One hundred eighty miles west of Omaha, in Kearney, Nebraska, stands The Solid Rock. Dubbed “Your Inspirational Department Store” and run by Bill and Ila Ballou for the last 42 years, it’s become a community fixture.
The couple was living and working in New York when they purchased the Nebraska store. Ila hailed from Nebraska and her parents knew they’d be interested in operating a Christian bookstore. According to Bill, “this one was on the market, so we bought it and lived happily ever after.”
BLESSINGS AND BIBLE STUDIES
Ballou is quick to acknowledge God’s blessing on their business. “Obviously, it’s been the Lord’s leading,” he says. But he has also made some savvy decisions.
“We wanted to be what I guess you’d call cutting edge,” he adds. “I brought in a lot of Bible study materials. We centered on being a bookstore for laypeople. We wanted to have Bible studies. People who are involved in Bible studies and outreach are going to be those who are sharing their faith with others, and that’s how the church is going to expand.”
The store strove to have a Bible study selection that very few stores carried. “Just about any viable Bible study book that was available at the time, we brought them in,” he says. “Then we brought in resource materials like commentaries, Bible study helps, Bible handbooks, and things like that. We heard from a number of people that we had one of the better selections.”
CUSTOMER SERVICE FIRST
In addition to their selection, the Solid Rock has maintained a passion for customer service.
“We’ve weathered some storms through the years,” says Ballou. “But in our store we’ve tried to feature customer service. We have a neat and clean store. We want to have friendly help. We’re convinced that people want more than just a good price on things. We’ve found that if you give good customer service and have a store that is pleasant and attractive, you can become a destination for a lot of people.
“We want to function the way the Lord would have us to do,” he continues. “If we can give people a good break on price, we do. A number of times I find that we can give churches and others a better price than what they’ll get on Amazon or from the discounters because publishers sometimes offer us discounts.”
“I think there’s a future in retailing,” says Ballou, “but it’s going to be tough. You have to be pretty good stewards of your finances and keep track of what inventory is selling.”
His advice? “Run your stores as lights in the midst of the darkness. Trust in the Lord. Do the honest thing. Have an inventory that reflects your community. We’ve always carried a cross-denominational selection. Some stores early on wouldn’t carry charismatic books. Other Christian stores wouldn’t carry Catholic materials. You can’t start segregating out an audience,” he says. “You should maintain a flavor in your bookstore that reflects the Christian community where you are.”
THE YO-YO MAN
One of the great flavors in Bill Ballou’s personality is his penchant for yo-yos. In fact, he is known as the yo-yo man at CBA’s trade shows and estimates raising over $100,000 for various causes through the years using his yo-yos. If he’s giving a talk, he might use 15 to 20 different yo-yos. His grand finale usually includes either a Hallmark greeting card yo-yo that he ties in with the fact that God “cared enough to send His very best” or a flower-pot yo-yo that includes a poem based on Galatians 6:7.