Christian Retailing

Christian retail show attendance up in Orlando, feedback positive Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012 02:17 PM America/New_York

Thomsen_GeorgeFocus on ‘relationship building’ highlights ‘new normal’

Attendance was up for the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) for the second year in a row, amid upbeat reviews from retailers, suppliers and distributors.

Primarily representing buyers, professional attendance at the show in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., held July 15-18, was 1,756, 0.5% over last year when the event was in Atlanta. Total attendance was up 1.5% to 4,990, while international attendance was down 14.6% to 368 attendees from 59 countries.  

The number of exhibitors grew by 0.3%, including 60 new vendors, and total booth space was down slightly by 0.5%. The exhibit floor had virtually same footprint in square footage and approximately the same size as last year, but in a different configuration—square not horizontal, CBA said.  

Given the challenging economy and other factors impacting retailing, “I believe the retailers who are here have a renewed passion,” CBA Executive Director Curtis Riskey told Christian Retailing near the show’s end. “The idea of fair trade in Christian retailing seems to align with [the retailers’ mission] and create a sweet spot. I would have to say that the show was a success. … I feel very happy and fortunate that was attendance up.”

George Thomsen, chairman of the CBA board and general manager of Harvest Bookstore in Riverside, Calif., said the show had steady traffic. 

“I had vendors I tried to see and I wasn’t able to see them because they were booked with appointments,” he said. “Overall, the show was positive and upbeat.”

Russ Schwartz, vice president of independent retail sales for Thomas Nelson, said the company had more than 150 meetings in its conference area on the exhibit floor with people across all Christian retail sales channels, plus impromptu meetings in the hall. 

“We met with our valuable partners to find new ways to grow our business together and continue to do business,” Schwartz said.

Verne Kenney, Zondervan’s executive vice president of sales, said ICRS was “a great opportunity for us to meet our key accounts, marketing groups and international customers.”

“We were very pleased to see CBA trying new things to bring people in to the show,” he said. “The ministry center and the Catholic connection were great ideas.”

Tyndale House Publishers President Mark Taylor commemorated the company’s 50th anniversary during the event’s CBA Members Luncheon. Each attendee of the Luncheon received a commemorative book, The Tyndale House 50th Anniversary Reader, which features excerpts from 50 products released in the history of the company.    

Tyndale Director of Sales Operations Sharon Heggeland said the company’s  staffing and booth size at ICRS has remained consistent for the past few years.  

“Domestic orders were about the same as last year,” she said. “Our international area continues to grow and had more appointments that ever. … Tyndale’s focus on ICRS has shifted from being an order-taking show to one where we focus on relationship building. Our production, international and national sales account staff continue to have key meetings at this show, so it remains an important one for us.” 

David Lewis, vice president of sales and marketing for Baker Publishing Group, said the show “had a very positive vibe to it.” “Most of the other suppliers and most of the accounts we talked to had a very positive outlook for the fall season, the industry in general and the show,” he said. “The supplier booths seem to be getting to the right size for the event, expectations seem to be more in line with the reality of the market challenges and most people are energized to keep working hard to meet the needs of their customers.”

Bob Bever, vice president of sales for Gospel Light, said Regal Books’ parent company reduced its staffing from 2011 due to a lower pre-registration of independent stores, and meetings and appointments were consolidated.

 “The retailers seem to be more encouraged and sensed that things may be settling in for them,” he said. “As vendors, we recognize that the changes in the market have brought a new normal to the way we all will do business. Traffic in the international booth was up.”

Marilyn Largent, David C. Cook’s senior director of trade sales, said her company didn’t exhibit last year.

“We returned this year for the international contacts and the personal meetings with key accounts,” she said. “Our international sales rep had appointments literally nonstop for the full three days.”

John Whitaker, vice president of Anchor Distributors, said his company’s booth, shared with sister company Whitaker House, had substantial traffic. 

“It was a good show, and better than last year,” he said.

Bill White, director of sales for apparel company NOTW, said the show was “the best ICRS we’ve attended in seven years,” adding that “the retailers here are the survivors, the remnant. They’re the ones figuring out ways to make it work.”

Lighthouse Christian Products Vice President of Sales Ed Nizynski thought that ICRS was “the best in years—better than last year,” he said. “It seemed the orders were bigger. International business was again strong.” 

Joshua Williams—manager of The Salt Shaker in Enumclaw, Wash.—said he “did a lot more buying this year.”

Dennis Lovvorn, co-owner of New Covenant Christian Bookstore in Shelbyville, Tenn., said ICRS “seemed quiet.” 

“CBA said it’s the same number of vendors as last year, but their booths are smaller,” he added.