By Will Hall, Message Editor
ALEXANDRIA (LBM) — After announcing in January that “some” stores would be closing due to “an accelerated rate of erosion” of sales “in the brick and mortar channel,” LifeWay announced March 20 that it would shutter all of its bookstores.
The January announcement was accompanied by a Baptist Press analysis of LifeWay’s 2010-2017 audits showing “total operating expenses exceeded sales” eight years in a row, growing in deficit each year from $2.3 million to $35.5 million.
Moreover, the revised March plan to shutter “all” and not “some” of its stores comes amid a leadership change for LifeWay.
Thom Rainer announced in August 2018 his intentions to “step down” as president and CEO “when the new CEO is named, or in one year, whichever comes first.” He had served as LifeWay CEO since February 2006 when he left the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism for 12 years.
On March 4 LifeWay announced that Rainer had expressed “a desire to move forward with his retirement effective Feb. 28” and the trustees named Executive Vice President Brad Waggoner as “acting president and CEO of LifeWay until a new president is named” in accordance with its bylaws dealing with “the absence of a president.”
Waggoner also has been with LifeWay since 2006 when he departed SBTS where he had been the dean of the School of Leadership and Church Ministry for more than five years and on staff since 1999.
According to the Baptist Press, Waggoner was upbeat in announcing the closures, describing LifeWay as “fortunate to have a robust publishing, events and church services business.
“Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” he said.
“LifeWay is moving into a new era with a strategic digital focus that will prepare us for the future and allow us to better serve our customers.”
LifeWay will close its 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019, which follows a number of multi-million dollar transactions in recent years.
The company sold its 2,400-acre Glorieta Conference Center for one dollar in 2013 and its 14.5-acre Nashville headquarters for $125 million in 2015. LifeWay subsequently purchased 2.5 acres in the choice downtown Gulch area of Nashville for $5.5 million and moved into a new $75 million headquarters in 2017.
As late as 2016, LifeWay employed 4,000 workers in 29 countries and operated 186 bookstores, distributing resources in 164 nations and licensing resources in more than 60 languages.
In Louisiana, LifeWay operates stores at Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Monroe, New Orleans and Shreveport.