Christian Retailing

'Boom not gloom' at smaller ICRS Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 10:04 AM America/New_York

Retailers and suppliers upbeat about 'energy'

Despite attendance being down significantly on 2008, last month's International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) drew overwhelmingly positive verdicts from suppliers and retailers alike.

Total professional attendance for the event at Denver's Colorado Convention Center, July 12-15, was 1,903, down 20% on last year. The 534 international attendees—from 56 countries—represented a 28% drop on the number for 2008.

CBA declined to disclose how many individual stores were at the show, with President and CEO Bill Anderson saying that the important figure was the people "doing business" at the show. Total attendance and exhibitor personnel figures were not disclosed, as they were in previous years.

While attendees returned home upbeat, questions remain about the future shape and format of what has long been the centerpiece of the Christian product industry's calendar.

Denver participants attributed the buoyant 2009 mood to several factors: generally low expectations coming into the event, a positive attitude from those who were there and changes to the event—including one less exhibition day and a shrinking of the floor that fostered a sense of busyness.

Some expressed the belief that with many suppliers having reduced their booth space this year, the event—which in 1999 saw a total attendance of almost 15,000—had "right-sized" itself after several years of declining numbers.

carlton garborg"Everybody was quoting doom and gloom (before), and instead it was more like boom," said Carlton Garborg, president of Ellie Claire Gift & Paper Expressions, one of many suppliers reporting good business. "We really had a great show. It was very encouraging."

For Anderson, the turnout was something to "feel very good about," especially in the light of other trade shows’ attendance being down as much as 40% because of the economy. "The trade show is a reflection of our industry, which has been going through consolidation and compression," he said.

He credited suppliers for helping draw retailers to Denver with special offers for the show. More than 70 of the more than 250 exhibitors backed the show's "Real Help for Your Business" theme by offering exclusive event specials that could collectively save stores $11,000.

Shirley Norwood, co-owner of Living Water Bookstore in Paris, Texas, for 32 years, was one of those for whom the suppliers' package was "a great help." She and her husband downsized their store by half this year "just to stay alive. The economy has hit us really hard."

The reduced scale of ICRS meant there were no big supplier evening events or receptions as in previous years, with a raft of movie premieres the main offerings. Also notable by their absence were general market buyers who for years have attended ICRS to keep up with what is happening in Christian publishing.

The comparative lack of glitz—with fewer author and artist appearances and signings, too—put more emphasis on business and training, which included the debut of a series of Product Intelligence Tours. Six half-hour presentations offered practical tips on how stores could maximize the potential of their apparel, Bibles, fiction, gift, home entertainment and music categories.

Announcing that ICRS will be in St. Louis, June 27-30, next year, Anderson said discussions were taking place with others about the possibility of some sort of collaborative event in the future.

"What that looks like and how soon is undetermined, because the organizations that we would think to work most closely with also have events and commitments with contracts. So we are working both fronts," he said.

Any new event would "have to make sense not only to the organizations, but (also to) the exhibitors and the attendees. ... One of the great things about hard times is that it drives home the value of looking at things differently," Anderson added.

Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), who visited ICRS and found member companies pleased with the "energy" at the show, said the organization was "interested and willing" to talk about possible collaboration.

The ECPA had approached other groups, including CBA, the Gospel Music Association (GMA) and National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), in the early stages of preparing for its Christian Book Expo—held last April—he said, "so we have been looking at collaboration before."

"We are certainly willing to explore it," Kuyper added. "There are obvious benefits and challenges; we just need to see how they work together." GMA and NRB declined to comment.

CBA was not the only one celebrating an anniversary in Denver. Others included Kregel Publications, also 60 years; Dicksons, 65 years; and Abbey Press, 45 years.