Christian Retailing

Mary Manz Simon reflects on changes in the children’s market Print Email
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Tuesday, 03 June 2014 04:17 PM America/New_York

Children's author-educator finds pluses and minuses in kids’ products in the last 20 years of Christian publishing

 Twenty years ago, CBA-released trade books had a “Sunday school look.” Today, most of our products are visually competitive with general market releases.

 As inventory in brick-and-mortar stores shifted to include more gifts, retailers relocated their children’s department so it was not adjacent to breakables. As a result, the children’s department is often buried at the back of the store.

 When adult authors down-aged into the children’s space, picture books became even more text heavy. In recent years, there has been a significant improvement, as word counts continue to drop.

 Publishers have become excellent trend-spotters. Twenty years ago, a theme would appear in Christian retail at least two years after launching in the general market. Today, products in Christian stores reflect what’s trending in every aspect of publishing and production.

  This fall, VeggieTales in the House (DreamWorks Animation) is slated to become the latest chapter in the Big Idea success story. In previous years, some retailers credited their survival to Veggie releases. However, some children’s video series have missed an opportunity to grow due to the increasing dominance of licensed Veggie products.

 New Day Christian Distributors has pursued aggressively prime general-market toy companies Melissa & Doug, Playmobil and Fisher-Price. As a result, CBA retailers can offer products, some of which have generic Christian content, from these quality brands. In addition, the bar for toy excellence in our channel has been raised in the past four years.
 The homeschool section in Christian stores has paralleled the growth of this educational market.

 Because Christian market publishers typically have smaller print runs, our publishers continue to limit the number of novelty elements in books because of high production costs.

 Two product categories—children’s Bibles and Bible storybooks—have been criticized as being over-published. However, retailers say this is a growing sales category. As our publishers offer such incredible variety, customers can find products to meet their needs.

 Kerusso did retailers a great service with the introduction of their small footprint children’s T-shirt merchandiser. Many of the “holy hardware” companies have followed their example with display units that attractively (and neatly!) display product in a small space.

 The tween section is still looking for a home at bricks and mortar. Too often, books for 8-to 12-year-olds are still shelved dangerously near books for younger children.

 After church-based stores were accepted and acknowledged as legitimate, children’s products got a boost from this new sales channel, thanks to the consistent presence of children and family ministry at the congregational level.

 In a nod to the experienced-based shopping experience demanded by today’s consumers, most stores now offer at least a table/chairs, TV and play space for children.

See p. 22 to learn more about attending Mary Manz Simon’s children’s product workshop, celebrating 20 years at the International Christian Retail Show this year.