Retailer returns from bankruptcy
Family Christian works to rebuild trust with vendors, customers.
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Bankruptcy is tough to come back from, especially for nonprofits, but the locally based Family Christian LLC is finding ways to do it.
The nonprofit retailer, which has about 255 stores across 36 states, announced in February it would be restructuring its national chain under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Family Christian, known for its sale of Christian-themed merchandise such as Bibles, home decor, art, gifts, films, children’s products, books and music, filed for “a sale of its assets and operations under Section 363 of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.”
As of August, that ordeal is over and financial rebuilding has begun.
“That’s done. We were out of bankruptcy by judge’s rule on Aug. 15. The work primarily related to that is our vending partners — rebuilding trust … solidifying the speed of that product to stores. Really just restarting the supply chain,” said Steve Biondo, Family Christian’s senior vice president of human resources and organizational development.
“We have to be honest about that: Bankruptcy hurts. We have to apologize and build trust. We’re in the process of that, and it’s a difficult task. People suffered. … (Now we’re rebuilding) relationships with vendors and re-establishing trust that we can sell products, move them through and pay our bills on time,” he said.
Biondo said Family Christian has had six store closings since Aug. 15, but “those would’ve happened anyway” as locations were being consolidated and it was the normal course of business. Although a small percentage of employees lost their jobs, none of the store closings or job losses occurred in Michigan, he said.
Family Christian has spent the last year reorganizing its operations and performing a complete store and product overhaul, he said. One of the first things it did was to re-structure and re-organize its store at 3120 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids, Biondo said. It’s expanded its gift area and home décor offerings, he said — “fashion items, scarves, pillows, that kind of thing.” The store also added a “compelling Bible area” he said.
“The store is totally redone, and I would describe it as our store of the future. We’ve remade a total of six to eight stores, so we have a lot of work in front of us,” he said.
“It’s not just about the new merchandise, though. We’ve also implemented a new service promise throughout the organization, focused on loving and caring for our customers, to guarantee a shopping experience like no other.”
The business also added new vendors, including MudLOVE bracelets. Biondo said 17,000 were sold in the first two weeks they were added to inventory.
“While our business goal is to be a first-class retailer, the heart of this organization is firmly grounded in ministry,” he said. “We will be developing even stronger ministry partnerships to continue and increase our support of hands-on widow and orphan work worldwide, and sharing God’s word through Bible donations and mission trip support.”
Biondo was fervent that Family Christian is committed to supporting its ministry partners in caring for people in distress in Michigan and around the world.
“Even right now, we’re in the middle of raising money for Guatemala to feed 10,000 individuals over the course of the next year. Famine has hit that country. And we’re also raising money for World Vision, and we’re involved in anti-human trafficking in the Dominican Republic.”
Family Christian also is updating its marketing by adding Curt Andrews as its chief marketing officer. Andrews has served as chief marketing officer at both EZCORP and Blockbuster, and is a franchise owner of Sport Clips Haircuts. He is also a board member of the international nonprofit Feed the Hunger. Andrews started his new job with Family Christian Nov. 30.
“Family Christian is launching new, key initiatives to create compelling shopping experiences and better engage our customers. We believe that Curt is the ideal choice to lead our marketing,” said Chuck Bengochea, president and CEO.
“Curt has an incredible background with great marketing and retail experience. He is a knowledgeable and passionate leader who knows how to motivate a team to achieve results. His personal mission aligns with the heart of Family Christian, and his business experience will facilitate the long-term success of this incredible retail ministry.”
As a whole, the staff of Family Christian has handled this crisis well, Biondo said, adding he feels it’s brought them all together in ways that only trials can.
“They overcame fear and pulled together. It was a foxhole mission. Even post-bankruptcy, no one has left because of the bankruptcy,” he said.
“We’re all doing well, but we never want to do it again.”