Christian Retailing

YEAR IN REVIEW, Part 2: 2 key categories shine in 2014 Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 04:59 PM America/New_York

Looking back on big licenses and significant products in children’s and gifts

As we did last issue, reflecting on the year 2014 in a number of product categories, this issue we look back on the year that was in two key categories for Christian retailers—children’s and gifts.

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 CHILDREN’S // Bible storybooks get sales boost; toys take more retail space


TheJesusStorybookBibleJust a few years ago, the children’s department in many bookstores was struggling to thrive. In 2014, sales were on the rise. Overall, children’s book sales increased 25% for January-August compared to the same period in 2013, according to the American Association of Publishers.

Many Christian retailers also reported more sales, especially of Bibles and Bible storybooks, in part attributed to the attention the Bible got this year from Hollywood with films like Noah and Son of God. While 2013 saw popular authors like Joyce Meyer and Mark Batterson writing “down-age” for children and celebrities like the Robertsons from TV’s Duck Dynasty capturing product sales, 2014 took a turn and was all about getting back to the basics of the Bible.

In children’s books, The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zonderkidz) stayed in the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on the January-November children’s best-seller list from CBA, with Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson) and The Beginner’s Bible (Zonderkidz) consistently capturing two more of the top five spots (using sales in Christian stores as reported through CROSS:SCAN). Bible storybooks captured nearly all of the top 10 spots in 2014, with occasional seasonal titles such as the board book Thank You, God, for Mommy by Amy Parker (Tommy Nelson) and picture book The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walburg (Zonderkidz) breaking through.

“The Bible has become a water-cooler focus,” said Dr. Mary Manz Simon at the International Christian Retail Show Children’s Trends workshop in June. A nationally known children’s expert and author of many best-selling children’s books in the Christian market, Simon received an award this year for celebrating her 20th anniversary of conducting  the popular workshop.

In Young Adult books, Christian Living (read: advice for teens) and devotionals continue to rule with the teen edition of Jesus Calling by Young (Thomas Nelson) staying in the No. 1 position or in the top five best-sellers for the first 10 months of 2014, while veteran authors Elizabeth George and Hayley DiMarco landed in the Top 10 each month this year. George captured three or four of the top 10 spots monthly with A Girl After God’s Own Heart, A Girl After God’s Own Heart Devotional, Girls’ Guide to Making Really Good Choices and A Young Woman After God’s Own Heart. B&H Publishing Group’s new YA author Patti Hummel also stayed in the top 10 with Teen to Teen: 365 Daily Devotions by Teen Girls for Teen Girls and Teen to Teen: 365 Daily Devotions by Teen Guys for Teen Guys.

B&H Kids, a division created by the publishing house in August 2012, increased its offerings tremendously upon acquiring 90 children’s titles from Standard Publishing in August, including books by Simon, Dandi Mackall, Sally Lloyd-Jones and brands such as My Goodnight Bible, Baby Blessings, Baby’s First, First Virtues and The Young Reader’s Bible. The new titles give B&H a ready-made menu for preschoolers, as its other children’s offerings had been aimed at 4- to 12-year-olds.

Mark Philips, vice president of sales and marketing at Send The Light Distribution, noted that a larger percentage of toys and educational products is being given retail floor space.

“We are seeing stores move beyond traditional inspirational gift items to products that are not necessarily ‘Christian’ but are certainly child-friendly,” he said. “STL has seen a huge spike in gift sales over the past 12 months, and a good chunk of it is toys, puzzles and plush.”

In movies and toys, within the Christian market it’s still mostly about those vegetables. VeggieTales remain the best-selling children’s videos in Christian stores, with no fewer than two titles in the top 20 and as many as 11 of the monthly best-sellers. New releases in the second half of 2014 include Celery Night Fever and Beauty and the Beet. VeggieTales plastic toys are some of the most popular toys in Christian stores, with the Princess Castle set and LarryMobile among the favorites.

In other toys, Melissa & Doug educational offerings also saw sales, with the Responsibility Chart, the Jesus Loves Me Jenna doll, and the Old and New Testament 3-D Puzzle Cubes among the best-sellers. While toy sales are not tracked on CROSS:SCAN, New Day Christian Distributors reported that its best-selling toy all year long remains the classic Fisher-Price Nativity Set, an item not commonly found in mainstream stores.

Nationally, the term STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) became the focus for American kids a couple of years ago, but this year STEM became STEAM—adding the Arts to subjects that American kids need to excel in their education. With that focus in mind, DaySpring’s partnership with Crayola expanded this year, as the company introduced new Dry Erase Noah’s Ark and David & Goliath spiral-bound activity tablets and activity cards, where kids can color themselves into the Bible stories with dry-erase pencils and markers.

In music, digital downloading and streaming has almost erased the music sections from many Christian retail stores, but some children’s CDs remain viable sellers. Cedarmont Key’s various Sunday school and classic children’s songs continue to find favor, as well as VeggieTales music and Adventures in Odyssey audiobooks.


GIFTS // Showrooms expand, big-name licenses continue


Carpentree-ScriptureScarfChristian-themed gifts continued to be a key category in Christian retail stores in 2014.

Ed Nizynski, sales vice president at Lighthouse Christian Products Co., summed up the state of the gifts at Christian retail.

“Sales are up in gifts!” he said. “Consumers loosen purse strings, and continue to look for meaningful quality gifts for all occasions. As polled by Giftbeat—59% of those polled say that inspirational gift sales are steady, and 23% say that sales are up.”

Lighthouse, which won all three gift categories in the 2014 Christian Retailing’s Best awards, had such success with one of its biblical sculptures, the Ark of the Covenant, that it introduced a larger size. The evangelistic booklets Lighthouse includes in every product package continue to have ministry impact.

Munce Group President Kirk Blank is thankful for distributors.“

Distributors have been a great partner to the indies as more gifts have been made available,” Blank said. “Our messaging to consumers the past several years has emphasized the importance of shopping local and giving Christian gifts, and for a consumer ‘gifts’ can be anything found at a Christian retail store—not just what we categorize as ‘gift product.’ ”  

Gift companies are expanding their presence at major gift shows and adding  new showrooms as well. For instance, buyers visiting P. Graham Dunn’s permanent showroom at AmericasMart Atlanta for the January 2014 gift show were greeted with a wide variety of new products. The Ohio-based company’s design team had expanded, so new products were abundant in the company’s largest introduction in its 36-year history. Later, before the January show in Atlanta, P. Graham Dunn added 600 square feet, expanding its showroom to around 2,000 square feet.

Toward the end of the year, Abbey Press announced it would debut a new showroom location during the International Gift & Home Furnishing Market in Atlanta in January 2015 after exhibiting in the Temporaries for more than 20 years and first relocating to a permanent showroom shared with Divinity Boutique. In addition to the space required for displaying Abbey Press’ line of more than 800 products, the 939-square-foot showroom includes a spacious conference/meeting room. It also is equipped with wi-fi, allowing buyers and reps to review their sales history and place orders in real time.

Abbey Press had a big year, as it hosted a six-day Open House on the grounds of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana in April. Open to all wholesalers, the Open House was part of celebrations for the supplier’s 50th anniversary.

In licensing, one of the longest-running agreements in the industry was renewed this year when Demdaco announced the extension of its licensing contract with Willow Tree artist Susan Lordi through 2020. Willow Tree is based on Lordi’s own life experiences and view of the world.

Carpentree announced a new licensing agreement with Duck Commander for a product line featuring quips and quotes from the Robertson family of A&E Duck Dynasty fame. Phil, Si, Willie and Jase Robertson’s unique wisdom was featured in artwork with duck feathers and other distinctively Robertson graphics.

Carpentree also launched a line of products tied to the best-seller Jesus Calling. And Prince of Peace continues to be the company’s top selling image, as the movie  Heaven Is for Real “reignited a national conversation about the reality of heaven, leading to an upsurge in sales,” Marketing Manager Sherry Morris said.

Glory Haus partnered with another reality-TV star, Trista Sutter from ABC’s The Bachelorette, on the “Grateful Heart” collection. While on the show, Trista found love with firefighter Ryan Sutter, and their marriage has lasted. Sutter’s line features wall art, picture frames, a journal, pillows and an Appreciation Jar.

DaySpring’s Brenda Turner, director of communications-legal, cited a number of big-name companies, brands and authors the stationery maker has licensed with, including Crayola, Jesus Calling, Karen Kingsbury, Max Lucado, Charles Stanley and Billy Graham.

Turner also pointed out that added features in DaySpring greeting cards—lights, sound, magnets or sticky notes—are drawing attention. In addition, the company’s back-to-school notebooks and notepads were being used by adults as well as students “because they liked the designs.”

Women’s accessories, including scarves, also continued to sell very well in Christian retail stores. To meet a specific need in the market, Carpentree introduced ready-to-wear scarves features a scripture verse.

Greeting card and journal publisher Gracefully Yours celebrated a milestone, surpassing 100 million consumers sending and receiving the company’s fine art products. The company uses four-color art in each greeting card and King James Version scripture. It also carries Praying for You cards, encouragement, masculine birthday themes and youthful imagery to attract the millennial market.

Kerusso continued its partnership with key faith-based films. The company became the official licensed products partner for Left Behind—The Movie, which came to theaters Oct. 3 and featured an all-star cast, including Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray. “Left Behind” by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye is based on one of the best-selling fiction series of all time. In partnership with Stoney Lake Entertainment, Kerusso debuted T-shirts, travel tumblers, an embroidered cap and silicone wristbands, each building on a theme of “Left Behind—The End Begins: Are you ready?”

Kerusso also expanded its officially licensed “Heaven Is for Real” apparel line. The story of how Colton Burpo spent time with Jesus in heaven was told in the New York Times best-selling book. Kerusso’s original tee and wristbands were ready for shipping prior to the release of the movie based on the book.

Christian Brands married gifts with church supplies this year as it acquired the historic clergy-apparel maker R.J. Toomey. Christian Brands has acquired a number of companies recently, including Robert Smith (furniture), Will & Baumer (candles), Creed (jewelry), Heartfelt (wall art) and Gerffert (art masterpieces).

Well-known artist Jim Shore partnered with CB Gift, a division of Christian Brands, for January 2015 new product introductions. CB Gift plans to introduce new product categories showcasing Shore’s art to the gift and home-furnishings industry at major gift shows.

Cathedral Art Metal Company announced a name change early in the year; it is now known as CA Gift.

“Our new name includes a subtitle that succinctly describes our new entity: Be Inspired,” said Leo Tracey, CA Gift president of the family-operated business.

Munce Group invited Christian retailers to come to its second Christian Product Expo at AmericasMart Atlanta, where Kingsbury made an appearance. A change to the weekend boosted attendance somewhat compared to the debut CPE at AmericasMart.

Ellie Claire, the stationery and gift division of the Worthy Publishing Group, reached a milestone, announcing it has sold more than 3 million gift products. Ellie Claire’s success with Signature Journals led the division to launch a spinner rack merchandising program. The company’s paper expressions products are now available in the gift markets through Diverse Marketing Group.

The late Albert David Maslia was named the Gift & Home Trade Association/Gift for Life Honor of Excellence recipient at the fifth annual ICON HONORS celebration July 10. Christian retailers knew him as the face of AmericasMart, one who guided newcomers in navigating the Atlanta gift show. Maslia was managing director of retail services for AmericasMart Atlanta.