Christian Retailing

ICRS Attendance flat at Christian retail show Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 04:09 PM America/New_York

CBA to revamp convention strategy for 2016

DobsonAwardThe 2014 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) convened in Atlanta, June 22-25, with the number of attendees essentially flat, but with significant discussions on the future of Christian retail.

The number of attendees at this year’s convention was essentially flat, with CBA reporting buyer attendance up 2.4%. In St. Louis last year, professional attendance for ICRS was down 15% to 1,485 buyers.

Some exhibitors changed their strategy for the show, seeking to rein in costs. Gardenfire and African American Expressions (AAE) opted out, while InterVarsity Press (IVP) just had a table in the international rights area.

“Knowing that CBA is attempting to right-size the event and its costs (much of which are borne by exhibitors), I wanted to pull way back and gauge the impact, knowing that IVP would return in 2016 and beyond when CBA’s legacy contracts with convention centers reflecting a very old set of realities were fulfilled and a new model was in place,” said Jeff Crosby, IVP’s associate publisher and director of sales and marketing.

“The impact was negligible, and what I did feel was largely positive, even beyond the financial,” Crosby added. “My colleague in international sales, Diana Verhagen, and I had a very full dance card of strategic meetings.”

AAE Sales Manager Ron Gilmore said options are “still open” for 2015, but the company’s new approach didn’t pan out.

“AAE originally planned to fly me in to walk the floor and visit with some of our vendors there off site for lunch or dinner,” Gilmore said. “However, as an exhibitor company, I was not able to accomplish that through CBA. Also, as we looked at our calendar and realized that the Atlanta gift show was right behind this show, we thought we needed to be good stewards of the resources and opted to just go to Atlanta once rather that twice.”

Apparel maker Gardenfire, usually a big presence at the show, opted for a pair of gift marts this year, but plans to return to ICRS.

“We chose to spend our budget at the Dallas Market and at a show in Las Vegas this year,” Gardenfire owner Jayme Brandt said. “We have a small staff, and I could not do both the ICRS show and Dallas at the same time.”

Much of the planned discussion at ICRS focused on reaching millennials as the industry is seeing significant shifts in shopping habits and fluctuations in church attendance, especially in the 18-33 age group.

“Group Publishing’s Jeff Michaels said it in an ICRS training session: The market has shifted from boomers, driven by price, to millennials driven by branding, local loyalty and relationship,” said Curtis Riskey, president of CBA. “And small Christian stores are in that sweet spot.”

Monday’s general session panel invited authors Ravi Zacharias, Philip Yancey and Ryan Dobson to address an important question: “Where is Christianity going?”

In that session, the association presented Family Talk’s Dr. James Dobson with the ICRS Lifetime Achievement Award.

“His radio interviews alone drove tens of thousands of people to Christian bookstores,” Riskey said.

In addition to retailers and vendors, CBA tailored parts of ICRS to the public and to ministry leaders, the latter in conjunction with RBC Ministries.

The new Change A Life Festival, free to the public, saw some big names, including Phil, Alan and “Miss Kay” Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, and show-stopping band For King & Country. The festival benefited Buckhead Christian Ministry.

ICRS 2015 will be held June 28-July 1 in Orlando, Florida. Arrowhead Conferences and Events, a ministry of Cru, is assisting CBA with revamping its show strategy to lower costs and add greater value. —Johnson