Christian products industry gathers for timely training, encouragement, and vision-casting for the future.

This year at CBA’s annual international convention, attendees will find something a little different. There will still be vital new products, exclusive offers, latest ideas and trends, access to hundreds of business partners, encouragement from peers, and camaraderie within the Christian products industry as a whole. What might be a little different is the ability to dream.

The theme of this year’s UNITE event, “Envision the Legacy,” sets the stage for a time of looking forward, imagining what the industry can do when it comes together, and building on a solid foundation that sets up future leaders to continue building.

This vision-casting is embodied in a practical event that supports and encourages the business transactions necessary to continue providing resources for God’s people.

“The opportunities before us to grow the industry are limitless,” says CBA President Curtis Riskey, “but they depend on our faith that God is working in ways we cannot see, our belief that His Word will guide us, and our resolve to work together in unity.”

Members of the Christian products industry come to UNITE 2017 to be refreshed, renewed, and restored in their ministry and business and to envision the legacy together. Here’s a look at some of the key events participants can look forward to.


The new and improved Retail Academy includes the first sessions from a new CBA partnership with leading retail-training company The Friedman Group. Among enhancements are foundational and advance training offerings on basic retail disciplines to manage your store for profitability, including finances, customer service and sales, marketing, using data to increase sales, team management, and more.

Two marketing-related sessions present the basics of developing a marketing plan and an advanced session on digital marketing. Jim Pitman of CLC leads Marketing for a Store That Matters, offering essential foundations for creating a store that consumers love and letting them know about it.

Steve Potratz of The Parable Group will address the how-tos of making the most of focused digital marketing in today’s high tech/social media world in Make Your Digital Marketing Work. He says, “Our ability to target customers and deliver the right message at the right time on social media and through digital marketing is wonderful. However, you have to know what you’re doing—just making an organic post to a few people is not enough.”

Jack Scott has helped bookstore owners for over 20 years succeed in their goal of using their bookstore as a ministry to the community as well as bring in a profit. Scott will guide bookstore owners through what the balance sheet and a profit-and-loss statement are as well as key ratios for monitoring and managing employees. Scott will also focus on a store’s largest asset: the inventory. Scott’s goal is for attendees to learn how to work effectively with their accountant, banker, and other financial advisors so that they can focus on their customers and the future of their ministry. Scott says, “I want to minimize the surprises with your numbers, so you can wow your customers and staff with the good kind of surprises.” Scott will also offer 30-minute free counseling sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Friedman Group’s Wendi Swanson presents Bringing Your Team Together, an advanced course in ensuring staff accountability and customer focus that brings results in sales and mission. She also will present Are You Being Held Hostage? Bench Strength Yields Freedom, a foundational session on proven disciplines and techniques to build a strong team so retailers can work on their business, not in it.

Swanson will also show attendees how they and their staff can get beyond “Can I help you” to relevant engagement that builds relationships and sales in a session called Customer Engagement: Can I Help You? No, Just Looking.

Swanson says,“The competitive climate for brick-and-mortar retailers is fierce. Rather than fighting against the competition, leverage the competition.”

Erik Ernstrom of The Parable Group believes customers are the lifeblood of every store. Keeping customers engaged with your store and coming back requires developing long-term relationships. Ernstrom will demonstrate how to cultivate these lasting customer relations using the industry’s tools. Attendees of Tell Me Who You Are: Understanding Customers will learn how to plan and target contacts to the right customer to have a dramatic impact on sales and increase the desire of your customers to frequent your store more often.

Gift & Specialty Buying: Making Gift Campaigns Work is a new approach to gift merchandising and sales, led by Sherry Morris of Carpentree. This foundational course shows how to create a gift-merchandising plan focused on customers that drives buying, displays, marketing, and plan evaluation to improve sales, inventory turn, and profit.


Published and beginning authors always struggle with getting agents and publishers interested in their work. The free Author Boot Camp is designed for published, independent, and unpublished authors, to help them understand how the publishing industry works and the tools available to them to make the journey to publication more affordable and possible than ever before.

IngramSpark Director Robin Cutler and her team from Ingram Content Group sponsor this half-day, pre-CBA conference event that’s open to CBA attendees as well as writers in the greater Cincinnati area.

Award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti offers insights into connecting to “give agents and publishers something to talk about.” As Ruchti says, “One of an author’s primary objectives is to give a prospective agent or editor—and every reader—something to talk about, a reason to say “yes” to the question, ‘Should I pick up this book?’” Authors will walk away from this session with a better understanding of how to eliminate the reasons to say “no” so all that’s left is a three-letter “yes!”

Additionally, Angela Breidenbach, a prolific author and president of the Christian Author’s Network, will present ideas on book promotion using technology—via a virtual internet appearance.

Author Boot Camp also includes topical discussions on how writing and publishing are changing in the digital age and best practices for bringing books to market. Whether authors are published, exploring independent publishing and marketing, or wanting to understand new publishing business dynamics, Author Boot Camp provides inside information from practitioners.


Retailers, suppliers, professionals—all industry representatives—will worship the Lord together during this special service opening day of UNITE 2017 in Legacy Hall. As the body of Christ, we’ll also be taking communion together. Communion elements provided by B&H Publishing Group.

Attendees who come early will have the chance to win a free T-shirt designed by onsite artist Jayme Brandt and take home a unique keepsake from a memorable convention.

Attendees will also be treated to a presentation and sneak peek at the film Because of Gracia, in theaters Sept. 15. Film producer Rodney Heartfield will also be available at his Showcase Suite, 232.

Inspirational Message
Author and speaker Mary DeMuth (Mary E. DeMuth, Inc.) will present a special message crafted specifically for Christian retailers, “The Unmistakeable Impact of Missional Word Servants.”

“The message will help booksellers, publishers, writers, and industry professionals reframe the way they view success in light of the kingdom of God,” she explains. “Peppered with stories of life change from around the world because of books, I’ll encourage listeners to reimagine their work in light of eternity, empowering them to find the Spirit’s whispers and activity in every aspect of their daily work life.”

Christian retailers, as they curate their offerings, can provide hope and truth, she says. “I remember walking into my first Christian bookstore and sensing a difference, an atmosphere of concern and compassion. I’ll never forget how that made me feel, how helpful the staff was in providing expertise as I chose my first-ever Bible. So retailers provide hope, truth, and presence—all things a jaded world needs and hungers for.”

DeMuth will also be speaking at the Global Crossroads Tea on Wednesday from 2:30-4 p.m. at the Big Idea Stage area.

Heartfelt Worship
Ricardo Sanchez (Difference Media) is a familiar face at CBA events and this year’s UNITE is especially exciting as Sanchez will perform for one of his favorite audiences. Sanchez comments, “CBA’s audience is so important because it’s an opportunity to be in front of people who continue to creatively find new ways to present the Gospel. I love being around creative people in any capacity.” Sanchez cites this year’s UNITE conference as a reminder that each person present is part of something much bigger than himself or herself. He says,“ We each play a small role in the Kingdom and the power of uniting – pun intended. UNITE is an opportunity to share ideas, learn, expand, and reach ever further.”

The Collingsworth Family (StowTown Records / Provident Distribution) will also provide worship at the industry-wide service. Phil Collingsworth, Sr., says his family is looking forward to, “experiencing the Lord’s sweet, divine presence with fellow Christ followers and gain perspective from a group of folks who strive to keep their thumb on the pulse of the church.”


Church bookstore leaders can connect with peers who understand their unique situations and inspire each other to excellence.

CBA has partnered with the Network of Church Bookstores to bring relevant and meaningful training, networking, and mutual inspiration to church-store leaders, managers, and volunteers.

Susan Chipman (director of retail services at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana) and Rachel Savage (senior director of bookstore operations at Calvary Chapel Melbourne in West Melbourne, Florida) understand that as national Christian bookstore chains close, a community’s only Christian store may well be found in the church store. Communities need to embrace new customer bases by being prepared to reach out beyond their church doors. Savage and Chipman will be presenting social media strategies, in-person marketing, and ways to build strong customer service. Savage says that we need to “share ideas with other stores on how we can make a difference.”

In addition, director of retail services at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois, Noel Russell believes merchandising is the key to reinvigorating bookstores and keeping people coming back. He reminds attendees that especially when they run a church store that has many of the same customers, it’s even more important to keep things fresh and new. Russell will highlight the newest and most economical ways in merchandising that will set a store apart and make people want to shop there.

CBCC also hosts a networking breakfast for church bookstore leaders, with George Thomsen, former CBA board chairman and head of one of the nation’s largest church stores, The Harvest Bookstore at Harvest Christian Church in Riverside, California.


Five free workshops focus on new dimensions in customer experience, from building a store based on ministry to using inventory strategically.

The Best Book Store
With the shuttering of Family Christian Stores, it’s now more important than ever for Christian retailers to reassess their business plans and take the necessary steps not just to survive but to thrive. To help them reach these goals, David Almack, U.S. director for CLC International, presents The Bookstore That Matters.

The session will explore tested ways stores can become important to their communities, based on Almack’s book, The Bookstore That Matters.

“After Borders closed,” says Almack, “there was a resurgence of mom-and-pop bookstores … but in the Christian market, stores weren’t making a comeback. They were closing. Where were our moments of opportunity?”

The book’s premise is if a Christian store matters to the community, the community will support the store and it will thrive. In his workshop, Almack will teach the lessons the book explores.

Make a Store a Home
The store environment and customer experience are critical to connect with your targeted customers in an age of online shopping. Led by Sherry Morris of Carpentree and Michele Amster of Integra Interactive, this hands-on session demonstrates latest techniques, a few creative principles, and a dash of design on current gift-and-specialty trends to help attendees connect emotionally with their customers. An announcement also will be made about a new contest allowing retailers to share their store creations to win prizes.

Customer Experience Is Not Customer Service
What does customer experience mean when retailers are trying to keep sales up and build store traffic? Wendi Swanson of The Friedman Group focuses on what makes this single most important retailing factor work in stores to drive profitability.

Some key questions Swanson will address include: How has retail evolved and innovated? What does innovation look like for the brick-and-mortar retailer? Are you prepared for the next change in the market that will once again cause us to change the way we run our stores?

Building Traffic with Bible Journaling
Kicking off Thursday afternoon’s workshops, Building Traffic with Bible Journaling provides an overview of what the Bible journaling trend is and how it has the potential to become a deeply transformative spiritual discipline— and a moneymaker.

According t o workshop leader Ann Kardos, manager and co-owner of Logos Bookstore in Kent, Ohio, attendees will hear examples of how Logos built relationships and increased sales by hosting weekly open journaling time at the store, running workshops off-site, and setting up pop-up shops at churches and retreats.

At the workshop, retailers will receive easy-to-reference lists of Bible types, art supplies, techniques, and supplemental products. At the end of the session, they will be able to test products and learn how their stores can become regional resource centers.

“There are tens of thousands of people out there right now who are so excited about Bible journaling that they are actively seeking new products, new styles, and people to journal with. Our stores can become hubs for them,” she says.

In addition, retailers will learn strategies to help them compete with online sources and big-box craft stores.

The New Category Management: Coloring Your Store with Purpose
Erik Ernstrom, business intelligence manager with The Parable Group, wants bookstores to grasp the fact that the merchandise they sell helps people and knowing this helps Christian retailers operate their stores with a different purpose. Ernstrom will guide attendees by suggesting ways for maintaining inventory in such a way that the right product is put into the right hands at the right time. Owners and those responsible for inventory management will learn how to place their products on their shelves to directly impact their customer’s experience and how mailings/emails can help drive product selection.


In this new session for UNITE, retailers will enjoy fast-paced presentations featuring new products from sponsors. Trends analysis will also be interspersed.

Retailers will sit at tables around the room, and each exhibiting rep will give presentations at the tables in five-minute increments. As a retailer, you’ll see quick presentations of the latest trends and products. Each five minutes, the reps will move to another table. The reps will be available after the session to answer further questions and pass out products.

Some reps may offer the opportunity to make purchases during the sessions, and some may use the time to gain feedback. Therefore, as a retailer, you will have the opportunity to both share your feedback and receive special offers.

The names of participating reps can be found at christian-product-trends-rep-arounds/.

Industry Trends: Christian Fiction
Christian fiction has been a hot topic recently with discussions ranging from “What is Christian enough?” to “Is it OK for Christian fiction to portray the messiness of life?” Author, agent, and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Professional Relations Liaison Cynthia Ruchti addresses these pivotal questions facing this classic category.

Industry Trends: Children’s Products
What are families looking for? What children’s products are selling? What do families purchase beyond books? Educator and consultant Dr. Mary Manz Simon sheds light on how to make inventory decisions that will pay off in this important segment.

The State of the Industry: Dynamic Retailing
Successful brick-and-mortar stores are providing value through product differentiation, human experiences, and new ways of marketing. CBA Director of Communication Eric Grimm, author of the 2017 CBA State of the Industry Report, recaps major retail trends that help indies connect to customers in ways Amazon and Walmart can’t.


This seated dinner features inspiring awards, a missional leadership presentation, and thought-provoking entertainment. The banquet extends face time and the opportunity to build business relationships in a new atmosphere.

The Legacy Banquet is open and free for all exhibitors and attendees with no limit, while seats are available (up to the first 500). Special thanks to table sponsors Carpentree, Parable, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and Ingram/Spring Arbor.

As an industry, we’ll celebrate the accomplishment, influence, and impact of companies and individuals who have been nominated and selected to receive the following awards: Industry Champion Award, Jim Carlson Spirit of Excellence Award, Ministry In Action Award, CBA Lifetime Achievement Award, and CBA International Lifetime Achievement Award.

Message of Hope for the Future
Taking the podium will be keynote speaker Dr. Terence Chatmon (HarperCollins Christian Publishing), president and CEO of Fellowship of Companies for Christ International.

Chatmon’s address, Passing the Mantle: The Keys to Leaving a Kingdom Legacy, will discuss how his years in executive roles with Fortune 50 companies forged his spiritual leadership that can help even the smallest companies. Chatmon is considered a family legacy champion, and his family discipleship workshop, Charting Your Family’s Spiritual Course, has reached more than 20,000 participating families and continues to grow.

“As I look at what UNITE is about and the Christian marketplace, I’m sure independent retailers are trying to figure out what the future is,” he says. “They can have confidence in their purpose and what the Lord has for them.”

Unmasking the Masquerade:
Adding insight and entertainment to the Legacy Banquet will be illusionists Rod Robison and Adrian Van Vactor, authors along with Toby Travis of Unmasking the Masquerade (Encourage Publishing). Robinson promises their performance will be thought provoking and a lot of fun.

Robison enjoys watching the audience leave their cares behind for a while to enjoy their show. “We get the added satisfaction of seeing the audience open their hearts and minds to truth.”

He encourages retailers to remember the impact their work is having during uncertain times. “Regardless of the ups and downs of the economy, the need for truth and God’s life-transforming power has never been greater,” he says. “Keeping our eyes and hearts fixed on what our work is accomplishing in people’s lives helps keep us all centered on why we do what we do.”


New this year, the Big Idea Stage is open to all attendees and exhibitors who have a UNITE 2017 badge. Participants may sign up for a 20-minute slot that allows them to share their vision, product, message, or anything else they wish to present. Promotion of presentations is entirely up to participants.

See the full schedule at UNITEBigIdeaStage.


Enjoy the live typography illustrations throughout the convention center of Gardenfire owner and artist Jayme Brandt.

Also an exhibitor at UNITE, Brandt will be constructing three, three-sided, eight foot towers for illustration installations to encourage and inspire attendees.

Brandt owns three retail stores that have gone through the ups and downs of this changing industry, yet through it all he’s learned to keep trying new things.

“Be adventurous,” says Brandt. “For me and my store it meant getting more involved in my community so I engaged more in citywide issues. This opened doors for me to speak at a local church and even share the Gospel to an unlikely audience of non-church people. The image of my store changed from being known as a place for ‘those Christians’ into Jayme’s place.” People began to associate life and personality with my place.”

Co-sponsored by CBA, Ingram/Spring Arbor, and HarperCollins Christian Publishing.