In the face of stormy changes in consumer habits and cultural values, Christian product suppliers and retailers were offered an anchor and a compass at UNITE 2016, CBA’s International Christian Retail Show.

While celebrating the faith they hold in common, they also heard of positive trends and practical steps they can take to grow business in their time at the June 26-29 event at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. A total 2,114 suppliers, distributors, retailers, and related professionals attended the recast convention, right-sized this year to meet their needs as trade shows have also changed in recent years.

With reduced emphasis on store buying, the event continues to provide an unparalleled opportunity for all those involved in producing and distributing Christian resources to come together in their shared mission—hence the theme, UNITE 2016. Helping facilitate that connection, business at the 200-plus exhibitor booths was suspended over lunchtime on Monday and Tuesday to allow attendees to gather for keynote presentations and discussions.

Through the event key leaders discussed thorny issues like omnichannel management in open panel discussions, senior executives met in private meetings, and attendees took part in breakout sessions spotlighting major new products, providing retail training, and offering consumer insights.

First-time exhibitors Boyfriend Bears meets with potential buyers.

PIVOTAL ROLE

Illustrative of how CBA’s convention is acknowledged to play a pivotal role in the industry was the presentation of an exclusive, extended preview for the Christian retail channel of MGM’s remake of the classic movie, Ben-Hur, releasing in theaters in August. Additionally, the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association named Kay Arthur as Golden Scroll Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, American Christian Fiction Writers named Janette Oke as its Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and Christian Retailing magazine announced their annual awards at UNITE 2016.

CBA’s convention is “a very big part of our strategy,” said Tom Knight, senior VP of sales at HarperCollins Christian Publishing. “It’s very important for us to be here. It’s a good business-to-business show, so we’re able to talk not just with retailers.”

This year’s move to a smaller convention city and venue—offering easier access to many attendees—was welcomed by Dave Schroeder, VP of marketing at B&H Publishing Group. “I like it here a lot,” he said. “It was a really wise move. I have been just as busy as any other year. This is where everyone else is; where else can I get together with all of our core partners in one place?”

INDUSTRY TRENDS

UNITE 2016 followed hard on the heels of the release of CBA’s annual State of the Industry report, which revealed a sales dip of less than 1 percent for Christian independent retailers last year and a net loss of 24 stores.

But there were positive indicators in Cincinnati. Christian publishing has been growing since 2010, with Christian retail accounting for around 17 percent of category sales, Nielsen BookScan’s Director of New Business Development Kristen McLean reported at one general session. She identified “professing Christians”—those who are interested in faith but may attend church only rarely, comprising almost a third of consumers—as potentially “the future of this business,” prompting the question, “what does the Christian retail environment of the future look like?”

But there were positive indicators in Cincinnati. Christian publishing has been growing since 2010, with Christian retail accounting for around 17 percent of category sales, Nielsen BookScan’s Director of New Business Development Kristen McLean reported at one general session. She identified “professing Christians”—those who are interested in faith but may attend church only rarely, comprising almost a third of consumers—as potentially “the future of this business,” prompting the question, “what does the Christian retail environment of the future look like?”

CBA INITIATIVES

One major new initiative announced at UNITE 2016 was a partnership between CBA and Content Road Media Corporation to bring a stream of high margin releases to Christian retail, starting with the docudrama, The Samaritan. It tells how attorney Eddie Roush helped reunite a Romanian defector and his family by securing their freedom from the Communist dictator state, in the 1980s. The DVD is due to come to Christian stores in the fall, with wider distribution to follow some months later. Other releases, including music and books, will follow along similar lines.