Christian Retailing

‘Pockets of opportunity’ for stores Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009 01:14 PM America/New_York

Customer profiles reveal potential growth areas for business

Although many Christian retailers are struggling with the bleak retail economy, one industry expert believes there are “pockets of opportunity” for stores willing to ask hard questions and change according to the needs of their customers.

kelly gallagherThe message of hope was offered by Kelly Gallagher—general manager of business intelligence at publishing information company R.R. Bowker—who presented information from the company’s Consumer Information Research panel during the CBA Industry Conference .09, which drew 110 retailers, publishers and industry leaders to Atlanta last month.

Citing an aging customer base at Christian retail and stores “losing numbers of consumers,” Gallagher told attendees that reaching a younger generation was the “key to moving Christian retailing forward.”

Painting a portrait of the average Christian retail customer, Gallagher noted that 64% were women, 72% were over the age of 40, 46% had an annual income of more than $50,000 and 70% were Protestant believers—with 57% of those actively practicing their faith.

Additionally, Gallagher revealed that 22% of Christian book buyers were Catholic or Mormon, while the final 8% were identified as non-Protestants. 
He encouraged attendees to ask themselves “who could be your customer?” rather than “who is your customer?” Gallagher gave the example of how the sales of cookbooks last year were flat, but “they were through the roof” with younger generations.

He also observed that women accounted for 68% of fiction sales in the general market, but they made 89% of such purchases in the Christian retail sector.
“Where are we with fiction for men?” Gallagher asked. “Are you making your fiction section so focused on one segment that you’re missing out on another?”
Gallagher urged attendees to study their customers’ buying habits and technologies, and to ask themselves “how committed am I to change” in reaching customers?

Other presentations at the Jan. 14 conference also highlighted change, whether focusing on emerging technologies like cell-phone marketing or giving the customers more options.

In his closing remarks, CBA President Bill Anderson said the turnout had “surpassed” the CBA goal for the conference. He told Christian Retailing that CBA was “definitely” planning an Industry Conference for 2010. “What the format is, I don’t know,” Anderson said.

Suzanne Millen, promotions planner for In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, found the sessions helpful, especially in regard to reaching younger customers.
“I primarily came to learn about the social networking, just knowing that our market … and economy is changing, and getting new ideas on what to do,” she said.

CBA Industry Conference 09 was held following AmericasMart’s Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, and just before the Christian Trade Association International’s Marketsquare International.

Just like last year, CBA worked out an agreement with the gift convention. Christian gift vendors who exhibited at AmericasMart were identified with CBA signage outside their booths, a benefit new business owner Kim Humphries of Hold That Thought in Decatur, Ala., found extremely helpful. “Most of our really good contacts came from that sign,” she said.

But other exhibitors such as Abbey Press expressed disappointment with the traffic at AmericasMart, estimating a sales decline of 25% from last year’s show.

Holiday sales deliver a ‘mixed bag’ Print Email
Written by Ken Walker   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009 01:07 PM America/New_York

Stores, suppliers ‘optimistic’ despite a weak Christmas season

The 2008 Christmas season produced “a mixed bag” of results for Christian retailers, suppliers and publishers, but they sounded more upbeat than the gloomy reports from the worst U.S. holiday shopping period in nearly 40 years from the general market channel.

Amid a turbulent economy, many mainstream retailers reported steep sales declines during Christmastime. Holiday sales for such chains as Gap (14%), Sears (12.8%) and Macy’s (4%) were all down, according to the Associated Press. Even Wal-Mart reported smaller sales gain than expected, posting a modest sales increase of 1.2%—down from 2.7% in 2007.

Many in the Christian industry were still compiling results in early January, but several contacted by Christian Retailing were optimistic about holiday results.

jason greenSales at some of Mardel Christian & Education’s 27 stores were flat, according to President Jason Green, who noted that overall business increased thanks to strong openings at two new stores that launched during the Christmas season.

Apparel, framed art, gift items and Bibles were popular with the chain’s customers, he added, with the latter boosted by new releases, including Crossway Books & Bibles’ ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible.

“We are optimistic about 2009,” Green said. “While we are concerned about the economic situation that is before us, we know that God is control.”

Meanwhile, Dicksons released nearly 1,350 new items last month—the second largest rollout of products in the 65-year history of the Indiana-based gift company, according to Vice President of Marketing Steve Mohler.

“We realized new product with current design and colors are important to inspirational gifts and our industry,” he said. “Everything I hear is that things will pick up (economically) this year. If we’re not prepared for the rebound, we’ll be late. We won’t do that. We’ll be ready.”

Mohler added that Dicksons had heard “a mixed bag” of reports from independent bookstores. “It’s not all bad,” he said. “We’ve heard of different stores in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia that had 8% to 12% increases. I’m pleasantly surprised that some stores had a good Christmas. There’s light out there.”

Mark Hutchinson—co-owner of Blessings Christian Marketplace, a chain of four stores based in Chilliwack, British Columbia—said December sales were 16.9% up from 2007.

Blessings’ top sellers over Christmas were William P. Young’s The Shack, Karen Kingsbury’s Every Now and Then and Michael W. Smith’s A New Hallelujah.

“We did not heavily discount anything,” Hutchinson said. “We had various special promotions running, but not widespread at all. … All in all we tried to communicate that we were offering fairly priced products throughout the store. I think our numbers illustrate that we did well and did not give the store away. Our margins were also higher this year than last year.”

Elsewhere, Deeper Calling Media—an online retailing operation that handles the Web site for approximately 130 mostly Christian-owned stores—reported a 5% increase in December from 2007.

Owner Bill Goodyear said he attributed the sales jump to his clients offering unique products, including gourmet food items, Christmas ornaments, high-end home décor and various specialty products.

“The fact (that) we were up was exceedingly encouraging,” he said.
Meanwhile, STL Distribution North America exceeded its budget for December and saw an increase in business from 2007, according to Vice President of Marketing David Dykhouse.

“We were the prime source for Canadian retailers to turn to in the wake of R.G. Mitchell’s demise,” said Dykhouse, referring to the largest Christian distributor in Canada unexpectedly closing last September. “We aggressively pursued the business and were rewarded with a dividend of extra Christmas sales.”

However, several retailers, suppliers and publishers reported soft Christmas sales.
In Heaven’s Name Christian Bookstore in Dalton, Ga., saw seasonal declines of 9% in sales and 44% in gift certificates. Owner Geneva Whitener attributed the latter to the media putting a damper on the category as shoppers shied away from gift cards and certificates for fear that the stores would go broke.
“It seemed like we had more traffic this year, but people were buying less,” Whitener said. “They weren’t buying large items as they did in 2007.”

Elaine Todd, owner of Living Branches in Winchester, Va., estimated her sales were off by 20%. “It doesn’t pay my bills to know I’m not alone,” she said of other retailers’ woes. “But I guess I know it’s not something I’m doing desperately wrong.”

DaySpring Cards saw a decline in Christmas product, primarily because of a decreased customer count due to store closings, said Director of Communications Brenda Turner.

Rick Shear, vice president of Christian retail key account sales for Thomas Nelson, said holiday season sales were flat.

Christmas sales for Zondervan were just slightly down over 2007, according to Verne Kenney, executive vice president of sales. He said a pair of Zondervan titles were strong seasonal sellers—Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life and Jon and Kate Gosselin’s Multiple Blessings, released last October.

2009 Retailers Choice Awards: Choosing the Best of the Year Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009 10:32 AM America/New_York

Nominations open for top books, Bibles, gifts, music and more

rca award statueChristian retailers are again being given the opportunity to place their seal of approval on the best new Christian products of the year. Voting will begin soon in Christian Retailing’s 2009 Retailers Choice Awards.

Since it was introduced in 2001, the Retailers Choice Awards program has been increasingly acknowledged in the industry as an important way of recognizing some of the most significant new life-changing materials.

New categories
This year’s program sees the addition of several new categories, in recognition of the continuing changes in Christian retailing. New prizes will be awarded for the Best Church Supply and Christian Education products.

In addition, there will be new awards for the Best Backlist Product of the Year, the Best Marketing/Promotion Campaign and the Top New Supplier.

Before voting opens in our 35 categories, however, it’s time for suppliers to nominate their top products from last year for consideration. Publishers, music labels, gift companies and others last year put forward almost 250 products from which retailers may choose.

The entry fee to nominate products remains the same this year, just $50 per item. Nominations will be accepted through Friday, March 6. Supplier nomination details can be found on this page, with online voting to start in April.
The winners of the 2009 Retailers Choice Awards will be announced at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver in July.

For full details, including a downloadable nomination form and a complete list of last year’s winners, visit

Official rules
Products nominated for the 2009 Retailers Choice Awards must have been published/released in 2008, except for Best Backlist Product, and include clear Christian content, message or worldview.

In the Gift category, “inspirational” items not specifically Christian will be considered, although those contrary to orthodox Christianity will not be included.

Entry fees for products not accepted will be returned in full.

Retailers will be asked to judge nominations on the impact they have had on staff and customers, including their ability to:
-Speak to people’s hearts and evoke emotion
-Open people’s minds to new ways of thinking
-Encourage and affirm Christlike living

Nominating companies shall not canvass retailers for votes; ballots that have been solicited by suppliers will be disqualified.

Voting details will appear in the May 4, 2009, issue of Christian Retailing, with a retailer ballot form available online. Voting retailers will be eligible for a drawing to receive a free selection of finalists’ products.

The deadline for suppliers to nominate products is Friday, March 6.

The deadline for retailers to vote will be Friday, May 29.

E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Serving up tasty fiction Print Email
Written by Staff   
Thursday, 15 January 2009 01:14 PM America/New_York

Publishers hope bonus recipe content will increase appetite for growth category

book-signingPublishers are looking to feed the growing appetite for Christian fiction with some additional takeaway value. Several new and recently released books feature recipes that allow readers to literally chew over what they have read.
Among the authors serving up the extras is best-selling Amish drama writer Wanda E. Brunstetter, who recently completed a taste-test book tour in support of White Christmas Pie—released in September by Barbour Publishing.
During Brunstetter’s tour, Christian bookstore employees made homemade samples of the dish of the title, which included instructions on how to make the dessert.
Others offering culinary bonuses include Eva Marie Everson and Linda Evans Shepherd’s whose “The Potluck Catering Club” series from Revell/Baker Publishing Group debuted in September with The Secret’s in the Sauce, featuring six friends from the earlier series “The Potluck Club” who start a catering business in a small Colorado town.

Everson and Shepherd said the food focus of the book has provided many opportunities to connect with hungry readers in local book clubs.
The authors said the typical book club meeting consists of preparing a food featured in the book with discussions on how they prepared the meal. “Potluck Catering Club” readers also connect and share recipes on a promotional Web site for the book series.

Also released the same month as The Secret’s in the Sauce was debut novelist Beth Wiseman’s Plain Perfect (Thomas Nelson), pairing Amish cuisine with an Amish storyline. She has posted recipes featured in the book on her Web site.

Meanwhile, readers will soon be invited to submit their own recipes in an upcoming contest for to-be-determined prizes promoting the April 2009 release of Face of Betrayal (Thomas Nelson) by Lis Wiehl and April Henry, the first novel in the “Triple Threat” series centering on three female protagonists who meet to solve cold cases and share their favorite desserts.

Food plays an important role in drawing readers in, according to Camy Tang, author of the novels Sushi For One? and Only Uni (both Zondervan). Tang prominently included scenes of family meals in her books and has been promoted as an author who writes “Asian Chick Lit with a kick of wasabi.”

“Readers—both Asian and other ethnicities—love the food described in the ‘Sushi’ series, even those who don’t like sushi,” Tang told Christian Retailing. “They enjoy learning about the different types of foods—Japanese and Chinese—and the mishaps that occur around food and eating.”

Tang said the focus on food in her novels was due to the high value placed on family gatherings in the Asian community. With custom requiring visitors to bring food, the focus of shared meals was a natural fit for her books and readers have responded.
“Readers tell me that food forms a large part of many other ethnic American cultures, and they enjoy reading about Asian food, comparing it to dishes their family makes,” she said.

Mavis Sanders, corporate publicist for Tyndale House Publishers, told Christian Retailing that food plays “an integral part of almost every Tyndale novel … whether it be for sustenance, fellowship, comfort or to help to set the scene or describe a character.”

Sanders said that Angela Hunt’s “Fairlawn” series, including Doesn’t She Look Natural?, She Always Wore Red and the March 2009 release She’s in a Better Place, feature recipes for “comfort food” like hot chicken salad casserole, strawberry muffins and brown sugar pecan pie.

Tyndale’s “Sweet Delights” series by Terri Blackstock, Elizabeth White and Ranee McCollum concludes each novella with a favorite recipe from the authors, including “Death By Chocolate” brownie dessert, chocolate icing and “The Rhys Carter Surprise”—a no-bake chocolate dessert.

Although the food-fiction connection has been heightened recently, it is not entirely new.

Neta Jackson’s popular “Yada Yada Prayer group” series, published by Thomas Nelson, may have been an appetizer for the trend, with re-released, enhanced “party editions” featuring additional content as well as recipes and tips for celebrating international holidays.

Despite the food-in-fiction interest, Christian retail shelves have traditionally been bare of cookbooks, which have typically not sold well.

The large format inspirational cookbook Come to the Table by Benita Long (Thomas Nelson) has been a recent exception.

In its second printing less than two months after its October release, the $24.99 cookbook had done “very, very well” at Christian stores, according to Jason Jones, Nelson’s publicist for business, culture and general interest.

In a similar vein to Come to the Table, a series of books released by Harvest House Publishers have centered specifically on sharing stories and fellowship through tea parties.

Titles in the series include Sandy Clough’s Come to My Tea Party, When Friends Gather for Tea and An Invitation to Tea, co-written by Emilie Barnes.

Faith travel market ‘worth exploring’ Print Email
Written by Staff   
Thursday, 15 January 2009 01:28 PM America/New_York

Publishers, retailers encouraged to tap into religious tourism

Christian suppliers have been encouraged to explore new territories for their products—in the world of religious travel.

Faith-based tourism is a huge potential growth area for publishing and other Christian resources, according to those behind the recently launched The Year of Faith Tourism.

The initiative was launched at the first annual World Religious Travel Association (WRTA) expo and conference—which concluded last month in Orlando, Fla., where organizers said that with millions of people making short-term mission trips or taking part in religiously based visits or events each year, there was an underserved growing market for materials.

Among those who have put their toe in the travel-related waters is Ellie Claire, which released a classic-styled, $12.99 travel journal to good response in the summer of 2008.  There are plans for a missions-focused journal to release before next summer .“We would definitely be interested in expanding further into this area,” said President Carlton Garborg.

WRTA attendees heard that travel products could range from specifically travel-related items to more general backlist titles that could be of interest to those journeying for different reasons—such as books about the Reformation for people traveling to Switzerland this year to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Reformer John Calvin.

The WRTA event drew more than 500 travel agents, organizations and planners who heard that what had once been a niche market focused on pilgrimages, retirees and low budgets had broadened into an $18 billion-a-year industry attracting all ages and embracing a wide range of destinations and styles.
The new WRTA was founded by Kevin J. Wright, the author of four faith-based travel guidebooks, including The Christian Travel Planner, released by Thomas Nelson in January 2008.

He said that while faith-based travel currently accounted for only about 2-3% of the overall travel industry, it seemed to be following the trend of Christian publishing and music, which had each been about 1% of their larger category markets in the 1980s and grown to take a 5% share of the overall market.

Thomas Nelson was among the almost 100 exhibitors on the WRTA trade show floor, where more than 30 countries—including Israel and Jordan—were represented. In addition to countries with biblical and historic Christian sites, exhibitors included locations offering increasingly popular Christian convention and cruise destinations.

Linville J. Johnson, deputy director of the religious market for the Bahamas Tourist Office, said that many Christian cruise visitors to Nassau asked to be shown the home and church led by the island’s best-selling author Myles Munroe, with whom discussions were taking place about possibly including his church as part of an official tour.

In addition to Wright’s Nelson title, other travel-related titles on display in Orlando included his Liguori Publications “Pilgrim’s Travel Guide” titles Catholic Shrines of Western Europe and Europe’s Monastery and Convent Guesthouses.
The Oct. 29-Nov. 1 WRTA event followed a year in Ellie Ckaire joined some other Christian publishers in travel-related projects.

Standard Publishing brought out three teen mission trip devotions and journals in March for use before, during and after programs. The success of the pocket-sized Anticipate, Experience and Reflect titles, each costing $9.99, prompted the November release of versions for adults, Called, Challenged and Changed.
Brownlow Gift’s 2008 My Missionary Journal, with a similar format to Ellie Claire’s, retails for $9.99.

While consumer spending has been hit by the recent economic downturn, faith-based travel had been one area least affected, according to several of the 50-odd WRTA panelists and presenters.

According to one study referenced at the convention, worldwide there were 300 million religious travelers annually, worldwide. In the U.S., more than 2 million took part in missionary travel each year, while 15 million people attended 17,000 Christian events from conventions to meetings.

The travel-related opportunities spotlighted at the WRTA event were not limited to publishers, suggested association Vice President Honnie Korngold. In addition to promoting travel-related books and other materials, Christian retailers might look into linking in some way with Christian travel groups to let shoppers know about faith tourism packages, she said.

Thanksgiving for the new year Print Email
Written by Staff   
Friday, 16 January 2009 02:06 PM America/New_York

Andy ButcherI’m a big sap when it comes to Christmas, but in the 15 years that the U.S. has been my home, I have come to appreciate the Thanksgiving holiday as much, if not more,  than the one it precedes.

As I write, my turkey is defrosting in the fridge, and by the time you read this the bones will have been long discarded, yet I believe there are some Thanksgiving lessons that can guide us as we enter a new and uncertain year.

First, it marks a clear start to the new season: Christmas is coming! The tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving, and Chez Butcher becomes a Christmas-music-only zone for the next few weeks. No more guessing about when to unpack the decorations like back in England, or plain forgetting to do so.

Digital initiative provides church program resources Print Email
Written by Jimmy Stewart   
Thursday, 15 January 2009 04:27 PM America/New_York

Comprehensive Vacation Bible School guide to be paired online with ‘Ministry Today’ magazine

A comprehensive guide to the 2009 line-up of Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs is to be made available to 100,000 pastors soon as part of a digital publishing initiative by Christian Retailing magazine, part of the Strang Media Group.

The 28-page 2009 VBS Product Guide published as a supplement to the Nov. 10, 2008, issue of Christian Retailing magazine will be paired online with the January-February edition of Ministry Today, a bimonthly magazine for those in church leadership, also published by Strang.

“For church VBS committees, all the content of the guide is in one place online where each committee member can access it,” said Christian Retailing Publisher Dave Condiff. “It solves a need a VBS committee has to share and access resources.”

CBA to shorten its centerpiece annual summer show Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Friday, 16 January 2009 10:46 AM America/New_York

Cost-cutting move to reduce length of ICRS welcomed as a ‘positive change’ by industry leaders

CBA is to shorten its annual summer show—long the centerpiece of the Christian products industry—from five to four days.

The trade association said the decision—welcomed by industry leaders—was a cost-cutting move as well as response to feedback from exhibitors.
Marking its 60th anniversary in Denver, the retailers trade association’s International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) will be held July 12-15, 2009.

Announced in late November, the new four-day format—which includes three days of extended exhibit-floor hours—will allow exhibitors and attendees to maximize time away from their offices and stores, while reducing their costs, CBA officials said. Total exhibit time will be reduced by just three hours, while shaving off a day of travel costs, meals and time investment.

Customized Jeremy Camp CD give fans ‘another experience’ Print Email
Written by Cameron Conant   
Friday, 16 January 2009 10:50 AM America/New_York

‘Exclusive albums’ can provide a ‘differentiation’ tool for Christian bookstores, says creator of Parable’s special-offer initiative

The Parable Group is evaluating the success of an exclusive album by Jeremy Camp, which was intended to help drive music sales.

Parable and EMI CMG Distribution recently released a customized CD by Camp, featuring songs that have influenced him from artists such as Audio Adrenaline, Keith Green and dcTalk.

Available only at more than 50 Parable stores and Parable’s Web site, ArtistSelect: Jeremy Camp is a 10-song album—the first CD by a well-known Christian artist featuring his favorite songs sung by other musicians.

Comparable to iTunes’ “Celebrity Playlist” and Starbucks’ “Artist’s Choice” albums, the concept is to sell pre-existing content to fans of a well-known artist for only the cost of licensing fees.

Officials for Parable and EMI CMG said the customized CD idea could generate traffic to Christian bookstores because the product would not be available at big-box stores, chains or other online retailers.

Released last August, ArtistSelect: Jeremy Camp features two of Camp’s songs as well as eight tunes performed by other artists that Camp likes, including “For the Sake of the Call” by Steven Curtis Chapman and “The Hardway (Remix)” by dcTalk. The Parable CD also features a 35-minute interview with Camp about his life and why he chose the songs he did for the album.

Bryan Ward—director of catalog development for EMI CMG who worked with Camp and Parable to put the album together—told Christian Retailing if the CD sells well, “we could branch out to Steven Curtis Chapman and Amy Grant, with the idea that we’ll release something like this six or seven months before that artist’s next studio record comes out.”

ArtistSelect: Jeremy Camp included a coupon to encourage the artist’s fans to purchase Speaking Louder Than Before (BEC Recordings/EMI CMG)—Camp’s latest studio album, which was released in November, four months after the customized CD came out. Camp also promoted his new album during the interview segment on the Parable CD.

“We thought this could be a catalog piece to not only brand Jeremy Camp, but something that we could also use in between albums in order to give the core fan another experience they could enter into,” Ward said.

The “ArtistSelect” idea came from Randy Ross, a music inventory specialist at Parable who noticed the success that Starbucks and iTunes had with customized CDs. Ross told Christian Retailing that Parable had created several customized CDs in the past, including albums from pianist Tom Howard and folk singer T.J. McCloud. He added that some of the CDs had sold 25,000 to 45,000 units.

However, Ross admitted that he was a little disappointed with sales of ArtistSelect: Jeremy Camp so far. “The disc has done OK, but not as well as we would have liked,” said Ross, who declined to release specific sales numbers.
Ross called exclusive albums more of a “differentiation” product for brick-and-mortar stores than a “revitalization” tool.

“We’d love to pursue other artists and build a line of product, but it is too early to tell,” Ross said. “With each exclusive, a group of retailers gives feedback and direction about upcoming releases. That feedback has not been gathered yet on the (ArtistSelect: Jeremy Camp) CD.”

Meanwhile, Family Christian Stores has offered free music downloads through The country’s largest Christian bookstore chain allowed music fans to download three new songs every Tuesday. Songs offered in November included “Mighty to Save” by Michael W. Smith from his newest album, A New Hallelujah (Reunion Records/Provident-Integrity Distribution).

Lawsuit against Precious Moments dismissed Print Email
Written by Rhonda Sholar   
Friday, 16 January 2009 10:55 AM America/New_York

Singer-songwriter claimed teardrop-eyed gift company stole her idea for virtual club, series of books

Precious Moments has been cleared of any wrongdoing in a federal lawsuit brought by a Franklin, Tenn., singer-songwriter who claimed that the company behind the iconic teardrop-eyed gift characters stole her idea for a virtual club for young girls and a new series of books featuring Christian characters.

In her lawsuit filed in September, Shannon Clemmons sued for breach of fiduciary duties, fraud, unfair competition, copyright infringement and breach of contract. Precious Moments denied her claims.

In late October a judge for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee dismissed 15 of 18 claims of copyright infringement against

Precious Moments and one of six fraud claims against Ron Smith of Ron Smith Management Partners in Nashville. During a trial in early November, the judge threw out the remaining fraud claims against Ron Smith, and a jury ruled in favor of Precious Moments and Smith on all copyright infringement claims.

“The judge … and the jury … (found) that we independently developed all aspects of the Precious Girls Club,” Susan Meek, vice president of licensing for the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Precious Moments, told Christian Retailing.

According to the lawsuit, Clemmons came up with the idea in 2005 to create a line of Christian characters that she called Gracie Girls. She wrote several songs and had sketches of characters drawn up with plans to create a color storybook, lyrics for five songs, a Gracie Girls Club membership, a study guide for mothers and a princess crown.

According to The (Nashville) Tennessean, Clemmons claimed she pitched her creation to Smith, a Christian agent who has consulted with well-known authors, musicians and gift creators in the last 20 years, in May 2007.

But Smith told Clemmons the Christian retail market was struggling, she said, and that Christian book sales were going downhill. Clemmons said she left a DVD and portfolio from her sales pitch with one of Smith’s employees, the newspaper reported.

Clemmons said that this past August she found the Precious Girls Club—designed for girls ages 2 to 10 and based on Precious Moments’ popular line of ceramic angels—featured in Playthings magazine, the newspaper reported. Clemmons’ suit claimed that Smith and his company were working with Precious Moments in launching the Precious Girls Club, while telling her there was no market for her Gracie Girls line.

Smith told Christian Retailing he briefly met with Clemmons in May 2007 as a favor for a friend. But after seeing her product, Smith said he declined to take it.

Some bookstores prosper despite tough economic climate Print Email
Written by Eric Tiansay   
Friday, 16 January 2009 11:02 AM America/New_York

Independents focus on ‘connecting with customers,’ making their stores ‘fun and inviting’

Several independent Christian retailers have gone against gloomy economic trends, expanding their stores and adding new locations in a focus on growth for the future, despite a challenging business climate.

A longtime member of the Munce Group, Tree of Life recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with several events, including a Gigi Princess Party as well as bringing in authors Beverly Lewis and Neta Jackson. The Indianapolis-based bookstore opened Aug. 1, 1998, with 1,700 square feet, according to co-owner Sally Kerchner.
After remodeling and expanding, the store now has 4,800 square feet, with approximately 1,400 square feet dedicated to an extensive gift section for the home, pastors, babies, bereavement, anniversaries and sacramental occasions.

Kerchner said Tree of Life “continues to grow in customer count, revenue and outreach to the community.” Kerchner’s husband, Bill, runs the daily operations of the store, and she helps primarily with the gift section when she’s not working as a pediatric oncology nurse for a local hospital.

“Our heart for the needs of our customers in our community established our business,” she said. “There is nothing else you can do that compares to customer service. … No one can enter our store without a ‘Hello, how can I help you,’ or ‘How are you today’ from one of our staff.”

Customer Kris Hoopingarner said Tree of Life is “a gem of a store. In the midst of retail stores that no longer provide service and a friendly smile, this store offers both (and) where shopping is truly a pleasure.”

Kirk Blank, chief operations officer for the Munce Group, said the Kerchners—who serve on the marketing group’s retail advisory board—“truly work to be a light and a loving example of Jesus to their customers and community.”
“At a time when even the largest retailers are scaling back, Bill and Sally are pressing ahead and preparing for the future,” he said.

Elsewhere, one of Canada’s largest Christian bookstores recently embarked on a $1 million expansion. Lando Klassen, owner of House of James in Abbotsford, British Columbia, added 5,500 square feet to the 12,500-square-foot bookstore, which he started 35 years ago as a coffeehouse ministry.

Expected to be completed last month, the expansion will add about 70 seats to the coffee shop, which will feature concerts.

“We have been doing live music here regularly for the last 10 years,” Klassen said. “We’re expanding because we are committed to offering more for our customers. Our coffeehouse has been a hit with only 27 seats, and the demand is there so we are growing. … We feel that if we have music every weekend, it will be a real draw.”
He added that the store’s Bible and book departments were expanded as well as adding classic children’s literature, general market children’s books and Playmobil toys from Germany.

“I’ve always said that we have to give our customers more reasons to come in and not just to buy a book, Bible or CD because you can get those from many other places,” Klassen said. “So we have the coffeehouse, a used book section, a huge summer reading club for kids with about 400 kids, author events, library nights, children’s days and more.

“We have to make our place fun and inviting,” he added. “Christian stores have become predictable, quiet and boring. We need some fresh life.”
Meanwhile, the Rainbow Bookstore in Traverse City, Mich., recently launched a second location approximately 65 miles away in Gaylord City, Mich. Jim and Lila Hatch opened the 1,450-square-foot Rainbow Bookstore in Gaylord in October to help fill the void left by a Christian bookseller that went out of business several years ago.

“We opened a small branch in Gaylord in an effort to expand our customer base and offset a recent significant reduction in traffic due to the economic downturn at the Traverse City store,” Jim Hatch said. “We opened our branch store in an attempt to reach customers who no longer can afford to travel 65 miles one way to shop in Traverse City.”

Hatch and his wife bought the 6,500-square-foot Rainbow Bookstore in Traverse City in 2005 from Bob and Jo Panter, who owned the store for 25 years.
“We have survived to date despite the competition, high gas prices and negative economy (because) we partnered with Parable, and used their catalog and other marketing resources to attract customers,” he said. “We are blessed with a knowledgeable and hardworking staff (that) recognizes the relationship importance with connecting with customers.

“These are very difficult times and we must try alternative methods to remain viable,” Hatch added.