Intercession, inspiration and interaction create ‘positive spirit’ at training-and-trade event
Retail and supplier representatives gave a strong thumbs-up to the new-look winter trade show that opened the Christian products industry year, last month.
Launched with an industry-wide prayer rally, The Gathering 2009 drew more than 200 church and other Christian retail store representatives to The Ramada Orlando Celebration Resort & Convention Center in Kisssimee, Fla.
Sponsored by Christian Retailing magazine, the event featured more than 20 workshops and almost 90 exhibitors. Publisher Dave Condiff said he was pleased with early feedback to the fifth annual Gathering—formerly focused on church bookstores but this year expanded to include independent stores.
“We’ve heard some great reports from people who told us that they feel that the event has set them up for success for the coming year—both spiritually and practically,” he said. “Given the economic climate, we’re very happy not only with the attendance but the positive spirit so many people have commented on.”
While overall attendance was down some from last year’s event, a special daylong training program for prospective stores that preceded The Gathering program drew nearly 50 participants.
CBA President Bill Anderson and Munce Group Chief Operating Officer Kirk Blank joined leaders of the Church Bookstore Network in turning to God to ask for wisdom, help and encouragement in facing the challenges of the struggling economy.
They took turns in leading prayer for stores, staff, suppliers, authors and artists, churches, pastors and the media during a 90-minute prayer rally that launched The Gathering.
Some of the participants brought with them photos of their stores and staff, which were posted on a prayer wall created at the back of the meeting room along with written prayers received from others in the industry unable to be at The Gathering in person. Handwritten prayer requests collected from attendees during the prayer meeting were added to the list.
Inspirational contributions came from authors Steven K. Scott, Tullian Tchividjian, Dannah Gresh, Harry Kraus and Don Cousins. Music guests were Dennis Jernigan, Wintley Phipps and Thomas Miller & The Gateway Church Worship Band.
Communication coach Tony Jeary—author of a forthcoming book from Standard Publishing—gave away crisp new $1 bills in his presentation telling retailers how to increase their impact on customers, while children’s market expert Mary Manz Simon organized a giveaway of key new children’s products for her market trends seminar.
Industry consultant and author Jim Seybert gave a sneak preview of some key findings from a survey of inspirational gifts trends, conducted for Christian Retailing’s “Vital Signs” series and to be published next month.
Thirty artists and authors took part in a special dessert reception, signing copies of their new releases and meeting store representatives in the exhibition hall. Among those who took part were worship leader and recording artist Ron Kenoly and Feed the Children founder and President Larry Jones, each introducing new books.
The participating writers, musicians and artists were introduced by President George W. Bush impersonator John Morgan, who also spoke about My Life as a Bush ... and My Heart for Imitating Jesus (Creation House), the book he has written about his unusual ministry.
At the close of The Gathering, organizers made $50-$100 cash awards to more than 30 store representatives who completed more than 35 supplier visits and placed qualifying minimum orders, as part of the exhibition’s “Amazing Race” promotion.
The Gathering: Spiritual emphasis appreciated
Arriving concerned by the struggles of running her store, Anette Campbell, co-owner of independent Notes of Love Christian bookstore in Ormond Beach, Fla., appreciated the spiritual emphasis of The Gathering.
“I have never been in a Christian conference feeling such a presence of the Holy Spirit as this one, and I have attended a few,” said Campbell, who also went away with Kirkbride Bibles worth around $900 retail, after winning one of the several supplier drawings made.
Another independent store representative, Hans DeMildt, manager of Right Way Christian Bookstore in Orange City, Fla., said The Gathering was the only industry event that he would attend this year.
“The economy is part of it, but this is what a show is about,” said DeMildt, whose store is a member of the Munce Group. “The combination of having church bookstores and Christian retailers together makes sense. We’re all in ministry together, trying to accommodate our customers.”
For Pat Walter, manager of Connections Bookstore at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colo., The Gathering was “a good event. It’s always refreshing to spend time with other church bookstore managers. I get charged by the connectivity with like-minded people.”
In the exhibition hall, first-time exhibitor Courrege Design, which gave away 100 examples of its scripture art featuring a handmade cross, opened around 50 new accounts, according to co-owner Beverly Courrege. “It’s been wonderful for us,” she said. “It’s a really intimate atmosphere.”
The Gathering was “a really good show” for New Day Christian Distributors, whose display included the new “Things Not Seen” T-shirt line, said Joanna Price, director of marketing and promotions. “We opened up a lot of new accounts from the prospective stores that were coming in and wrote a lot of good orders.”
At STL Distribution North America, Vice President of Christian Market Sales Terry Draughon said: “This is perhaps the most excited group we have seen at a Christian trade show in the last couple of years.”
The Gathering: Stores, suppliers honored
Multiple-award winners Bill and Gloria Gaither added a nonmusical trophy to their collection, at The Gathering—in honor of their groundbreaking Christian retail initiative.
The pair’s Gaither Family Resources store in Alexandria, Ind., received Christian Retailing magazine’s first Independent Store of the Year Award at The Gathering 2009 in Kissimmee, Fla.
The presentation was made to manager Eric Scott during the annual awards ceremony at the event. The award was given in recognition of the store’s “outstanding contributions in the development of Christian retail.”
With around 10,000 square feet of floor space, the store that was opened in 1996 is centered on 16 “life centers,” which group different kinds of resources around common themes or needs, rather than in traditional categories. The 30-plus staff range in age from teens to their 70s, to be able to connect with a wide range of shoppers.
The Gaither award preceded five presentations by The Church Bookstore magazine.
Large Church Bookstore of the Year: The Living Word bookstore at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. Manager, Sara Peters.
Medium Church Bookstore of the Year: Northland Bookstore at Northland, a Church Distributed in Longwood, Fla., near Orlando. Manager, Steve Bruton.
Small Church Bookstore of the Year: Books of Hope at Community of Hope Lutheran Church in Rosemount, Minn. Manager, Heidi Macias.
Salesman of the Year: Scott Etheridge, inside sales representative for Thomas Nelson.
Vendor of the Year: David C. Cook.
The Gathering: ‘Virtual’ tour extends benefits
Christian retailers unable to attend the first major trade show of the year have been given an opportunity to make sure they don’t miss out on some of the benefits of being there.
Video presentations from almost 90 exhibitors at The Gathering 2009 are being offered online by event organizers
The informal short reports filmed live at the event feature key new products for the coming year and details of specials offered at the show, with some participants extending their specials.
The Web-based Virtual Trade Show Tour is just one way Christian Retailing is using the Internet in new ways to serve retailers and suppliers, said publisher and Gathering organizer Dave Condiff. The “virtual tour” can be seen at the Christian Retailing Web site, christianretailing.com.
“We wanted to help some of those who wanted to attend The Gathering, but were just unable to do so, for one reason or another,” Condiff said. “In just a few minutes, retailers can get a feel for some of what they may have missed at the event, and link directly to suppliers’ Web sites to find out more.”
See more photos from the event in our exclusive online gallery, at www.christian