Up-and-coming leaders share perspective and vision about the industry’s legacy, Part 3

In this continuing series, five more retailers, suppliers, and visionaries discuss the state of the Christian products industry and their vision for moving into the future.

Sarah Atkinson
Associate Publisher, Tyndale Momentum
Tyndale House Publishers

Years in Industry: 10 years

State of the Industry: While our industry is rich in content and opportunity, we are also at a crucial turning point, as publishers are navigating massive changes at retail, in consumers’ buying habits, and in discoverability.

Top Challenge: Historically, Christian publishing hasn’t tended to have a reputation for innovation. I’d love to be part of changing that—both in creating awareness for the bold and unique things we are doing and in finding new authors, packages, distribution channels, and approaches to relevant topics.

Greatest Opportunity: I am blown away by the Christian writers and thought leaders who are daily making an impact on the world. Our greatest opportunity is to identify people like this who are going and doing, to give them a voice, and to impact the world by helping their message go as far and wide as possible.

What Is Needed: We need to be tapping into market needs, emerging trends, and innovative technologies on the front end, rather than playing catch-up once something has already caught fire in the general market.

Future Outlook: I am excited to see who God will choose and use to speak to our culture and the church.

Kami Gilmour
Audience Engagement Champion
Group Publishing

Years in Industry: 21

State of the Industry: Obviously the internet as well as the decline in church attendance have impacted the way publishers and retailers are doing business today, and in order to survive and thrive, we’ll have to get creative and partner together.

Top Challenge: Understanding and embracing new technology, being acutely aware of cultural and technology trends, and being willing to think outside the box. We can’t rely on our past successes about the way things have always been done.

Greatest Opportunity: The continuing decline in the number of people attending church is actually an opportunity to fill a need that’s very real. Most people who are done with church aren’t done with their faith. In some cases, they are even more hungry for a way to feed their spiritual needs as they’ve felt the church can no longer do it for them.

What Is Needed: New and creative ways to meet people’s needs. We can’t just offer resources and hope people come buy them. We need to create resources and experiences that captivate and engage their attention. Publishers and retailers need to see each other as kingdom partners who are willing to collaborate more holistically and tackle growth together.

Future Outlook: We’re at a crossroads in our industry that demands a shift in thinking, creativity, and genuine partnership. I’m excited about the current challenges being a catalyst for change and growth.

Becky Hodges
Marketing Manager
Group Publishing

Years in Industry: 4

State of the Industry: As a millennial I have huge hopes for the Christian products industry. Publishers and retailers who think outside the box will attract the next generation and can have big impact, particularly when it comes to women, offering more lifestyle products that focus on health, wellness, and self-care.

Top Challenge: The next generation is looking for places that promote community. How can retailers see their store more like a living room? The church is no longer a central place for community, but there is still a desire out there to find real community. The danger that Christian retail faces is not making their retail locations appealing to the younger generation or being an environment where people feel judged.

Greatest Opportunity: There’s starting to be a tipping point in technology. People feel overloaded and as a result conversations are emerging around tech-free environments. Creating spaces, experiences, and resources that encourage people to unplug will be a big trend.

What Is Needed: People want out-of-the-box experiences in new and different forms. Bookstores will have to figure out how to accommodate ideas that won’t fit the traditional bookshelves of spine-out materials. Kits, care packages, and experience materials will become more common, and retail will need to rethink their space.

Future Outlook: Anything that has the word innovation tied to it always makes me excited, especially when it comes to helping people attach themselves to Jesus.

Derek Ouellette
Inspired Christian Storehouse/Online Marketer

Years in Industry: 13

State of the Industry: Readers have more reading options than ever before. Books are competing against blogs, professional media articles, and Facebook for the reader’s time and attention.

Top Challenge: Christian retailers need to give people a reason to shop at their stores. Having the right product mix is important, but we can’t rely on the product anymore because the industry is oversupplied. People can get the same product at a million different places, so why should a person buy from their local Christian bookstore?

Greatest Opportunity: Personal email marketing because it allows local Christian bookstores to separate themselves from the market with its big-brand, generic emails that are easy to ignore.

What Is Needed: We are living in the social media era. People want to hear from people, not brands. Build an email list and create personal, well-crafted emails that people will want to open, and follow through when people come into the store.

Future Outlook: We’re entering an area where technology is allowing independent retailers to offer innovative products and services to their customers with little overhead and greater margins. Small retailers can creatively make their own digital products and sell them to their customer base and make 100 percent profit margin, or create additional digital resources they can offer their customers as an incentive to purchase particular items.

Zach Wallington
Special Products Manager
Christian Supply, Inc.

Years in Industry: 18

State of the Industry: Exasperated. Retailers, vendors, and distributors are struggling just to remain financially viable. I think everyone in the industry is willing to try new things and adapt but so far have found nothing that works and they’re cash-strapped and worn down. As a group, we’re all in need of a few good “wins.”

Top Challenge: I don’t think we have a product problem; I think we have a customer problem. We’re serving an aging demographic and we’re largely unable to convert the under-30 crowd into customers. We cannot prevent the shrinkage that goes along with it.

Greatest Opportunity: Social media engagement is the most effective way to reach potential customers. Over 85 percent of 18 to 29 year olds use Facebook, 53 percent use Instagram, 37 percent use Twitter, and 34 percent use Pinterest. Effectively leveraging these platforms to showcase our products and message can reengage an entire generation of customers.

What Is Needed: We need to connect with younger customers, but then we have to be ready to service the way they shop. We need to be prepared to sell to them before they even think about getting out of their chairs. Retailers should have websites that will list product on hand for same-day purchase and easily sell products that will ship quickly and be delivered quickly.

Future Outlook: I’m excited because we’re in such a recessed state, we are primed to experience tremendous growth if we can correct the issues we’re facing.

— Lora Schrock

Read about other future leaders: Fresh Voices Carry on Industry’s Legacy, Part 1Who Will Lead?, Part 2Unity and Innovation Advance the Industry’s Legacy, Part 4