In one of the greatest industry revolutions in its more than 66 years, CBA’s strategic alliance with Content Road Media Corporation is helping bring new profit and sales to Christian stores. The alliance has created innovative ways to bring premium and first-run products and competitive pricing to an industry challenged by internet giants and mass discounters who commoditize products and content.

Called Christian Retail Only (CROnly), the initiative will develop special products released quarterly and designed especially for core Christian consumers. These products will range from value-priced premiums to high-value, first edition releases and exclusive-window launches.

CBA President Curtis Riskey says the Christian-retail-only initiative is designed to help Christian stores find new margin and drive new traffic into stores. While products may be sold on store websites, the idea is to have leading authors and artists develop specialized content of high quality especially for the Christian-store network. Because products will be developed with key strategic goals in mind and a strong distribution network to sell it through, greater efficiencies will be realized to benefit retailers and their partners.

“The key is a strong distribution network to sell through,” Riskey says. “The Christian-store network has demonstrated over and over again it can move the needle on key products, but there hasn’t been a way to leverage the entire network to plan, produce, and sell effectively with focused products and marketing.”

Dr. Kevin McAfee, a Content Road principal and director of GR Advisors, says, “Christian retail has been experiencing grave challenges over the past 20 years in reducing margins, competitive forces which fracture profitability, and downloadable commerce in books, music and film.” Retailers have worked hard to overcome these challenges but suppliers have seen “bricks and mortar” slowly going away, he says.

“There’s a renewed vision for Christian retail, though, because of the importance of these ministry outposts growing, not decreasing. With buying power up, retail will be able to compete and secure a vital place in the future. This spirit of Christian retail revival, we believe, has the potential to save a hurting industry,” McAfee says.

This industry has evolved as all do, but now it must completely rebrand and change to stay viable, he says. Leadership at CBA, the board of directors, and industry leaders are uniting to come up with a “commerce driven” front never attempted in history like this by CBA.

McAfee says Christian stores haven’t had an economic competitive advantage for many years as profits have been shrinking, especially since Walmart and mass discounters have pressed in to “cherry pick” the market and skim off best-sellers. Additionally, Amazon changed shopping dynamics through internet sales.


CROnly begins

The CROnly project began when GR Advisors, an advisory group of industry veterans were working with CBA to develop a strategic plan for CBA and the industry to bolster the Christian-store network. Eddie Roush along with partner McAfee focused on solutions through using the engine of capitalism.

“Solving for the industry would solve for CBA,” Riskey says about the first days of planning in early spring this year, referring to how improving the industry’s success would improve CBA’s. With the original ideas developed by GR Advisors senior advisor, Eddie Roush, a concept developed that envisioned Christian stores selling select premium low-price-point products plus first-run products with special pricing and margin that would give retailers some revenue certainty, a first-mover advantage, and promote store traffic and sales.

The idea blossomed into the founding of Content Road by Roush who was joined by McAfee. The separate company develops and promotes products designed especially for the Christian-store network. The products would be available only at Christian stores or available through exclusive windows of time for major product launches or releases.

Moreover, the strategic alliance between Content Road and CBA provides for the sharing of revenue with CBA, based up Roush’s belief that CBA must remain financially strong to support its members into the future.

“Christian stores often ignite product launches because of their unique customer base, and mainstream and internet stores pick up sales from that launch,” Riskey says. “This CROnly strategy helps compensate the Christian-store network for the impact it really has on product sales and the influence on the broader marketplace.”


Industry unites

Giving the Christian-store network an opportunity to demonstrate its sales capability will leverage additional strategic marketing in the future, Riskey says. The concept is gaining ground as all four of the industry’s marketing groups—Parable Group, Covenant Group, Logos, and Munce—have agreed to participate and provide catalog space for the pilot project.

CBA Board Chair Sue Smith of Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), says, “CROnly is a needed adjustment to how the industry conducts business. This business model adds needed revenue to CBA stores, and when the stores are healthy, the whole industry benefits. There’s nothing new about that equation. We’ve seen what the lack of brick-and-mortar has done to our publishers, distributors, author discoverability and industry morale overall.”

Smith says, as a retailer, CROnly is advantageous to retailers’ bottom line. “Buying low, selling intentionally, and being patient are all key factors here. This will not move the needle overnight, but I’m anxious to see the difference a year from now, and then two, and then three.”

Board member Vicki Geist of Cedar Springs Christian Store (Knoxville, TN) says, “My hope is that this will bring back some of the customers that we may not have seen in our stores in awhile. I love the thought of Christian retail banding together to bring unique Christian products to the market without having to worry about internet sites selling below our cost.” She says the strategy will be a benefit to retailers and to CBA. “My prayer is that CBA and the stores will be healthier as a result of this new initiative. I am so thankful for the work that is going on to make this work for us,” Geist says.


The Samaritan Delayed

A special package of the feature documentary, The Samaritan, which was screened at UNITE 2016 in June, is delayed to allow for an expanded marketing campaign involving retailers. The campaign under development will include a strong outreach to churches to connect retail stores as product providers to local churches. Plans also call for a possible theater screening in concert with local stores in promotion and sales.

As an Official Selection chosen over hundreds of films submitted for the recently held secular Macon Film Festival, The Samaritan won another laurel in what promises to be one of many to come in the future.

Stan Moser, CROnly’s music advisor who produced the We Will Stand CD and DVD, says the film and other new products are being packaged for the first quarter 2017, with an October 2016 line-up announcement planned.

Content Road plans a quarterly product release schedule with both low price-point premiums and first-run projects for key selling seasons. Products will feature books, music, DVDs, and specialty items to complement retailer product assortments and provide a high margin item not available everywhere.