hand. In fact it was a little off-putting. I had some agreements that I wanted to read through in quiet, so I did the school run, dropped the kids off to school, and headed to one of my favorite cafes for a coffee.
As I sat there with my head down, not gazing at anyone, I lifted my head at one point and noticed that everyone was doing the same. Everyone was either on a laptop, a tablet, or the takeaway crew were on their smartphones. No-one was just sitting there contemplating.
And them I saw this one psychopath. She was literally just sitting there waiting for her coffee. She was just staring into space.. As I saw her, I immediately thought about how smartphones in particular are ruining peoples’ ability to just… think.
Thinking, contemplating, dreaming are some of the most important things we will ever do. Yet in this digital age, especially with the distraction of social media, I often wonder if people give their minds any time to actually just wander. To think thoughts, dream dreams, instead of watching everyone else’s highlights on social media.
We have just come off the back of all the New Year’s resolutions that are made, but truth be told, if this year is going to look different to last year, then we need to do something different. We need to stop and think. Let our minds wander and wonder. That’s where the new ideas are.
The bible says in Acts 2:17 ‘your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’ But this can only occur when we give our minds the space to just think. There is nothing wrong with working flat out at a café. I do it all the time. But the point is, do you allow any time in your day and week to walk, write, sit and just think about your life, your dreams and desires, and what you potentially need to do differently to bring them to pass?
Having temporarily moved to Melbourne, I have been in the unusual situation of working out of my bedroom. As a long-time exponent of working from home, I was surprised to find this situation very challenging. With several project dead-lines looming, there was little opportunity to get out and about. With this in mind, I decided to try out a few of the co-working spaces across Melbourne. Initially sceptical if any real work could be achieved in these spaces, I have been surprised to discover just how great co-working can be. So what is co-working?
Essentially a co-working space is a flexible work environment shared by people running independent businesses or projects. Often a large open area, the spaces are typically occupied by consultants, contractors, freelancers and startups. Most offer hot-desk options, from 1 to 5 days per week, as well as fixed desk locations, where you can setup permanently. Access agreements are typically monthly or quarterly, with almost all spaces offering a 1-day free trial.
All spaces offer high speed Internet, kitchen and coffee facilities, meeting rooms and 24×7 access. Common extras often include high quality printing, ergonomic chairs, phone answering services, mailboxes, storage, support groups and mentoring. Some of the larger spaces have regular community events and classes for yoga and meditation, guest speakers, accountability groups, lunches, evening drinks and networking events.
One of the major complaints of long-term at home workers is social isolation and loneliness. So crucially, co-working spaces provide a sense of community, and opportunities to make new contacts and friends. Even if you are not often speaking with those working around you, the spaces tend to have a background hum of comforting energy.
A hive of activity
Being surrounded by people excited to be working on their business or startup venture is contagious. According to a Deskmag (2010) study on co-working, 85% of respondents said they were more motivated since moving into a co-working space. I have personally found it impossible not to be focused in this type of environment. You also are unlikely to be running to the fridge or TV every 5 minutes for a distraction break.
Sure, you can’t just roll out of bed and get to work. However I submit that working in your pyjamas is only fun for so long, especially when clients drop past unexpectedly. Creating physical separation between home and work is a better approach over the longer term. Getting up and ready, heading outside for some sunshine and off to work, is of great benefit to your physical and mental well-being.
Unless you are out participating, you are not going to expand your business network. On my first tour of a co-working space, I met a programmer working on building a mobile phone app. This common interest resulted in lunch and instant collaboration on a project. There is no doubt when coworking, you are going to meet like-minded people on similar journeys, ready to share their experience and connect you into their network.
Can I use my phone?
Often my phone runs off the hook, so my first question was, can I use my phone and will I have to whisper? It turns out that most co-working spaces are noisy. People are constantly taking calls, some quieter than others. As a result many work with head-phones on. With that said, depending on your style of work, it is important to find a co-working space that suits you. If you need total silence to get work done, co-working might not be for you.
Use Public Transport
Choose a co-working space you can get to easily on public transport. Most are near the city, so driving in and finding parking during peak-hour is not going to inspire you to leave the comfort of your home-office. Coworking needs to be easy, otherwise you won’t make the effort to get there each day.
Choose a space that suits your working style
Some coworking environments are much louder and busier than others. Is a broken brick basement more your style, or the top of skyscraper with stunning views and light? Do you prefer a casual creative space, or do you need a corporate office style to impress your clients? Take the time to check out the different spaces to find one that suits.
So my fellow entrepreneurs, if your work day never seems to end, and you are constantly distracted by family, fridge or facebook, get yourself down to a co-working space for a tour ASAP!
I have been in the Christian marketplace since 2003 when we acquired a leading magazine called Alive. We never went out of our way to be in Christian media. The magazine was closing its doors, I was a young publisher, and so I thought I’d do my bit to help. Anyway, that is another story for another time.
Soon after taking on Alive, we acquired Christian Woman, and then we started Ark House Press, our book publishing division. Again all amazing stories for another time, suffice to say that through our magazines being available to purchase through Christian stores, plus our books also, this brought us in direct contact with the Christian retail industry, and in a fairly major way.
At this time the stores were pumping, and the Internet had not yet taken a major bite into the book market. Amazon was up and running, but was certainly not an immediate threat.
In fact life was imitating art a little in that Hollywood made the Warner Bros hit movie You’ve Got Mail. In the movie Tom Hanks is the big box retailer – probably modeled off Barnes & Noble – and Meg Ryan the small retailer who is going out of business because of the new mega bookstore opening across the road. And that’s the way the industry worked. The big guys could use their buying power to squeeze the life out of the small stores.
And then, seemingly overnight, this major asset became a major liability. As people started buying online, the big retailers were then left with massive stores and warehouses, and thus overheads that threatened to send them out of business.
But I believe it is a little more than this. Aside from the challenge of the Internet, I think we have seen a cultural change that has threatened the volumes that these stores shift. Certainly music is all digital, and DVDs are heading that way fast, but in terms of books, the market started to shift. I remember being in a meeting with the head buyer of a big chain and she told me that buying habits were changing. The motivational books by your big name pastors were starting to lose their flavor, and Christians were starting to become less interested in constantly feeding their own spiritual lives, and instead more worried about how to help with the problems in the world around them.
This cultural shift definitely left the stores vulnerable to the fact that people weren’t so quick to rush in and buy the latest Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen self help books. And with the decline in music, there were just not as many fast-moving products to prop up these expensive stores.
Retail is a high cost-low margin business. It is a very difficult industry, and it doesn’t take a lot to go wrong before it’s all over. In fact Family Christian back in 2011 had debts of over $100 million forgiven by all of their key suppliers so that they could continue to operate. The publishers and music labels knew they needed them in the market, so it was extraordinary that any creditor would ever just walk away and let their client start all over again.
But even Family Christian mark II could not make it happen – and I don’t really think, in today’s climate, there was ever the ability to keep 240 large Christian stores afloat with the power Amazon now wields.
It’s not just in America where stores are closing at rapid rate. The Wesley Owen chain in the UK closed all its stores, and then its online operation. The UK’s biggest distributor also went under some years back. In Australia Word Bookstores had 19 stores just a couple of years ago, and now they have none. Koorong, the biggest Christian retailer in Australia, has closed a few stores, but is now run by the not for profit Bible Society.
In New Zealand the major chain Manna has closed larger stores, and has kept its business moving by taking over the independent stores that are shutting up shop. It too is not for profit and seems to have created a good model to go forward with.
So all of this to say, is there a future for Christian retail? The answer is a resounding yes, but if done differently. If Meg Ryan’s character could see the changes to her industry today she would have the last laugh, as I personally believe it is the independent stores that stand the best chance. They are often owned by a husband and wife team, who staff the store, buy the stock behind the counter when there are no customers, and they therefore run on the lowest of costs.
The head office and centralized warehouse retail model might be on its knees, as those overheads just cost so much to carry. But one key reason Christian retail has a future is because of the strength of its supplier base. Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Warner Music, and all the major movie houses. These companies effectively own all of the content you buy in these stores.
When you buy a Zondervan or Thomas Nelson book, you’re buying from Harper Collins. When you buy a Baker, Multnomah, or Bethany House book, you’re buying from Random House. Veggietales is now owned by one of the major studios, Christian music comes from most of the mainstream music labels (if they are not the label, they are at worst the distributor), and so on. These companies are not going to disappear anytime soon, and so we are going to see a constant stream of new titles continue to appear. It’s just where they are purchased that might be different.
Even at our level, Ark House knows no bounds. The next area of growth is also in gift. This is perhaps the category that could really prop up the bookstores. As we all have digital fatigue, the magic of paper is returning. From journals to diaries, mugs and pens, gift is a big market – and people love to touch and feel it before they buy.
It’s sad people are buying less product from Christian outlets, but it is not dead. There is a pathway forward, but probably in an independent way. Or as part of a buying or marketing group, where individuals own the stores, but they come under a banner for the purposes of buying and marketing.
This market has been around for too long to just walk away. We may see more carnage yet, but rest assured that retail and the Christian products industry is here to stay. Whatever that looks like.
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