Christian Retailing

ICRS 2013: Learning the trade Print Email
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 04:14 PM America/New_York

Product Intelligence Tours Bibles 1editPrepare to take in training opportunities at the International Christian Retail Show

Retailers headed to CBA’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in St. Louis may think that this year’s theme—Your Show, One Mission—means they should see all the new products they can and place upcoming orders for their stores at show discounts. But organizers of the June 23-26 show say there’s a lot more to ICRS than just the exhibit floor. In addition to opportunities to network and worship together, ICRS offers educational sessions designed to help stores boost their business and increase their ministry in their communities and beyond.

“The workshops offered at ICRS are important because CBA is trying to educate on best practices related to the topics that our retailer members are telling us are the most important to them,” said Curtis Riskey, president of CBA.


The ICRS educational offerings kick off Sunday with the annual Retail Academy, presented by Bob Negen of WhizBang! Training and sponsored by Ingram/Spring Arbor. This six-hour workshop helps new and veteran retailers take their businesses to the next level with practical tips crafted especially for independents. 

Negen will share best practices from today’s most successful independent stores and show retailers how to put these strategies to work in their businesses. The Retail Academy is priced at $50, and Negen is so sure that attendees will find it valuable that he is offering to personally refund the registration fee of anyone who is dissatisfied.


One product category that will be in the spotlight at this year’s ICRS is film. The ICRS Film Showcase will preview Christian-themed movies and DVD offerings with screenings throughout the convention, and filmmakers and distributors will discuss ways retailers can maximize this market in the workshop “Retailing in the Digital Media Age: Where does your store fit in the value chain?” 

The workshop will be moderated by Dick Rolfe, co-founder and CEO of The Dove Foundation, which rates Christian film, books and other media. Panelists will include Rick Eldridge, co-owner and CEO of ReelWorks, a film production company; Paul Lauer, founder and CEO of Motive Entertainment, which designed and managed the marketing campaign for Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of The Christ; Ben Howard, senior vice president of Provident Films, who oversees partnerships with Sherwood Pictures (Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous) and the Erwin brothers (October Baby); Simon Swart, general manager and executive vice president, Fox Home Entertainment, distributor of The Bible miniseries; and Bob Elder, COO and executive vice president of Propeller Consulting, who has 25 years of service in the Christian retail industry, including work with Family Christian Stores and Big Idea.

The panel aims to introduce retailers to new products coming into the Christian marketplace and offer ways stores can increase their share in this category, including creative means to merchandise physical and digital product. 

Retailing in the Digital Media Age is a free workshop and will take place 8-9 a.m. Tuesday. 


Children’s trends expert and author Mary Manz Simon will share her insights into “what’s now, what’s new and what’s coming” in her ever-popular workshop “Trends in the Children’s Marketplace.” Simon will once again take a look at growing trends in the general market and marry the trends with products being released by suppliers.

Simon cites the entry of Crayola, distributed by DaySpring, as an exciting addition to CBA and says that YA (Young Adult) remains strong and is a crossover into the children’s category because of the continuing cultural shift of what Simon introduced a few years ago in her workshop as KAGOY (Kids Are Getting Older Younger).

“YA continues to be strong,” said Simon. “Although that is technically not within the children’s category, down-
aging has brought many of the young adult themes into the tween space.”

Trends in the Children’s Marketplace will be held 3-4:30 p.m. Monday and is for retailers only. It will include free products for retailers to take back to their stores and try. Tickets are $25, and retailers should register in advance.


Two other returning workshops at this year’s show will also include product giveaways—always a draw.

The “Gift Product Trends” workshop combines the latest styles and trends in the gift category with free product from many ICRS exhibitors. Gift Product Trends will help stores find new ways to discover and display gifts their customers want. It is a ticketed workshop, and  retailers must register in advance. Tickets are $25 for the 10:30 a.m.-noon Tuesday session.

The final workshop of ICRS is also filled with freebies. “Christian Fiction: Authors, Retailers, Readers” is hosted by Suzanne Kuhn, owner of SuzyQ, a full-service author promotion and retail development firm. SuzyQ works with authors, publishers and retailers to help coordinate events, train staff and authors in reader engagement, and develop promotions for increased sales and reader/customer loyalty. 

Authors of upcoming novels will also be on hand to talk with retailers and sign autographed copies of their works during the product giveaway. This is a ticketed workshop for retailers only and must be registered for in advance. The Christian Fiction workshop takes place 3-4 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $25.


In addition to the Retailing in the Digital Age workshop, several other free store training sessions will be offered.

“What does the customer of today look like and what are their changing need because the customer of the future will drive the store of the future?” CBA’s Riskey asked. “This year we are attempting to answer that question with research and data surrounding those changing needs of our customers. We will use this intelligence to demonstrate, both in design and merchandising, ways that retailers can adapt to meet those needs.” 

CBA plans to accomplish that through a display called Lifestyle Stories at the entrance of the trade floor and also with workshops on how retailers can take such an approach in their stores.

The “Lifestyle Stories: Merchandising Best Practices” workshop will be presented by Danni Schneidt-Hill, owner of Promises, “His” Coffee & Cottage Shoppe in Malta, Mont. Schneidt-Hill has found success combining Christian products with a thriving coffee shop, and Promises has made its mark on the community with its unique custom gift wrapping and gift baskets. This workshop is part of the Lifestyle Stories exhibit that will be on display at the entrance to the exhibit hall. Lifestyle Stories takes place 9:30-10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

In the workshop “Marketing: Technology Tools and Trends,” presenters Gunnar Simonsen and Chris Rainey will help stores learn what technologies and social media their customers are using so that stores can connect with consumers effectively. Customers want to buy local, but they also need to be reminded of the ways the local Christian store can fit their needs. Simonsen, director of Private Sector Consulting, and industry veteran Rainey will share how smartphones, social media, e-marketing and store experience can come together to make stores stand out from the crowd. Marketing: Technology Tools and Trends will be held 12:30-1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

CBA Thrive is sponsoring the final free educational offering, “How to Turn Around a Store in a Tough Environment,” presented by Mark Hutchinson, president of Blessings, a Christian retail chain in Canada. Hutchinson purchased the struggling chain and turned it into a profitable venture. He shares the tools he has implemented to help his stores become hubs of Christian community. How to Turn Around a Store in a Tough Environment takes place 2-3 p.m. Tuesday. 

For more information on all ICRS training events, visit CBA’s show site,