Christian Retailing

Combined show brings together retailers and consumers Print Email
Written by Clive Price in London   
Monday, 22 June 2009 10:34 AM America/New_York

‘Dynamic’ new-look Christian Resources Exhibition rescues a threatened trade convention

United Kingdom


British companies have welcomed the pairing of the UK’s leading Christian trade shows—but have spotted areas where the “marriage” might improve.

The Christian Booksellers Convention (CBC), the long-running trade-only equivalent of CBA’s International Christian Retail Show in the U.S., and the consumer-focused Christian Resources Exhibitions (CRE) came together under one roof, May 12-15 at Sandown Park, Surrey—and under one management entity, the Bible Society.

The two formerly separate events ran across three floors, with separate exhibition areas and seminar programs. CBC’s awards ceremony was combined with a banquet marking CRE’s 25th anniversary. Total attendance for the event was more than 12,433—a 4% increase from CRE turnout in 2008. Out of 372 exhibitors, 80 took part in the trade section—and some companies served trade and retail visitors from their one booth.

“I’m very grateful to CRE for putting this on,” said Director of Integrity Media Europe Jonathan Bugden, former chairman of CBC, “because there was only one alternative—which is to have no CBC event at all.”

Organizers could not afford to go ahead with the trade event on its own this year. Bible Society took over CBC last year, having bought CRE from its founder in 2007.

Bugden said he viewed the 2009 combined event as “a transition year,” and felt CBC’s new managers had done “as good a job as they could have done” for 2009. “But obviously I’m looking for 2010 to be something new and something bigger,” he added. “The last thing I want to do is to be critical of CRE. They’ve rescued CBC.”

Attending the new show as “simply an exhibitor now,” Bugden’s company was promoting, among other things, a unique worship album recorded in Beijing called The Door. Meanwhile, Lindisfarne Scriptorium launched an album of instrumental music Life Journey by Dave Bainbridge and David Fitzgerald, founders of internationally known Celtic band Iona. The recording accompanies a devotional book of the same name by Mary Fleeson.

Lindisfarne Scriptorium’s Mark Fleeson, who has been at CRE for a decade, said the addition of CBC “added a new dynamic ... because we’re used to this as being retail.” He thought the mix had worked, he said, though “not necessarily” for those focused solely on trade.

“I think it’s been a very interesting experiment this year,” said Jean Whitnall, sales and marketing director of publisher Hodder Faith. “Being part of CRE has been very exciting and dynamic—and very busy—for us. But the CBC element has perhaps got a little lost inside the bigger exhibition.”

Hodder Faith was marking the 30th anniversary of the New International Version of the Bible at the show—and celebrating the runaway success of The Shack. “We’ve certainly seen fewer trade customers here than we are used to seeing, and also found it difficult to give trade customers dedicated time which we are used to doing at trade fairs,” Whitnall said. “So it’s a bit of a mixed response, really.”

CRE featured a number of unusual items—such as the world’s first solar-powered church noticeboard from The Church Noticeboard Co., a charity church cookbook launched by celebrity chef Kevin Woodford and a devotional aid for women in painful relationships by counselor Joanne Robinson.

Bible Society Events Director Steve Briars said organizers “did try and create an area exclusively for trade customers” this year. “That was the theory. But some of the exhibitors were already here anyway, like Scripture Union, and they said, ‘We’ll stay where we are and service trade and retail at the same time.’ ”

Briars said he believed the new-look event gave publishers the opportunity to engage with the people who buy their books—as well as those who sell them. “Some people have gone away thinking, ‘This is a real insight,’ ” he said.

Briars and his team are planning “a really significant show” for next year. “We’ve made changes, we’ve improved things, our numbers are growing,” he said. “But there’s also a sense that we just want to take a deep breath and ask the bigger question about how do we develop this for the future, so it continues to meet the needs of the church.”

Meanwhile, CRE Award winners included The Shack by William P Young (Hodder & Stoughton) for Book of the Year. Hodder & Stoughton was named Publisher of the Year, while Kingdom of Comfort by Delirious (Fierce/Kingsway) won Contemporary Album of the Year.