Christian Retailing

Downturn, consumer-focused show impacts ICRS Print Email
Written by By Eric Tiansay   
Monday, 04 May 2009 12:45 PM America/New_York
Publishers, retailers and distributors to streamline expenses for CBA’s annual summer event

altPublishers, retailers and distributors are cutting back for CBA’s annual summer show in light of the tough economy.

The International Christian Retail Show (ICRS)—marking its 60th anniversary in Denver, July 12-15—could also be hit by publishers’ investment in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s (ECPA) inaugural, consumer-oriented Christian Book Expo (CBE)—which produced a disappointing turnout in Dallas in March.

“Certainly publisher investment of resources in CBE this year will impact the resources companies have available to invest in all other areas, but publishers really can’t afford not to connect with their best customers at ICRS,” CBA President Bill Anderson told Christian Retailing. “Exhibitor attendance is strong (for ICRS). However, some exhibitors are downsizing the number of booth spaces they will use.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Nelson will again skip ICRS just like last year.

David Lewis, director of sales and marketing for Baker Publishing Group, said the company will have a smaller booth presence, bring less staff and authors ande eliminate its convention suite, author/retail accounts dinner and special events.

“This year we expect to have 30 staff instead of 50 staff attending the show,” he said. “They will each likely stay one less night as the show is shorter this year. Our booth will be 40 by 20 instead of 60 by 20. We expect to save a minimum of $50,000 for this year’s show.”

Lewis also anticipated that retailers will be watching their dollars because of tough times. Kelly Maigaard, managing director and co-owner of Wellspring Parable Christian Store in Des Moines, Iowa, agreed.

“We will cut back because of expenses,” she said. “We do not do a lot of spending at ICRS. Our buyers do such an excellent job that we really do not need to supplement their purchases. Our business is definitely affected by the economy.”

Pre-registration figures for retailers were not available prior to the show, CBA officials said. Professional attendance at last year’s ICRS in Orlando, Fla.—the total number of people less exhibitors and youth—was 2,386, down 17% from the show in Atlanta in 2007. Total attendance dropped from 9,266 to 7,448, while exhibitor personnel numbers were down from 6,007 to 4,787—a reflection of the smaller floor presence for many companies.

The last time ICRS was in Denver, in 2005, professional attendance was 3,021, actual registered attendance totaled 9,986, and there were 6,679 exhibitor personnel, according to CBA. At press time, approximately 200 suppliers were confirmed for this year’s show. In comparison, the CBA convention in Orlando in 1999 drew a record 1,662 exhibitor booths from 489 companies.

Rick Regenfuss—vice president of sales for STL Distribution North America, which had one of the largest booths at last year’s ICRS—told Christian Retailing the distributor would be reducing its total booth space in Denver from 320 square feet to 240 square feet.

“We still will have a very significant presence,” said Regenfuss, noting that STL will launch a new initiative to help stores reach the church market at ICRS. “But since Denver is farther from our base than Orlando, it is considerably more expensive to get there. In this challenging economic climate, we are making sure our expenses are in line.”

At David C. Cook, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Global Operations C. Ryan Dunham said the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company will save money with the show’s Denver location.

“We are keeping our exhibit floor space the same and also expect our staffing levels to be the same as in years past,” he told Christian Retailing. “We are lowering our total level of investment in this show, however.”

Dunham, who noted that Cook will heavily promote its key fall releases and offer special promotions, hoped that there was “no negative impact at all” on ICRS.

“Suppliers only have so much money that they are going to be able to invest in marketing. Specifically, conventions and trade shows are line items within those budgets,” he said.

“I am not aware of many suppliers that are increasing that line item. So while I hope there is no negative impact, I can’t help but suspect that there will be some financial impact as a result,” he added.

Mavis Sanders, Tyndale House Publishers’ corporate publicist, said that the company would be streamlining its costs at ICRS.

“Several months ago, we decided we would slightly reduce our booth size, and we will be using our hospitality suite for some meetings previously held in the booth,” Sanders said.

She added that Tyndale will spotlight key fall titles by researcher George Barna and double amputee triathlon runner Scott Rigsby as well as One Year Devotional titles by Gary Chapman and Zig Ziglar , and a new Focus on the Family “Essentials of Marriage” series.

Sherry Morris, marketing manager for Carpentree, said the gift company will use the same island configuration as well as the same number of sales personnel from last year’s event.

“Since gift vendors were not part of (CBE), we think that many people will attend the ICRS show if they plan to buy gifts,” she said. “Many buyers want to see products up close and personal. … We look forward … to meeting and greeting our customers face-to-face.”

Like Carpentree, New Day Christian Distributors Vice President Ed Leonard said the company’s booth space and staffing would not change from ICRS in 2008.

“We are putting a lot of emphasis on our gift and toy lines as well as our new music releases,” Leonard, a CBA board member, told Christian Retailing. “This show is always a relationship focus for us as well.”

Bridge-Logos Publishers Executive Vice President of Marketing Steve Becker said the company will also have the same size of exhibit space in Denver as it did in Orlando.

But Bridge-Logos will bring four employees, instead of the six people involved at last year’s show.

Becker said Bridge-Logos will relaunch its ICRS Assist Program—created by the company in 2008—to help Christian retailers attend the Denver event who might not be able to otherwise.