Christian Retailing

A Sporting Chance: scoring with the outdoor guys Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Friday, 28 January 2011 09:38 AM America/New_York

Christian suppliers and retailers are bringing the great outdoors indoors with a plethora of  products that target a hard-to-reach segment of the inspirational gift market—men.

From a waterproof Bible as well as hunting and fishing apparel worthy of Bass Pro Shops to mounted and framed art featuring vast canyons, winding rivers and majestic eagles, there appears to be countless SKUs of outdoor- and nature-themed items.

'God’s Great Outdoors'

“It is a great growth category,” said John O'Dell, co-owner of Christian Book Outlet (CBO, pictured right), with seven locations in Arkansas and in Branson, Mo. “Lodge-themed décor continues to grow as it helps us all bring the wonder of God’s great outdoors indoors. … This category will continue to grow to meet the demand and need to bring faith to the forefront of everything we do.”

Christian Book Outlet

CBO's large inventory features 45 products, including Bible covers, camouflage Bibles, clocks, gift books, antler art crosses, wallets, tapestries, “Spiritual Outdoor Adventures” DVDs and golf-themed gifts.

“The outdoors seem to resonate with everybody,” said O'Dell, noting that best-selling items include Western-themed wall crosses, T-shirts and camouflage Bibles.

“It sells year round—peaking in the fourth quarter. Our customers desire to not only give outdoor-themed gifts, but ones that celebrate the Creator of it all as well. … With the Courageous movie, we expect to grow the category by 20% in 2011.”

'Area of Growth'

P. Graham Dunn has embraced the great outdoors with its wall art and home décor as well as a line of pocket knives, multi-tools and scissors—all offered with a personalization option.

“The products have sold well and have continued to be an area of growth,” said P. Graham Dunn Sales and Marketing Support Manager Kimberly Holliday. “Over the years, we have continued to develop new product to fill the demand. The most popular has been the pocket knives, and overall, the tree pictures continue to outsell everything.”

Due to increased demand, the Dalton, Ohio-based company is looking to add at least 20 new items in the category this year. Dunn is working with Rural King—known as America's Farm & Home Store—to develop more images for outdoor-themed items.

“We have seen a rise in popularity with this type of item,” Holliday said. “We are trying to broaden our scope, and this is one area we have yet to really dive it to.”

'Enjoying the Outdoors'

Since Lighthouse Christian Products (LCP) started in 1997, the Schaumburg, Ill.-based company has “always designed products using or around outdoor themes like sports and God's wonderful and magnificent creations,” including flowers, lakes, mountains and skies, according to Vice President of Sales Ed Nizynski. He and his brother and LCP president, George Nizynski, grew up across the street from a park.

“We enjoy the outdoors very much, and today, especially golf, running and fishing,” said Nizynski, noting that one of LCP's best-sellers is the sailboat resin plaque. “To God be all the honor and glory for prompting ideas into our minds, but our lives most influence the designs. … We have sold about a million products with outdoor themes in the last 10 years.”

Outdoor-themed products sell well in different regions of the country at different times, Nizynski added. “Some sport themes do not work well in certain regions. Consumers do gravitate more to outdoor scenes or themes.”  

David Lingner, owner of Christian Outdoorsman, said that faith-based outdoor products sell well because “so many hunters and fishermen are Christians.”

In 2006, the National Wildlife Federation polled hunters and anglers nationwide. When asked of their religious affiliation, over 50% professed to being “Christian,” Lingner added.

“This does not surprise me,” he said. “The Bible tells us in Rom. 1:19-20 that since the creation of the world, God's invisible attributes are clearly seen.”

'Outdoor Ministry’ Ideas

Lingner started his Arkansas-based company for “Christian outdoor enthusiasts to find resources and inspiration to use God’s creation for outreach, discipleship and personal spiritual growth.” 

Through his company's Web site, Lingner has seen opportunities to evangelize and minister to men. 

“One gentleman was shopping online, and came across a camo Bible we were selling,” he said. “He got inspired. He had been wondering how the Lord could use a simple good ol’ boy like him for ministry. He discovered the idea of having an outdoor ministry and said to himself, 'I can do that.' He started an outdoor ministry in his church, and it now has become a multi-church area outreach.”

Lingner added that he comes up with ideas for his products when he visualizes “an outdoor approach” on Bible verses such as Matt. 4:19, Ps. 42:1 and 1 Pet. 5:7, which says “cast your cares on the Lord.” 

Christian Outdoorsman's best-selling product has been the camouflage Bible cover—the first such item to be introduced to the Christian product industry, Lingner said. The company's other best-sellers include Huntin’ and Fishin’ Buddies T-shirts as well as the God and Country cap.

A 'Must-Stop Destination'

Christian Outdoorsman's products have sold well at Promise Land Christian Bookstore in Paris, Tenn., because the company “zeroes in” on apparel and gifts with fishing and hunting themes, according to co-owner Cherry Mercer.

Located in northwest Tennessee near the Kentucky state line, Promise Land is minutes from a recreational area known for fishing and hunting. The 7,200-square-foot store carries a large inventory of outdoor-themed items from P. Graham Dunn, Carpentree, LCP, Kerusso, Swanson Christian Products, Dicksons, Manuel Woodworkers & Weavers, Harvest House Publishers, Thomas Nelson and B&H Publishing Group.

“We do very well selling the products,” said Mercer, noting that her top sellers are camouflage Bibles and covers. “We are near Kentucky Lake and Paris Landing State—a great area for deer and duck hunting as well as bass, crappie and catfish fishing. People from everywhere have cabins or summer homes on Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River, and make our store a 'must-stop destination' when they are here.”

Mercer and husband Dwight, an outdoors enthusiast, utilize their store's porch for a large outdoor-themed display during the spring and summer.

“It's a prominent display, which includes a sample of all the products we have,” she said. “We have worked it. These same products are also in the Bible, apparel and wall art sections, but our big display of all the outdoor products gets a lot of attention.

“Often men will accompany their wives shopping,” added Mercer, noting that outdoor-themed Bibles and books sell well year round, while apparel and wall art are good sellers during Christmastime.

“We offer free coffee and a comfortable place for men to sit,” she said. “They always linger in the large outdoor display, pick up and examine the product, and often buy the product or show it to their wives. We have more women buyers than men. However, both buy these products.”

'Camo is Definitely In'

Natalie Church, co-owner of Ruth's Christian Bookstore, said that her four locations in Oklahoma carry an inventory of more than 100 SKUs, including camouflage Bibles and covers, tees, caps, pocket knives and multi-tools as well as flashlights.

“The products sell wonderful at our stores,” she said. Best-sellers include the Mossy Oak Bible, a large-print NKJV (New King James Version) Bible with a camo cover from Thomas Nelson.

“Camo is definitely in,” Church said. “The majority of our product is bought for men, but our pink camo items appeal to the ladies as well. We sell outdoor-themed products all year long. We will be definitely be expanding the line of outdoor products.”

Christian retailers can spotlight outdoor-themed products during Valentine’s Day, spring/summer for the fishing season, Father’s Day and fall/winter for the hunting season, according to Christian Outdoorsman's Lingner. 

“Create an outdoor-themed area,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be big, but it will be a man magnet. Display all of the outdoor products you have in your store there. Think outside the box a little and display some outdoor gifts that aren’t necessarily Christian-themed, like products from American Expedition and River’s Edge. That will help to round out the offering.

“Get creative,” Lingner added. “Bring in some old fishing rods and deer and fish mounts to hang on the wall. Watch the men come running. They're an attractive product mix for men. … What you will also find is that these products will hit a hot button for some customers, and they will buy several items during a single shopping experience.”

'Great Witnessing Tools'

Leading apparel company Kerusso's most popular outdoor-themed items are What are You Hunting For? and Fishers of Men tees, followed by matching caps and  flashlights, according to Vice President of Creative Development Lorri Carter. 

“They sell very well,” she said. “They are great gifts for guys, but also they are great witnessing tools. A guy who loves to fish and might not be comfortable with a heavy-hitting passion design can wear our tee and share the gospel with his fishing buddies in a way that is relevant to them. The hunting shirt is also easy to witness in, since hunters understand the analogy of a deer thirsting for water.”

Carter added that Christian retailers should carry outdoor-themed products because they sell and appeal to a group of customers who are “typically underserved” in their stores—men. 

Laura Rowe, marketing coordinator of Thomas Nelson's Bible group, said that the publisher released two kinds of camo Bibles in 2008, but will have six SKUs this year. Nelson's camo Bibles feature the MultiCam fabric used on the U.S. military's uniforms and packs or the Mossy Oak design.

The camo Bibles have “exceeded expectations,” she said. “Our first Mossy Oak Bibles have opened new retail opportunities such as sporting goods stores and overall performed so strongly that we have decided to expand the line with new translations, sizes and bindings.”

The new camo products—Mossy Oak Personal Size Giant Print Bible, as well as the Mossy Oak UltraSlim Bible in both KJV and NKJV translations—will come out in May.

'Starving for Christian Materials'

Michael Marsee, co-founder of Bardin & Marsee Publishing (B&M), said that there are a lot of fans of the great outdoors “starving for Christian materials that speak to them.”

The mutual desire for a waterproof Bible was the impetus for Marsee and Bobby Bardin to create the Waterproof Bible, formerly called The Outdoor Bible, five years ago “out of the need for a much better Bible.”

“Going back 10 years ago, I was leading a mountaintop worship service in Vail, Colo.,” Marsee said. “It was a great day for snow, and a very bad day for my Bible.”

Available in the New International Version, New American Standard Bible, King James Version, English Standard Version and New Living Translation translations, the Waterproof Bible's pages are impermeable. Verses can be underlined with a ballpoint pen or marked with a dry-ink highlighter, and its pages are synthetic—not paper laminated in plastic.

With 150,000 copies in print, the Waterproof Bible was featured twice last year on the QVC shopping channel. Additionally, B&M has partnered with several Bible societies to produce the Bible in six languages and has printed 150,000 Waterproof Bibles to date.

“The hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation market is extremely large because lots of people engage in those activities,” said Marsee. “It just wouldn't be right to leave ministry materials geared around God's great outdoors out of your store.”