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

Hachette Book Group continues negotiations with Amazon in much-talked-about sales dispute Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 04:04 PM America/New_York

Amazon-ColbertStickerSheetComedian and Hachette Book Group author Stephen Colbert stirred the publishing pot in June regarding an ongoing dispute between the prominent publisher and online giant Amazon. The bad blood centers around Amazon’s decision to delay the delivery of books, not list some e-books and not permit pre-sales.

Colbert asked viewers of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report to use stickers that read: “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.”

Hachette said negotiations with Amazon are continuing: “It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors’ lives,” a statement from the company said. “For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers’ ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

“Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

“We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing and distributing them at the same time that it recognizes Amazon’s importance as a retailer and innovator. Once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.”

Senior Vice President and Publisher Rolf Zettersten observed that Hachette Nashville’s “hottest-selling book” at the time was Instinct by T.D. Jakes, which Amazon has kept in stock.

Literary agent Chip MacGregor observed on his blog ( that the biggest topic of conversation at May’s Book Expo America in New York City was the Amazon-Hachette dispute. The fight is all about the bottom line, according to MacGregor.

“Amazon, a company that used to pride itself on being customer focused, is deliberately choosing to treat customers badly, in order to try and force better terms from Hachette,” he writes. “(In addition to wanting to sell books at a loss, they want more marketing dollars from Hachette, and of course are pushing for greater discounts. This fight is ALL about money.)”

The American Booksellers Association  (ABA) produced two banners for independent booksellers that read: “Thanks, Amazon, the indies will take it from here,” with tag line options of “Independent bookstores sell books from all publishers. Always,” or “Pre-order and buy Hachette titles today.” Booksellers also can download ABA stickers that read: “I bought it at an independent bookstore” and “I bought it at my local, independent bookstore.”

An Amazon statement from May 27 reads: “Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer. It’s reciprocally the right of a retailer to determine whether the terms on offer are acceptable and to stock items accordingly.”

The online retailer added that the “business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon’s demand-weighted units” and points to its third-party sellers for resolution.

”We’ve offered to Hachette to fund 50% of an author pool—to be allocated by Hachette—to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%,” the Amazon statement said. “We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.” —Johnson

Family Christian Stores announces food company head as new president/CEO Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 03:59 PM America/New_York

ChuckBengocheaFamilyChristianFamily Christian Stores has hired Charles “Chuck” Bengochea as the retail chain’s new president and CEO. The former president and CEO of The Original Honeybaked Ham Company of Georgia, Bengochea began his new role with Family Christian on June 30.

“This is a time of change for Family Christian, and we believe that Charles Bengochea is the ideal choice to lead Family Christian as a world-impacting ministry,” said Rick Jackson, chairman of the board for Family Christian Stores. “Chuck is a direct, passionate, business-savvy leader who knows how to motivate a team to achieve results. His personal mission aligns with the heart of Family Christian, and his knowledge and business experience will facilitate the long-term success of this ministry.”

Bengochea comes to Family Christian with 35 years of successful business leadership. Following his 1979 graduation from Cornell University, Bengochea began to build his career working for General Electric, becoming an analyst in its television business division. In 1987, he joined The Coca-Cola Company and rose to the position of controller of the Fountain Business Division. Bengochea left Coca-Cola in 1995 to become the director of retail operations for The Original Honeybaked Ham Company of Georgia. In 2003, he was named president and three years later, CEO. Under Bengochea’s leadership, Honeybaked Ham of Georgia grew to 200 franchises and 115 company stores.

Bengochea has been married for 37 years. He and his wife, Laurie, have four grown children. Bengochea is a triathlete and has completed in eight Ironman competitions. He recently served as chairman of the board of elders at Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia.

“I am grateful for the trust placed in me by Rick Jackson, Mike Kendrick and Larry Powell, the board of Family Christian,” Bengochea said. “I am also thankful for Cliff Bartow, who is the retiring CEO of Family Christian. Cliff has graciously guided me and the organization in this transition of leadership.”

Jackson voiced the board’s gratitude for the outgoing president.

“The board deeply appreciates the leadership provided by Cliff over these past 11 years,” Jackson said. “Cliff has expertly guided the organization during challenging retail times. He has strengthened the brand, improved operations and, most importantly, expanded the many ministries of Family Christian in changing lives across the globe. A capstone of Cliff’s many accomplishments at Family Christian is securing ownership of the company with stewards who are committed Christians and passionate about the mission of the company. Cliff has done a masterful job in establishing the company as a nonprofit ministry—the first of its kind in the country. The board and company are grateful for the strong leadership provided by Cliff.

Jackson said the board was “blessed” to introduce Bengochea as head of the chain.

“For more than 20 years, Chuck has been leading worldwide brands and organizations,” he said. “Chuck will bring to Family Christian a deep passion for serving our customers. He has also proven that he will relentlessly pursue creating a culture that encourages, equips and releases employees to be successful at every level of the company. We are incredibly enthusiastic that God has brought Chuck to Family Christian. With his passion for kingdom generosity, people and customers, he is God’s man to lead Family Christian.” —Jeremy Burns

Supreme Court narrowly rules for Hobby Lobby Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 03:56 PM America/New_York

Retailer can’t be forced to provide certain contraceptive coverage that violate faith-based convictions

SupremeCourt-CreditUpstateNYerCraft chain Hobby Lobby came out the victor in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision June 30. The long-awaited but narrow ruling for Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby and for Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties fell in favor of the family-run businesses.

The Affordable Care Act—commonly known as Obamacare—directs businesses to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees or face having to pay severe fines. The mandate does not allow businesses owned by Christians whose beliefs conflict with the law to forego providing coverage.

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion for the court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell. The cases were consolidated before the Supreme Court.

“Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them,” he wrote.

Alito called the holding “very specific,” and contrary to what the dissenting opinion, written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, alleges, does not hold “that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises ‘can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’ ”

Lori Windham, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and counsel for Hobby Lobby, saw the ruling as “a landmark decision for religious freedom.”

 “The Supreme Court recognized that Americans do not lose their religious freedom when they run a family business,” Windham said. “This ruling will protect people of all faiths. The court’s reasoning was clear, and it should have been clear to the government. You can’t argue there are no alternative means when your agency is busy creating alternative means for other people.”

The court upheld a June 2013 ruling by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals protecting Hobby Lobby and the Green family from the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, which required the chain to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. While the business provides other forms of contraceptive coverage through insurance, the Greens argued that the HHS mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“Business owners shouldn’t have to give up their faith to operate a business, and they should be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment,” said Curtis Riskey, CBA president. “Americans don’t surrender their freedom when they open a family business.”

Mardel Christian & Education, owned by members of the Green family, also joined the suit. —Christine D. Johnson

Lysa TerKeurst speaks to women’s felt needs Print Email
Written by Ann Byle   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 03:45 PM America/New_York

Best-selling author known for her ‘raw honesty’ engages readers and even learns from her own books

LysaTerKeurst-SheSpeaks-July2013-SeanLyon 200Lysa TerKeurst gladly admits she writes “from a place of my weakness.” Her struggles have yielded the best-selling Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Food and Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, which have reached sales of well more than 1 million copies, not including companion devotionals and participant guides.

Her publisher, Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, which is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishers, is expecting more of the same from her August release, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands.

“Lysa TerKeurst is completely in tune with the desires and needs of her audience,” said Brian Hampton, senior vice president and publisher at Nelson Books. “She does not write books and then hope her readers find them so engaging they talk to friends about them. Instead, she listens to what her readers are talking about—what they are really dealing with in their lives—and then writes books that speak to those needs in an engaging way.”

The combination of Christian retailers and TerKeurst’s books are what Hampton calls the perfect marriage.

“Lysa’s writing touches a broad audience, but the bull’s eye is exactly the kind of woman shopping in Christian retail: passionate about her faith, hungry for practical ideas and inspiration from an author who is authentic and knows from experience what it is like to juggle all of the roles she is playing,” he said.

The goals of the publisher and of Christian retail stores are well-matched: “putting life-changing content in the hands of Christian women (and men),” Hampton said. “Historically, nearly half of all TerKeurst’s book sales have been in Christian retail.”

The New Life Bookstore, located inside New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has a special place for TerKeurst’s books, according to Renai Herron, bookstore manager.

“Sales have been great, especially for Made to Crave and Unglued,” she said. “We’ve done several Bible studies with each book, so women have purchased them for themselves and as gifts.”

Herron plans to promote The Best Yes in the bookstore newsletter and in the New Release section of the store, displaying it on an endcap and offering a 20% discount on purchases for groups.

“Lysa has special place in our hearts here at New Life Church because she’s been here to speak,” Herron said. “The women really loved her talks and love her books.”

Baker Book House, an independent Christian retailer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is forecasting store sales for The Best Yes on par with Made to Crave, which has sold nearly 700 copies since 2012, not counting Bible study guides.

“With each book, Lysa does a better job. She’s definitely an ‘A’ author,” said Sue Smith, store director. “Women are attracted to her because we need other women to be real and honest with us. Lysa’s biggest draw is her raw honesty. She doesn’t hide anything.”

Baker Book House will highlight The Best Yes along with TerKeurst’s other best-selling books in displays near the front of the store and close to the registers. The store has purchased 280 copies and forecasts a sell-through and additional purchases, thanks in part to a “healthy, upfront discount” from Thomas Nelson.TheBestYes

TerKeurst sees huge benefit from connecting to readers via Christian retailers.

“I value Christian retail stores and booksellers so much,” she said. “They are the connection point between a person desperate for help and the book I write to give them hope. So many times it’s a sales clerk within a Christian bookstore recommending a book that becomes the change agent in a person’s life.”

The Best Yes speaks directly to women who live with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule and an underwhelmed soul.

“I’ve really failed at this a lot,” TerKeurst said. “It’s not like I used to struggle with this five years ago. Today I have to open my own book to learn how to underwhelm my schedule.”

The author, who is also founder and director of Proverbs 31 Ministries, and her husband have five children, ages 15 to 26, so they know about being rushed. In fact, TerKeurst had been praying for a couple of years that God would “unrush” her. She discovered that wedging one more event into her schedule could bring her to that place of overwhelmed stress.

“I started to realize many years ago that either I was going to set and run my schedule or it was going to run me,” she said. “How I set my schedule determines how I run my life, and how I run my life is how I spend my soul. I kept getting a sinking sense that I wasn’t spending my soul well.”

Hampton of Nelson Books sees TerKeurst as one of the few authors who will open their lives to their readers.

“Some Christian authors aren’t willing to share their personal struggles in their books,” he said. “Others are willing to share them—if they have already overcome them. But Lysa is willing to share her current struggles with readers, and the result is powerful.”

He talked also of how much TerKeurst’s brand has meant to Nelson Books, admitting that he and his team learn as much from her as she learns from them.LysaTerKeurst

“She is a student of her audience and of publishing; she is so smart and engaging,” Hampton said. “After more than two decades in the industry, Lysa and her team have caused me to think in new ways about how Christian nonfiction books ‘work,’ what bonds reader to author and what kind of writing truly delivers value to the reader.”

Hampton and TerKeurst are hoping for more of the same from Christian retailers who are eager to bring buyers through their store doors looking for her newest book.

“We’re hoping Christian stores continue their already strong partnership with us, giving The Best Yes the kind of attention and support such a sales track record merits,” Hampton said. “We know their customers are eager for Lysa’s new book and will find it genuinely life-giving.”

Says TerKeurst: “When I hear booksellers have suggested one of my titles, I am humbled and so very honored. Together, we are changing lives.”

B&H Español named Best Publisher at SEPA Awards Print Email
Written by Burns   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:47 PM America/New_York

Larry Downs Sr. also given special honor for years of service

LarryDownsSEPA2013// Spanish Market

B&H Español received the Publisher of the Year award for the second year in a row at the Spanish Evangelical Publishers Association (SEPA) Awards Banquet on April 30. Held prior to the May 1-4 Expolit 2014 event in Miami, the awards banquet saw several publishers receiving book and Bible awards as well as honors for sales.

A special award was given to Larry  Downs Sr., manager of key accounts, Spanish sales at Thomas Nelson, for his 50 years of service and outstanding contribution to the Spanish Christian publishing industry. Downs oversaw a Peruvian bookstore, which grew into a distributor and then moved to Miami. He and Ralph Gates ran SAM Literature, later known as Libros International. Downs later worked for Editorial Vida and Editorial Unilit before joining Thomas Nelson in 2005.

During the SEPA banquet, publisher B&H Español also won five awards for individual titles, including Best Specialty Bible and Best Cover and Interior Design (RVR 1960 Biblia del Pescador/RVR 1960 Fisher of Men).

Editorial Clie took home two big prizes for Gran Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Biblia—Book of the Year Harold Kregel Award and Best Original Book in Spanish.

Gary Chapman’s Los Cinco Lenguajes del Amor/The Five Love Languages won two Best-selling Book awards for Unilit, the first time a single title won trade- and pocket-size awards. Another classic by the publisher, Josh McDowell’s Más que un Carpintero/More Than a Carpenter, was added to the Galería de Honor for sales of more than 1 million copies.

Casa Creación won for Leadership (John Maxwell’s Las 15 Leyes Indispensables del Crecimiento/The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth), Christian Life (Joel Osteen’s Yo Declaro/I Declare) and Gift Book (John Eckhardt’s Declaraciones Diarias de Guerra Espiritual Para la Mujer/Women’s Daily Declarations for Spiritual Warfare).

Learn more at —Burns

Nigeria’s imported-book tariff violates international agreement Print Email
Written by Deonne Lindsey   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:39 PM America/New_York

African country’s CBA organization reports postponement of new law’s implementation


A significant new book tariff announced recently in Nigeria may not be enacted after all, adding just one more question for retailers and publishers doing business in a country experiencing its share of change, persecution and violence.

Nigeria’s Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced March 18 that the country was planning to impose a 62.5% tariff on imported printed books, according to The story went on to say that the tariff was approved in a ministry circular Feb. 28, but would apply retroactively from Jan. 1. That decision represented a departure from a UNESCO agreement signed 60 years ago in which officials agreed not to impose charges on imported books, publications and educational materials.

Christian Booksellers Association Nigeria (CBAN) had some good news for Christian publishers, however.

“Members of Christian Booksellers Association Nigeria who had shipments of Christian books and Bibles have not had to pay any tariff on their goods,” said CBAN National Administrative Secretary Charity Akinwunmi.

The secretary said that CBAN officials have been in discussions with the government and have learned that the implementation of the new tariff has been suspended until Sept. 30.

Akinwunmi also noted that retailers are seeing a distinction between how general interest and religious books and Bibles are being handled.

“Our members who have shipments of general interest books have not yet had their goods released to them,” she said. “More talks between operators in the trade and the appropriate government department are planned. We hope that talks will result in the tariff being rolled back and no longer applied.”

In the meantime, the association advises that Christian books and Bibles should be shipped separately from educational and general interest books.

Tyndale House Publishers is hopeful that his company’s trade accounts will not be affected by the substantial tariff.

“Should the tariff be instituted, it would be a serious barrier to those in Nigeria who are to benefit most from the industry’s books and Bibles,” said James Elwell, Tyndale’s director of international publishing.

Rick Heyer, international sales manager for Charisma House, also does business with Nigerian customers.

“We will see if the tariffs will affect the buying from Nigeria at ICRS,” Heyer said. “They usually buy twice a year from us. So far I have seen an increase, not a decrease in buying from Nigeria.” —Deonne Lindsey

Canada’s Christian retail landscape loses more major stores Print Email
Written by Rhonda Sholar   
Monday, 09 June 2014 03:24 PM America/New_York

Customer shopping habits, distributor duplication named as significant factors in changing environment

HouseOfJames-Sale// CANADA

Canada’s Christian retail landscape is experiencing a sea change. In the first six months of 2014, three major retailers in three large cities have closed or announced their plans to do so: Hull’s in Winnipeg, Manitoba, after 97 years in business; Speelman’s in Toronto after 52 years; and Cameron’s in Windsor, Ontario, after 52 years.

The latest casualty, Cameron’s, was to close its doors June 14. The store was founded in 1962 in the basement of Glen and Dorothy Cameron’s home.

“While we still consider the products that we sell to be life-shaping, the ‘local Christian bookstore’ is no longer the primary place to purchase them,” said Stuart Cameron, son of the store’s founders.

Hull’s Family Bookstore shuttered two of its three stores in March. A 50% drop in customers prompted the Winnipeg store to close in March, one month after its Thunder Bay, Ontario, location closed. The Steinbach, Manitoba, store remains open.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, the evolution of digital technology has produced profound changes in the bookselling environment,” said a letter to Hull’s customers. “Today, there are many options available in terms of where and how books are purchased and even how they are read. Bricks-and-mortar stores contend with showrooming. All of retail is grappling with global competition. The largest online booksellers are fast and efficient, and prices are often below our cost.”

Hull’s remains optimistic that its “right-sized” location will re-emerge in the future.

In February, the closure of Speelman’s Book House represents the end of a retail and a wholesale remainder business. A third stream that involves wholesaling Dutch-themed gifts, books and music will continue to operate.

These closures are not isolated, said Mark Hutchinson, president of the Blessings chain. “The key thing that retailers must focus on in Canada today is streamlining and wherever possible, looking to vertically integrate.”

He noted that one challenge is that there are too many distributors serving a niche market.
“There is far too much duplication which leads to additional costs being born by the retailer,” Hutchinson said.

“Publishers can help Canadian retailers by feeding them the latest information on their products so they can buy wisely and give their Canadian distributors good margins so they can pass those on to stores,” said Lando Klassen, owner of House of James in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

Although approximately 40 stores have closed in the last six years, some diversifying their product mix are finding success, Klassen said. For instance, Verses in Lloydminster, Alberta, has become the number-one Canadian outlet for Duck Commander merchandise. Christian Book and Music Center in Victoria reduced its rent by moving to a smaller location and added a coffee bar and clearance center. Faith Family Books & Gifts in Scarborough, Ontario, added a women’s clothing boutique to its 10,000-square-foot store.

At the House of James, Klassen has increased sales by offering a used book center, general gifts, live music on the weekends, a coffee bar with an expanded menu and a summer reading club for kids.  

“Sometimes I do feel like I’m running a circus though, doing all these extra things just because I still want to keep selling Christian books and Bibles,” Klassen said.  —Rhonda Sholar

CBA: Christian store sales up in 2013 Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Monday, 09 June 2014 02:48 PM America/New_York

New report says consumer buying patterns see dramatic market shift

CurtisRiskey-Official_200Christian stores sales were up 2.9% in 2013 over 2012, according to the 2014 CBA State of the Industry Report, but consumer buying patterns shifted dramatically in 2013, according to the Christian retail association.

Fourth-quarter 2013 sales were down 6.9% in 2013, but sales were up 12.6% in the second quarter and 8.8% in the third, according to data from CBA’s CROSS:SCAN sales-reporting service. The association noted several factors affecting Christian retail sales: earlier shopping for Christmas, economic uncertainty and limited fourth-quarter product-release performance.

The number of Christian store closings also rose. Closings increased to a 49 net loss in 2013 from 39 in 2012. The loss is less than 2011’s peak of 63 stores. The loss of mid-level chains drastically cut store counts, including the closure of 38 Cokesbury stores that consolidated into one Internet-only store (not counting 19 seminary stores).

On the positive side, 18 new stores opened in 2013, up from 15 in 2012. A significant percentage of stores still have longevity; about 63% of Christian stores have been in business more than 15 years.

As with many retailers, store traffic and sales remain critical issues for Christian stores. Retailers reported using more social media, e-marketing and event marketing to drive traffic. 

Retailers also are becoming more intentional about building mission and purpose into overall store strategies. The number of stores with dedicated church relations programs increased 9% in 2013 over 2012, and 73% of respondents said they support a ministry program in some way.

Overall product category shares remained constant in 2013. Stores reported books and Bibles as about 60% of total sales. Gift and specialty categories increased as a share of overall sales, up about 6% in unit share and about 3% in revenue share.

Church supplies had the largest category increase for the year, but other increases were attributed to increased lifestyle merchandising. Categories such as kitchen/dining and apparel saw increased share, along with ties, tote bags, backpacks, bags/purses, hats and bath and body items.

While observing the overall retail landscape, CBA President Curtis Riskey is encouraged to see what Christian retailers are doing differently to draw more traffic into their stores.

“We are happy to see sales up overall at Christian stores, although we realize that not all stores are seeing the same outcome. It is encouraging to see Christian stores committed to sharing their success with their local community and church causes, and to experiment with new retail approaches and lifestyle merchandising. It is a sign that retailers are seeking ways to innovate in challenging times.”

CBA added select data to the report this year from a CBA Christian-supplier CEO survey. About 32% of CEOs responding reported flat or no growth. Most reported growth rates of less than 5%, and 28% of respondents reported 10% or more.

According to the report, future retailing is expected to be dramatically different from today as stores become more about personal engagement, in-store experience and missional purpose rather than competing on price.

New “click and collect” strategies in partnership with suppliers are forecasted to help retailers capture transactions from suppliers’ direct-to-consumer marketing. Physical stores increasingly will support supplier fulfillment and warehousing in the value chain. —Johnson

Whitaker House adds more African-American fiction Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 04:29 PM America/New_York

Best-selling author Vanessa Miller’s success led Pennsylvania publisher to expand urban line

VanessaMillerCropped_200Whitaker House is expanding its offerings of fiction aimed at African-American readers, signing two veteran authors and launching three urban series.

“Whitaker House has had such great response to Vanessa Miller’s books we felt the time was right to expand our line of fiction aimed at the growing market of black romance readers,” said President Bob Whitaker Jr.

Popular inspirational urban-romance authors Pat Simmons and Tia McCollors each signed contracts for three-book series, starting with the release of Simmons’ No Easy Catch (“Carmen Sisters,” April) and Tia McCollors’ Friday Night Love (“Days of Grace,” May).

After wrapping up the “Morrison Family Secrets” series with the February release of The Preacher, the Politician, and the Playboy, Miller will launch the “My Soul to Keep” series in June with Feels Like Heaven.

Miller’s “Second Chance at Love” series has topped the Black Christian News Network’s best-seller list as well as finding success on the best-seller lists of Essence magazine, the Dallas Morning News and the Atlanta Examiner.  —Jeremy Burns

Wanda Brunstetter receives career award Print Email
Written by Jeremy Burns   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 04:28 PM America/New_York

‘Romantic Times’ honors Barbour Publishing author

WandaBrunstetterNew York Times best-selling author Wanda E. Brunstetter was presented with a 2013 Romantic Times (RT) Career Achievement Award at the May 13-18 RT Booklovers Convention in New Orleans. The Barbour Publishing author was honored in the Inspirational category.

Known for her Amish fiction, Brunstetter has written over 60 books that have sold more than 7 million copies.

Many of the popular author’s books have become New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, CBA and Christian Book Distributors best-selling titles.

RT’s more than 50 reviewers who work in the women’s fiction industry choose the winners and nominees for the best books of the year and authors for their complete body of work. —Jeremy Burns