Suppliers find stores in 'thoughtful but optimistic' mood at show
Although the economy continued to be unstable, Denver—the site of CBA's 60th summer convention—proved to be truly the Mile High City for several gift suppliers.
"It's been phenomenal business for us," Bob Taylor, CEO of Things Not Seen (TNS) Clothing & Accessories, said of the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS).
"The first day of the show for retailers is usually a day of looking and gathering their thoughts. But our existing major accounts came by and increased their orders (on the first day). We also added eight to 10 new retailers."
Taylor cited the increased business to his apparel company growing its T-shirt line by 40% as well as adding a Moral Art boutique-style line for the show. TNS was one of only four strictly apparel suppliers at the convention, he added.
"It's been night and day compared to last year's show (in Orlando, Fla.)," said Taylor, who decided to exhibit ICRS at the last minute. "I'm amazed at the difference. It's been a great show."
Usually a strong draw, the gift category had a smaller presence this year in part because the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market was held around the same time as ICRS.
But Heinrich Johnsen, president of Christian Art Gifts, said that business during the first day of the show was "so busy that we didn't have enough reps." The company launched several new products at the show, including journals, Bible covers, water bottles and a tween girls line called "Little Miss Grace."
"This show is still bigger than anything else in the Christian product industry," Johnsen said. "We love ICRS. This is the highlight of our year."
Ed Nizynski, vice president of sales for Lighthouse Christian Products Company, said the company "definitely sold more." "Our total sales were up 20% over last year's show," he said. "International business played a good part of the results."
Besides offering no minimum orders for buyers, Lighthouse released several products at ICRS as well as 24 new items for Christmas, including a Yuletide version of its popular Cups of Encouragement.
Sherry Morris, marketing manager for Carpentree, said the company's sales increased more than 25% over last year's convention.
"ICRS exceeded our expectations this year," she said. "We found all the retailers careful and thoughtful in their approaches to buying, but optimistic about the future. One of our best-selling verses at the show was 'All things are possible with God.' "
Carpentree introduced several products with lower price points at the event, including boxed giftables, place mats, coasters, mugs, a Christmas line, Master's Forge items and home décor featuring stretched canvas.
DaySpring's sales were up 10% over last year's show, as the company launched several "Really Woolly" products, tote bags and expanded sound cards, said Director of Communications Brenda Turner.
"Our international bookings were up 3% over last year," she said. "Our booth had a great deal of energy and excitement."
P. Graham Dunn President Peter Dunn said sales figures were "roughly the same" as last year's event. But sales exceeded expectations "as our expectations were low," said Dunn, who launched a laser-engraving program for retailers at ICRS. "The show was well-attended. We plan to come back for 2010 in St. Louis, although we will reduce the size of our booth slightly."
Brian Adkins, CEO and co-founder of Scripture Candy, said his company broke even for ICRS.
"For a person who wasn't expecting anything because of the economy, I was pleasantly surprised by what we wrote in orders," said Adkins, who had a staff of three people compared to nine employees in 2008. "The people who came wrote orders."
Brownlow Gifts President Paul Brownlow agreed. "It's been a good show," said Brownlow, whose booth size was half from last year's convention. "It will probably be down compared to Orlando, but it's been better than I expected. The international market here is strong and good. That's what made this a good show for us. It’s a good place to connect with (international buyers)."
Bill White—director of sales for NOTW (Not of This World) apparel—said his booth had "nonstop traffic" throughout the show.
"Overall our sales were even with last year," said White, noting that NOTW's new Canvas T-shirts line had "a huge reception" at ICRS. "However, our international orders were a much bigger proportion of the total compared to last year."
Kerusso introduced new displays at ICRS, including the Kidz Light House Apparel Center. Vice President of Marketing Chris Rainey said that although Kerusso's domestic business was down 15% at the show, international sales were up 15%.
"The retailers and suppliers who were at the show were there to do business," he said. "Although traffic and attendance were down, the spirit of those attending seemed to be up and hopeful that even though the future looks much different, it's still bright if you are willing to change."