New location, look, and product keep Mustard Seed going strong.
As long-time customers of their local Christian bookstore, Jared and Tamara Lund knew its value to the community— Tamara had even dreamed of working there, and Jared’s mom had. But when the opportunity came for them to take over the business, they also knew they needed to reinvent it, in some ways, to ensure its survival.
Building on the best of the past while better aligning for the future has kept the couple busy over the last couple of years since they became owners of Mustard Seed Market in Alexandria, Minnesota. But their efforts— including a new location, a new name, and a new look—are paying off.
“It has been a challenge, but I’m confident we’re heading in the right direction now,” says Jared. “January was 25 percent up, which gave us the bump we were looking for. We have stopped the arrow heading south.”
Dating back to 1974, the former Mustard Seed Christian Book and Gift store had long been a feature in the small downtown, with the pluses and minuses of familiarity. Customers knew what they could find there, but other people made assumptions about the store that kept them away.
“A lot of people grew up with the old Mustard Seed, so they think it’s their grandma’s store,” says Tamara.
Changes like bringing in a P. Graham Dunn personalization center have attracted a lot of first-time visitors looking for unique engraved gifts. “We were looking for something where we could stand out in the community a bit more,” says Tamara. “We love that machine.”
The laser-engraving unit not only brings shoppers back again, it can also increase sales while they are there. Because it takes a few minutes to complete a request, “it’s not long enough for them to leave the store, so they wander around and see other things and will end up buying a card or a book,” Jared adds. “It has worked really well for us.”
Another big factor in breathing new life into the business has been relocating, just before Christmas. After years at their downtown location, Mustard Seed is now in a strip mall a couple of miles away, in a thriving new part of town. Two neighboring large-box stores bring more traffic to the area, and there’s a coffee bar a couple of doors down whose customers will often wander over.
Changing the name has not only signaled that the store is under new ownership, but that its emphasis is a little different. “We added the word ‘market’ to keep curiosity there and to let people know there’s more than you think,” says Tamara. No longer a book and gift store, it’s now “a gift shop that sells books,” she adds.
As part of their reinvention, the Lunds have changed the look of the store. It has a rustic feel in keeping with the “market” theme. Out went the old glass displays, replaced with an eclectic range of antique staging pieces, including an old enamel stove. The light fixtures over the checkout are made from milk bottles, a nod to Jared’s past years as a dairy farmer.
Despite the greater emphasis on gifts— “overall, they carry the story,” reports Tamara—the Lunds have made sure the Bible is a feature, even though it accounts for only 10 percent of sales. The store’s Bible center is clearly signed in the center of the store, an L-shaped counter where customers can handle and compare editions and versions. The Lunds also provide helps like a guide to different translations and a font size chart. “We give the Bibles special attention, and that has been very warmly accepted,” says Jared.
One simple trick has helped their customer service in the Bible department. They called churches in their area to find out which translation each used and made a reference list. “A lot of people will come in wanting a Bible for church and not know what version they use there,” says Jared.
The Lunds offer a 20 percent discount on every Bible. “We felt very strongly when we started that we wanted to make the Word of God affordable for people, and with some Bibles these days you are talking up to $80,” says Tamara. “The best part of our job is when we can match up the right Bible to the right person, whether it is for them or they are gifting it,” she says. “If we can sell one Bible it makes our day, because the truth is going out the door with someone, and that’s what it is all about.”
Another tweak the Lunds have made is beefing up offerings for men, with hunting, fishing, and outdoor lines acknowledging those interests in the surrounding area. Sometimes they will both wear camo, though Tamara sets hers off with a pair of rhinestone earrings.
“We’re smart but casual,” she says. “We want everyone to feel welcome, like they’ve just walked through our front door at home.”
The easygoing style extends to the way they banter with each other. “Some people hang in the store because they are entertained by us,” says Jared, who makes a point of engaging any guys who come in. “If they have a jacket or a hat with a logo on, I’ll start a conversation about whatever it is.”
With an informal customer survey showing little return on advertising, the store has cut back there and is relying on social media and word-of-mouth to promote the store.
“We’re just doing our best to love on every customer that comes in, treat them like family, and give them good customer service,” says Tamara. “It’s getting results … A lot of people come in that aren’t churchgoers and we are the only source of God’s Word and breathing life into them that there is.”