Christian Retailing

Dave Thornton named Gospel Light CEO Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:23 AM America/New_York

Executive has held variety of roles at several publishers

DaveThorntonGospel Light’s board of directors has named Dave Thornton as the company’s new chief executive officer.

Thornton joined Gospel Light in 2013 as director of church sales and most recently served as director of sales and marketing. He served 17 years at Group Publishing in a variety of roles, from director of product development to director of church leadership and finally director of global innovations. Previously he worked in marketing at David C Cook.

The board and CEO are refocusing the company on the mission given to Gospel Light’s founder, Henrietta C. Mears—to know Christ and make Him known.

“I dream of a day when Gospel Light will be seen as the trusted global leader in providing Christ-connecting, Bible-based, disciple-making resources to help the church reach children and their families for Christ through products and resources that are available anytime and anywhere around the world,” Thornton said.

Board members believe Thornton is the right man to lead the company.

“The Gospel Light board and senior management team are working diligently to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century, so that the new Gospel Light will be positioned to impact the church in the next generation,” said Kathy Rowland, chair of the Gospel Light board. “Our goal is to become the leading publisher of Christ-centered, biblically based Sunday school curriculum, VBS programs and other resources that challenge the next generation of church leaders to know Christ and make Him known. To this end, the board has appointed Dave Thornton as the new CEO.”

Rowland spoke of Thornton’s “proven track record as a CEO” and ability to “coordinate management and staff to create and execute a strategic plan to achieve corporate goals, to cast vision, to build a world-class leadership team and to hold the team accountable to performance objectives.” —Johnson

Author Philip Yancey explores questions of substance Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 10:06 AM America/New_York

Writer and fellow pilgrim provides Christian retailers with books on subjects that meet customer needs

PhilipYancey-PortraitWhen Philip Yancey writes a new book, his publisher and his fans gear up for the excitement. Yancey’s latest is Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?, releasing this month from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace is his first book with Zondervan since Prayer in 2006, according to Tom Dean, senior director of marketing for trade nonfiction. Dean and his team have revamped Yancey’s website, are organizing a book tour and planning plenty of promotional materials to keep Christian retail stores happy and part of the launch.

“Philip is on a journey with the reader,” Dean said. “He says to them, ‘I have the same questions you do, so let’s explore them together.’ ”

One of the first things Dean and Zondervan did was a brand analysis of who Yancey really is. His website,, received a complete overhaul with his input an integral part of that work. The second thing was to plan a seven-city book tour from one end of the U.S. to the other.

Yancey will visit churches that seat at least 1,500 for each of the free events. Titled “An Evening with Philip Yancey,” he will speak for 30-40 minutes on the topic of “vanishing grace,” and after a musical interlude, take questions from the audience. He’ll visit San Diego; Detroit; Atlanta; Cleveland; Auburn, Alabama; Kansas City; and Menlo Park, California.

“We are taking the creative assets of our own marketing campaign and providing them to the churches, including printed pieces, eblasts, PowerPoint presentations and website materials,” Dean said.

Christian retail stores are also part of the design, with the author planning to visit several stores in the Denver area after the holidays and taking part in Skype interviews or book club gatherings via digital connection whenever possible.

“This is a key opportunity for Christian retail to step up, and we’re looking for our retailers to deliver significantly,” Dean said.

Merchandising materials provided to bookstores will mirror those provided to Yancey’s tour venues, with additional pieces such as artwork for bag-stuffers and website banner ads available on request. Zondervan also is releasing a DVD and study guide appropriate for group and individual use.

“This is our biggest budgeted book for fiscal 2015 and our biggest frontlist title,” Dean said. “It’s the book we have the highest expectations for this year.”

One of Yancey’s goals is to provide bookstores with titles that truly sell.

“I’ve published 25 books or so and cover a lot of different topics,” he said. “People come into the bookstores with a problem, and my books can offer help. So often Christian booksellers become counselors; I want to provide them with books they can give to customers who need them.”

Yancey has a library of around 5,000 volumes, the majority of which came from Christian stores through the years.

“I love Christian retail stores,” he said. “My mother made her living with the Bible Club Movement, now BCM International, so she would go into Christian bookstores and buy flannelgraphs and booklets. I would tag along with her.”

He acknowledges the struggles Christian retailers face, but also the good services they provide.9780310339328 image

“Christian retailers need that sense of mission as well as good business practices,” Yancey said. “One thing they offer is a personal, listening ear and knowledge about a particular book that might help. Many times a person wanders into a bookstore but doesn’t know what they want. Perhaps he or she has questions or knows someone with a problem. That’s where Christian retailers with a personal touch can fill the gap.”

Zondervan has been intentional about introducing Yancey to retailers, including meeting with Parable Group retailers and a visit with Munce Group retailers.

“When you hear Philip talk about the book, he’s got amazing stories of everyday Christians extending grace in amazing ways,” Dean said. “He truly has a heart for the church. General lay readers as well as church leaders will be interested in this book.”

To retailers such as Bill Ballou, who has owned The Solid Rock in Kearney, Nebraska, for 40 years, a new Yancey title means promoting the book via displays and handselling to customers.

Vanishing Grace is going to be a very relevant book, as Christians are becoming less relevant to our society and as we react badly when things don’t go our way on things like gay marriage, abortion and healthcare,” Ballou said. “We need to act like Christians.”

Zondervan’s David Morris, vice president and publisher for trade books, calls Yancey “a trusted fellow pilgrim who helps everyday readers put into words the things we’re all feeling. He captures the important human questions, shows how we might think about them as Christians and shows us the places and ways where the gospel message shines.”

Yancey is quick to say that he didn’t want to write a scolding book, but a soul-searching kind of book.

“I really want this to be a positive book that helps the church think through what we’re not doing right, and come up with ways to do it better,” he said.

The book’s beginnings go back to his earlier title What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Zondervan), which was first released in 1997. We live in a different world now, he says, than we did 20 years ago when Christians were more respected.

“People who are outsiders to the faith no longer see what we have as Good News, but as bad news,” Yancey said. “I decided to find out what happened and how we should respond to those opinions. I wanted to ask the questions, ‘Is it really Good News, both for me and at large?’ ”

Zondervan’s Morris agrees.

Vanishing Grace tells everyday Christians, who might feel a little embattled and lost in today’s religious climate, that nothing should stop us from taking an opportunity to show God’s grace,” Morris said. “My hope is that the book will inspire and equip us to do what Christians are called to do: show love toward others. It’s biblical, achievable and there for the taking if you’re courageous enough to answer that call.”

Even U2 lead singer and activist Bono endorsed Yancey’s latest work.

“It’s a lot to expect authors themselves to live up to the magic of their words, and it’s very special when they do,” Bono said. “Philip Yancey has a way about him that can only be described as graceful. Not vanishing at all … very present.”

Next year, Yancey plans to start on a memoir.

Moody scales back publishing program Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:31 PM America/New_York

Fiction and nonfiction affected in ‘reader-centric’ move

PaulSanthouseMoody Publishers announced in July its decision to reduce the number of titles the company will release each year, including fiction under the River North imprint. The publisher also plans to continue the acquisition of fiction, though fewer titles will be published.

Moody has published from eight to 12 fiction titles annually and will now focus on publishing three to four a year. Debbie Keiser’s position—associate publisher at River North—has been eliminated.

“We’re neither shutting down fiction nor selling our line,” said Paul Santhouse, vice president of publishing at Moody. “We’ve simply reduced the number of titles we release each year, which is why we’re no longer staffing fiction with a full-time acquiring position.”

“Many of our fiction authors contribute profoundly to the lives of our readers and the strength of our line, and I hope to continue partnering with them for years to come,” Santhouse added.

Newly appointed Audience Development Director Holly Kisly elaborated on the recent changes.

“We are reducing all title releases per year, not just fiction,” Kisly said. “And as the overall count is reduced, so will fiction. Now, why we are reducing is critical. A reader-centric publishing strategy focuses on real and accurate reader content, quantity and timing needs. Our new goals are intended to help Moody Publishers become more of a forward-thinking and well-positioned publisher.” —Johnson

Agency’s special marketing programs raise awareness of Christian products in Canada Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:28 PM America/New_York

Graf-Martin Communications had ‘strong retailer encouragement’ at development stage of consumer promotional campaigns

Canadian marketing and publicity agency Graf-Martin Communications has launched Spark, a new digital street team platform, and relaunched two of its consumer outreach programs, Nuts about Books and Resourcing Leaders. Graf-Martin offers all three services to new and current clients to augment and support public relations and marketing campaigns.NutsAboutBooks

“We’ve developed, refined and rebranded all of these programs because we know that as times change, we need to connect with consumers in new, strategic and creative ways,” said Ellen Graf-Martin, Graf-Martin Communications’ founder and president. “Our clients want to expand their reach across Canada, and we’ve created simple ways to do just that.”

Graf-Martin’s clients—including Baker Publishing Group, David C Cook, Ten Thousand Villages, Sony Pictures, Pure Flix, World Vision Canada and Focus on the Family Canada—have enjoyed access to these signature programs, but now the programs are being made available to the broader industry.

The communications agency has had “strong retailer encouragement in our development of these programs,” Graf-Martin told Christian Retailing.

In May, the agency piloted its new Spark digital promotion strategy to help launch across Canada films like God’s Not Dead. Unique to the Canadian faith marketplace, Spark Digital Street Teams give products or organizations the opportunity to create “online fireworks.”

Nuts about Books is a program made up of over 250 active bloggers who have been key to the agency’s successes in spreading the word on hundreds of product launch campaigns.

“No one else was hosting a uniquely Canadian, faith-friendly blog program available to all publishers, so we happily set out to fill the gap,” Graf-Martin said. “Nuts about Books is a staff favorite. We know our bloggers by name, we know their blog statistics and engagement levels, and we’re intentional about tracking them regularly.”

Graf-Martin Communications’ key influencer network, now named Resourcing Leaders, connects with 250 national leaders and influencers monthly or bi-monthly. The heart of the program is to see key Canadian church and ministry leaders well-resourced, while giving profile to excellent Christian curriculum, books, films and other media.

“In general, our experience is that much of the promotional and advertising activities that happen stateside simply don’t cross over the border, meaning that the burden to drive consumer awareness and push consumers into stores falls primarily on the shoulders of the retailer,” Graf-Martin said. “The Canadian distributors do some marketing efforts, but they’re also limited in what they can reasonably do at a broader level. Budgets are just tight everywhere. Our creation of these programs has been designed to help fill the gap—scaling the resources so that any publisher, distributor and so forth can access them, create product awareness and drive sales to retail.”—Johnson

Social-media leader Facebook tests ‘Buy’ button to benefit advertisers, small businesses Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:26 PM America/New_York

Veteran Christian retailer says many questions must be answered before she would take advantage of the new service

Facebook-IconFacebook is testing a new feature to help businesses drive sales through the site in News Feed and on Pages.

With the feature, people on desktop or mobile can click the “Buy” button on ads and Page posts to purchase a product directly from a business without leaving the page they’re on and without leaving Facebook.

Facebook is taking steps to make the payment experience safe and secure. None of the credit- or debit-card information people use on Facebook will be shared with other advertisers, and people can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.

The current test is limited to a few small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States.

The opportunity could be beneficial for small businesses—including Christian retail stores—that have a page on Facebook.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity for savvy small businesses to generate sales in real time,” Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, told CNN Money. “This is an opportunity for innovation.”

Donna Baker of Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma, Washington, is tentative about using the button for her business.

“In theory, this Facebook idea sounds great,” Baker told Christian Retailing. “Anything to compete in the marketplace is appreciated. However, there are a lot of questions that must be answered first to know if this is really a good idea. Will Facebook be making a commission on the sale, and if so, how much? Will a purchase give the customer an option to go to the store web page? Will there be options for the customer to pick up their item at the store? If it is to be mailed, how will postage and handling be figured? Will the customer’s credit card be processed by Facebook or by the store?”

Previously, the social-media giant made another e-commerce attempt with Facebook Gifts, but it ended in less than a year. —Johnson

Central Minnesota’s Bethany Book & Gift store celebrates 75 years in business Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:15 PM America/New_York

Christian retail location was once the namesake of Bethany College of Missions—which spawned Bethany House Publishers

As central Minnesota’s Bethany Book & Gift observes its 75th anniversary, co-owner Mike Woodard finds it exciting to play a role in such a storied history.

“It’s interesting to think about the path the store has taken with different names and locations,” Mike said of the outlet, which originated in 1939 as the Gospel Art Store. “It’s adapted to changes but has always been a light for Christ in our community.”

DebMikeWoodard-BethanyExteriorAlthough Karen Gehrls and her husband, Tim, sold the store to Mike and his wife, Deb, eight years ago, Karen is thrilled to see it reach this milestone.

“I used to go to the store when it was in (founder Alice) Frei’s house,” said Karen, who still fills in when the Woodards are short-staffed. “I never dreamed that one day I would be co-owner of it.”

Located two hours north of Minneapolis, Bethany Book changed hands a couple times before becoming a namesake of Bethany College of Missions—the same group that founded Bethany House—when the college purchased it in 1970.

A year later, the newly graduated Gehrls went to serve a one-year internship at the store, but remained in the area and purchased it in 1978.

The couple ran the bookstore for 28 years before selling it to the Woodards in 2006. Deb had started as a clerk in 1988 and gradually took on management responsibilities. She calls it “pretty unique” for an independently owned store to reach this milestone.

Still, keeping up with the demands of the store in Baxter and a second business she and Mike acquired two years ago leaves Deb straining to find time to celebrate.

“Maybe it should be more of a big thing, but I’m so overwhelmed with the daily to-do’s that I can’t give it too much attention,” she told Christian Retailing.

A July anniversary sale featuring 20% to 40% discounts and several major prize drawings were the only direct ties to the historic occasion. No one knows the exact date the business began.

“We hoped we would generate some new traffic and that folks will remember to come back during the Christmas season,” Deb said of the summer sale.

After moving out of Frei’s home, the store was located in nearby Brainerd until spring 2002, when it moved to a more visible location in Baxter.

Two years after the Woodards’ purchase, Bethany Book would move again to a 3,000-square-foot home in a new shopping center, just across from a Costco and two blocks from Walmart.

After they acquired it, Tim, a real-estate appraiser, found himself with more demands on his time than he could accommodate. Finally, he joined his wife full time.

With help from four part-time staffers, the Woodards are a team. Mike applies his business expertise to handling books, taxes and government regulations. Deb oversees ordering and customer contact.

“He and I complement each other,” Deb said. “We joke about how I buy stuff and he pays for it.”

Together, the couple strives to keep their business fresh and offering unique items. If Walmart or Target stock it, they aren’t interested, Deb said.

With book sales declining steadily the past two years, a 2012 acquisition that boosted customer traffic is Character Plus. The 40-year-old business started in the Twin Cities to produce personalized name plaques and other items with scripture on them.

When the couple running that business offered to sell so they could retire, the Woodards decided these gift items would make a good addition and provide another revenue stream. They ship items internationally via website orders and deal with Christian stores nationwide.

Mike oversees manufacturing, with the display prompting squeals of delight from customers who recognize the plaques from childhood. Deb said it isn’t often this kind of specialty line lasts for four decades.

“We had a lady in the other day, who shops here once a year, who said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you could still get those,’ ” Deb said. “She bought three and called back later and ordered another one. A woman just called and ordered four for her great-grandchildren.”

Bethany Book has a cadre of loyal customers, including Shelly Thelen. After deciding to follow Christ in 1996, Thelen went searching for Christ-centered music for herself and her children.

“Deb showed me Supertones Strike Back [by The Orange County Supertones], and my son and I loved it,” Shelly said. “That was my first purchase, and I keep coming back. The staff always welcomes me, and the atmosphere is pure family.”

Dona McEnelly sees the store as an inviting, comfortable place with knowledgeable, helpful staff.

“I know I can find quality cards, books, music and many more things,” McEnelly said. “Sometimes it’s a great place to go when I need a little pick-me-up and an encouraging word. We are blessed to have them in our community.”

For the Woodards, the feeling is mutual.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of customers who appreciate us being here,” Mike said. “Their positive feedback is very motivating.”  —Ken Walker

Church Store Connection encourages networking Print Email
Written by Ginny McCabe   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:09 PM America/New_York

Pastor and author Charles Stanley challenges church store staff at annual luncheon organized by Geni Hulsey

Church bookstore managers and staff—and those considering starting a church store—gathered during ICRS at the Church Store Connection Center for a time of education, networking and fellowship.CharlesStanley-ChurchStoreConnection

Dr. Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta and founder and president of In Touch Ministries, brought a message to church-store personnel.

“I know you are the ones that make it happen in all of these bookstores, and I am very privileged to be able to speak to you just for a few moments,” he said. “I’ve been a pastor for 57 years, and I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve been in a lot of bookstores. I’ve written a few books. When I think about the whole issue of books and bookstores, I think about all of the bookstores I visit.”

Stanley said he has one ultimate goal in life, “to get the truth of the gospel to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Stanley urged church store staff to perceive each person who walks into their store as “very important,” he said. “It’s your responsibility. You need to be filled with the Spirit of God—just as much as any pastor.”

The bookstore should be a “happy place,” he advised, adding that it all boils down to “how big your heart is.”

“You’re not just a store manager, you are a missionary, chosen by God,” he said.

Two church-store workshops also were offered. The “Back to Basics” session was led by a panel of church-store experts, including Rachel Savage of The Chapel Store in Melbourne, Florida; Janet McKinley of The Bookstore at First Baptist Church, Atlanta; and Jeanne Terrill of New Hope Church in Manvel, Texas.

Susan Chipman and Carolyn Bilger, both of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, presented the “Café Conundrum” workshop with advice on operating  a café or coffee bar.

“The retail business is a completely different business from the restaurant business,” said Chipman, director of retail services. “You need to have someone owning each part of that because they are completely different.”

Geni Hulsey, church bookstore consultant and the event’s organizer, said the purpose for the center was to give church stores an opportunity to connect.

“Operating a church bookstore and issues within the store are different from an independent store or a chain store,” Hulsey said.

Sixty church-store staff registered for the event, but more than 80 attended the luncheon. Vendors, including Send The Light Distribution, Rose Publishing and 1Eighty Apparel, have been supportive of sponsoring the Church Store Connection Center. —McCabe

Howard Books comes awash in top authors Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 04:05 PM America/New_York

Robertsons of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ Darryl Strawberry sign books

JackSavage-RobinJonesGunnJune’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) offered retailers a chance to see the newest books, place orders, hear from authors and meet them face to face.

Publishers ranging from big names such as Harvest House and HarperCollins Christian Publishers to smaller houses such as Beacon Hill Press and Evergreen Press offered retailers an avenue to see upcoming books and take away signed copies.

Howard Books brought a number of top-draw authors for signings, including Karen Kingsbury (The Family of Jesus), members of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson clan (Happy, Happy, Happy and The Duck Commander Devotional); and Darryl and Tracy Strawberry (The Imperfect Marriage).

At Crossway, Shirley Dobson and daughter Danae Dobson chatted with retailers while signing Welcome to Our Table. At Baker Publishing Group, Cecil Murphey autographed the 10th-anniversary edition of 90 Minutes in Heaven (Revell). The Tyndale House Publishers’ booth was busy with signings. Susan May Warren was one of many, autographing Take a Chance on Me, her 2014 Christy Award winner. Retail group Munce brought in Robin Jones Gunn and Cindy Woodsmall.

Charisma House came to the show with a big presence—a tour bus that was used to promote its Modern English Version Bible as well as God Less America, a new FrontLine book from FOX News’ Todd Starnes, who also signed copies at the show.

Book publishers’ booths ranged in size and scope as well. Some, such as Hendrickson Publishers, brought the company’s entire line to showcase, while others, such as FaithWords/Hachette Book Group, had just a meeting room on the floor.

Many publishers had smaller booths, including David C Cook, which brought to the show best-selling author Kyle Idleman (AHA), who spoke at several events.

“People have scaled back the size of booths, which is appropriate,” said Marilyn Largent, vice president of sales at David C Cook.

Yet Largent was excited about the opportunities for retailers.

“Retailers were getting to connect with Kyle Idleman,” she said. “They now get to go back and talk to their customers about him.”

Hendrickson’s signing with women’s author Lane P. Jordan had a higher-than-expected turnout.

“ICRS is always a consistently busy show for us because we bring all of our product, and people like that,” said Meg Lynch, marketing coordinator for Hendrickson. “We write a lot of orders.” —Ann Byle

Jerry B. Jenkins honored Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 03:58 PM America/New_York

Logos bookstore association honors author J.I. Packer

JerryBJenkins-AWSAJerry B. Jenkins took home the Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday afternoon at the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA, 2014 Golden Scroll Awards. Jenkins, who also was keynote speaker, received a standing ovation at the event, one of many awards presentations at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) this year in Atlanta.

In the Nonfiction Book of the Year category, Wounded Women of the Bible by Dena Dyer and Tina Samples (Kregel Publications) and Unexpected Love by Julie Zine Coleman (Thomas Nelson) tied for first. In Fiction, Eva Marie Everson’s Slow Moon Rising (Revell/Baker Publishing Group) tied for first place Novel of the Year with C.W. Shutter’s The Ohana (River Ranch Publishing).

Abingdon Press was named Publisher of the Year, while Tyndale House Publishers’ Katara Patton was honored as Nonfiction Editor of the Year and Stephanie Boene for Fiction Editor of the Year.

AWSA also recognized Arlene Pellicane as Member of the Year, and best-selling author Kathi Macias presented the Beyond Me award to Grace Fox for exemplifying the heart of Christ through her outreach.

The Christian Authors Network (CAN, also presented its awards during the AWSA event. The CAN Nonfiction Book of the Year first-place award went to Kathy Collard Miller for Partly Cloudy with Scattered Worries (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), and Ruchti picked up her second award of the day (after taking second place Golden Scroll for Nonfiction) as the CAN Novel of the Year first-place winner for All My Belongings (Abingdon Press).

Author Cynthia Ruchti of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW, announced the finalists in 11 Carol Awards categories. Carol Johnson, the pioneer editor for whom the award is named, opened the news conference. The group’s CEO, author Colleen Coble, announced Robin Lee Hatcher as the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

The Carol Award winners will be presented during the 2014 ACFW National Conference in St. Louis at the Sept. 27 gala.

The Association of Logos Bookstores ( presented its Book of the Year winners at a Saturday evening store event. Becky Gorczyca, executive director of the retail group, presented the awards.

Author of the Year—chosen for the writer whose body of work exemplifies the power of books to change lives forever—went to J.I. Packer. Category book winners were: Fiction: The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg (Tyndale House Publishers); Christian Living: The Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey (Zondervan); Christianity/Culture: The Global Public Square by Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press); Theology, Doctrine, Reference: To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson (David C Cook); Spirituality, Devotional: Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard (InterVarsity Press); Youth: Hot Chocolate With God Devotional by Camryn Kelly with Jill and Erin Kelly (FaithWords); and Children’s Picture Books: My Mama & Me by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley. —Johnson

Children’s Products Workshop continues to draw crowd of retailers after 20 years Print Email
Written by Natalie Gillespie   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 03:50 PM America/New_York

Educator Dr. Mary Manz Simon reports on significant growth in kids’ market, honored by CBA with special reward

MaryManzSimon-MarkHallColor and creativity were two of the hottest trends in children’s products at the 2014 International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta.

Children’s gift items are bright and bold this year, with CBA newcomer Stephen Joseph displaying backpacks and lunchboxes in primary reds and blues for boys and hot pink, orange and lime green among the colors for girls. Color and creativity were also on display at DaySpring, which is introducing more Crayola products, including Color Wonder and new Dry Erase, into the Christian market.

“Active engagement is extremely strong this year,” children’s trends expert Dr. Mary Manz Simon told retailers at her annual Children’s Trends workshop, which celebrated 20 years this year with free snacks, prizes and a large number of product giveaways. “It’s all about kids doing things.”

Simon said that since the former emphasis on promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for children has been replaced by STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), children’s products that encourage interactivity and imagination are engaging consumers.

In that vein, Cactus Game Design is seeing success with its Apples to Apples Bible Edition and Cranium Bible Edition games, while Talicor just introduced The American Bible Challenge Board Game, based on the popular game show. Even some picture books have become interactive, with Zondervan’s Love Letters From God by Glenys Nellist (Sept. 9) outfitted with “envelopes” glued onto the pages filled with letters to the reader.

In her workshop, Simon cited a CBA store survey in which retailers reported that children’s Bibles and Bible storybooks are the fastest-growing category of kids’ products. Simon said that Hollywood has helped to drive that trend, and with even more faith-based films planned for release this fall, the category should continue to grow.

“We have seen a wave of biblical epics which have generated huge box-office sales,” Simon said. “The Bible has become a water-cooler focus.”

Zondervan introduced at ICRS its updated NIrV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, which now features full color and more pages that offer biblical insights, trivia and engaging elements. The hardcover design is also holographic.

Simon encouraged retailers to host events in their stores—from tapping into nationally recognized designated days like Grandparents’ Day to hiding eggs with coupons or candy during the Easter season—because the children’s department is a natural fit for fun.

“An event gives the impression that good things are happening in the store,” she said. “And excitement feeds excitement.”

Simon reminded retailers that today’s consumers are savvy researchers and are more likely to buy in-store if they have already learned about the item online, seen a video about it or heard other moms recommend it. She said retailers should ask suppliers for video clips they can use in-store and run on their websites in order to educate the consumer.

Customers also are heading into brick-and-mortar Christian stores because of coupons, the CBA survey showed. Catalog, online and emailed coupons were redeemed frequently and kept consumers coming back.

“Coupons still rule,” Simon said. “They remain the most effective promotional device available, so continue to do what you’ve been doing to save your customers money.”

Although coupons are important, Simon also said that Nielsen data revealed consumers of children’s products are no longer looking for the lowest-priced children’s items. Today, parents and other customers of children’s items are looking for personalized products and gifts that best fit the occasion or need.

“During the recession, price equaled value,” Simon said. “The post-recession customer has redefined value to include content and relevance. You know what? That’s great news for us.”

CBA and the Association of Logos Bookstores surprised Simon during the Children’s Trends Workshop with special awards to celebrate two decades of the training event. In the past 20 years, suppliers have given away more than $100,000 in free product to retailers in attendance; and Simon has invested more than 60,000 hours in preparation for the popular workshops. —Natalie Gillespie

Gift makers offer fashion, fun with wide-ranging lines Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 07 August 2014 03:45 PM America/New_York

Runway sees new Christian fashion, while Fair Trade focuses on the cause shopper

Kerusso-GodsNotDeadFrom Fair Trade to Made-in-USA items, gift products have a broad reach, as could be seen at the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS).

Traffic from countries such as China, Korea, Nigeria and New Zealand was high at Halle Joy, a Texas-based company known for its handbags. This year, however, the trend for the company is jewelry. Design Director Curtis Downs said the sterling silver program of carded pendant necklaces is what’s new this year.

“A good percentage of our product this year will be jewelry,” Downs said. “More of the chains that we worked with have requested the jewelry over the bags, so we followed the demand. Women buy more pieces of jewelry than they would a handbag.”

The pendants with a $25-$39 price point come on cards with scripture or inspirational sayings. There are also some mother-daughter sets, and “a lot of really feminine and dainty pieces in the sterling line,” Downs’ wife, Jara, told Christian Retailing.

There were a number of apparel companies exhibiting as well, including Not of This World and Kerusso, which shared CBA’s Gift & Specialty Items booth award with Scripture Candy.

Kerusso held its annual 3:16 event, which drew a crowd for products tossed into the crowd and giveaways from drawings. Two big prizes given were the Left Behind display with product and $500 cash.

Along with new caps and “Cherished Girl” long-sleeve tees, Kerusso was highlighting its Left Behind movie-inspired products, including shirts, caps, stainless-steel tumblers and wristbands.

Kevin Sumner’s company, 1Eighty Apparel, was at ICRS as an exhibitor for the first time but not with a big booth. Geni Hulsey invited Sumner to set up a booth in the Church Store Connection area.

“It tends to be a better market for us because a lot of independent stores don’t understand a $20-or-higher-price point T-shirt,” Sumner said of church stores.

Bringing his 25 years of retail experience to the show, he finds it “encouraging to see a lot of new apparel vendors, which means there’s more selection,” said Sumner, who also advised church stores to buy several brands, giving consumers more options.

LifeWay Christian Stores and some larger church stores have been consistent with offering his product, and he plans to expand his reach through a distribution partner.

One company had a daily fashion show at the Creative Pavilion stage on the show floor. Christians in Fashion presented the Cool Revival Runway Show where Christian designers showcased their collections. The fashion show featured the work of models, stylists and hair and makeup artists.

Contributing to fashion was one of the more unusual gift products at ICRS, a museum-quality umbrella ($15.99) from Swanson Christian Products. The company had success with one last year and opted to bring out three new umbrella designs at a much lower price point than what would normally be seen in the general market.

One clothing company, Saved by Grace, is dedicated to assisting homeless families in shelters across the nation. The company made a donation of 1,000 garments to Atlanta’s Buckhead Christian Ministry, the ministry CBA designated as the recipient of the ICRS 2014 offering.

Saved by Grace recently launched the Grace for Two Project, which provides clothing to homeless families in shelters through a buy one, give one model.

“This is a big show, and we are thrilled to provide our clothing line as an example for how Christian organizations can impact their local communities,” said co-founder of Saved by Grace and GF2P Lauren Breiding.

There was “a sense of community” at the show, Halle Joy’s designer said, and Carpentree’s Sherry Morris agreed.

“We’re excited to always meet with our retailers and just make those connections that are so important for us in our industry,” said Morris, director of marketing. “We’ve seen some new people on the floor who are interested in starting new stores. It’s been very fun to visit with them and be able to teach them a little about Carpentree merchandising.”

Bob Perryman, senior director of product with DaySpring, said the new “Premium Collection” cards, which retail for $4.99 to $10.99 each, were “resonating pretty much across the board with all of our retailers.” Picking up on cues in the card industry, DaySpring opted to create high-end cards for special occasions, available this fall.

Another unusual DaySpring line caters to middle-aged or older customers with a product range featuring journals and books.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in our ‘Hope for the Heart’ line, which is really about helping people along their path to wellness,” Perryman said. “So, as you think of an aging population, really just as we all age, we want to live well and finish well, so a lot of the products there really resonate with that.”

In addition, DaySpring was promoting its children’s products tied with the Crayola brand and its U-Neeks brand, which has a new app that is free for download.

Lighthouse Christian Products, which was celebrating its three Christian Retailing’s Best awards, had a good show.

“They appreciate the fact that we are constantly refreshing our lines and that we put scripture on all of the products that we make,” said Ed Nizynski, vice president of sales. “They appreciate the booklets of the gospel that we add to our products, and they thank me all the time for our customer service that we render.”

The company has had success with its Ark of the Covenant sculpture and is now making a “very large” version of it as well as a Spanish version, Nizynski said.

Abbey Press said the retailers who came to the show “came here ready to spend” and that the company was “pleased with what the response is with our product,” said Sue Ann Kloeck, director of trade marketing.

Abbey’s “Blooming Blessings” kitchenware was its “No. 1 hottest seller” at ICRS. Crosses and mugs did well along with new professions gifts themed around careers.

Cynthia Glensgard of Global Handmade Hope urged retailers to use cause marketing to attract loyal customers, noting that Fair Trade “embodies Christian values.”

But, she cautioned, because of its higher price point, “You can’t put it next to a product from China and expect it to sell.” —Johnson