UNITE 2018 is the industry’s turnaround moment.

The travelers were weary as they gathered their things and stepped onto the old dusty wood floors. As they pushed through the doorway, they were greeted by others leaving and a friendly older man whose warm welcome and shelves of merchandise were an instant reminder of how important this trip really was. As the men searched for the supplies they’d come for, they each began to wonder if they had brought enough to cover what was needed for today’s trade. This was after all, one of the biggest trading posts in the territory.

Most stories about the old trading posts are relegated to history books and tales by Louis L’Amour. In today’s world of struggling brick-and-mortar stores, and the exponential growth of online sales, many people will understandably question the relevance of trading posts to today’s marketplace. Christian retail is in a real battle for survival, and storeowners have neither the time nor the patience to consider those long ago days of retail. But that would be a missed opportunity to take a deeper look at how far we’ve ventured from some of the most important rules of the industry.

Some industry experts suggest the only way to survive in retail today is to accept dismal sales and the chokehold of market trends that no longer favor Christian retail. Add to that ugly mix mounting questions about trade tariffs and a litany of other factors and optimism might be the rarest commodity in our industry.

But what if the way out is, at least in part, a journey back to glean timeless truths in order to move exponentially forward? Many once thriving companies have been so fearful of failing or tackling all the “new stuff” like websites and social media and new product lines, there’s been little change. And far too many of the “experts” have accomplished little more than watching the ship sink. We’ve seen how that ends, and that’s not well for any of us.

It’s time to demand more from our industry—to look back long enough to move forward with the confidence of next right steps, and to glean from the retail of the past and accept our battle scars as proof we survived. We have the tools to dig out. But they aren’t the ones we’ve been using.

Ignoring social media platforms that can connect us to a world of people searching for the very thing we have and the very need we can fulfill is nonsensical.

Letting others run our websites with no thought of search engine optimization or key word searches is negligent. Some have ignored having a website and social media platforms altogether, with not enough funds or interest to jump in the fray with marketing companies that have squeezed retailers offering them a “whopping” 10 percent of online sales to be funneled their way.

Ask the big box stores and the major retailers. None of them would accept 10 percent margins as “the price of doing business.” Capturing customer data is their priority. And robust online sales that support their brick-and-mortar stores and visa versa is a well-established mandate.

The list of what’s not working feels endless and infuriating. Suppliers’ products are found online, in big-box stores, and even supplier websites for prices lower than what Christian stores can buy them directly from their suppliers. And storeowners feel disloyal being forced to buy from Walmart and Amazon in order to have enough inventory and margins to fill their shelves.

We’re in an industry where some of our most established suppliers are now triple dipping: selling the same product they’ve sold us to non-Christian retail stores just miles from our doors. If we’re willing to really look at it for what it is, we’re on a path of insanity. And it’s unacceptable.

We have to require more from those in our own industry.

Survival, as the trading post owner knew so long ago, requires fair trade practices, an understanding that if only the trader got the good deal, the people would suffer. And the traders relied on the practice of fair trade to know their efforts would not be in vain.

As history reminds us, there were few limits at the trading posts. Most anything that could be traded was, and necessity and word of mouth were the cutting edge marketing tools of the day.

The trading post changed with the times. And all of those obvious historical facts remind us that industry survival requires fair trade practices. Retail is always evolving and change happens dramatically as it does in most industries, but doing business respectfully will require many in this industry to change.

The trading post operator pushed the best deal he could to keep his business open, but it had to work for him and the trader or it didn’t work at all.

And so we’re perhaps at our own historical line in the dirt. Only those who strictly practice fair trade should be left standing—those who do not take from retailers to “hedge their loss” on Amazon or offer data to support a pre-paid agenda of advertising instead of real-time metrics to drive new customers into stores. Only those who offer websites that work for the retailer because they offer value to the customer truly have the retailer’s best interests in mind—not cookie-cutter non-SEO-friendly website packages.

It’s taken a while to see that the enemy has in part been in our own camp. We want to believe the best in others and certainly of those in our own industry—but the truth is, it’s not as complicated as we’ve often made it out to be.

Not having a lot of cash or website knowledge doesn’t mean we have to accept dismal online sales and goofy websites. And none of us should know the reality of buying product cheaper from Amazon than from our own supplier. Seeing the same product on our shelves as what’s being sold to our competitors just blocks from our stores is a business model of disaster.

The greatest challenge before us isn’t figuring out a way to keep the doors open another few months, but how we will thrive. We owe it to ourselves, to our industry, and most definitely to the Lord we serve to take the lessons of the trading post and demand fair trade in our own industry.

We’re not picking a fight, or stirring up controversy for the sake of conversation. We’re identifying what has to change and helping to equip our industry to do it.

We’ve all over-talked, over-analyzed, and even over-thought what’s been happening.

And most have given a valiant effort to push through.

But what we haven’t done—not to this level anyway—is to demand more from our industry: marketing tools, data, inventory that can drive people in the door, increased sales and financial terms that can save stores and rebuild this industry.

CBA is doing that. We know we’re late to a lot of this—but not because we didn’t care or weren’t trying. Sometimes, as most of us have discovered, the most obvious things aren’t, well, obvious. It has taken time to find the right partners and to establish the strategic partnerships that have a heart for God and stellar business acumen.

The faith-based brick-and-mortar stores are the backbone of our industry.

Every supplier and publisher needs what only those retailers can offer.

This July hundreds of exhibitors will be showing retail storeowners why their product is worth the investment (see our exhibitor loop on CBAUnite.com)

The CBA convention is historically the largest trade show in our industry. And this year’s early numbers indicate 2018 will be no exception. With the growing squeeze on retailers stretched beyond what they can juggle, even UNITE has seen lower attendance in recent years. But retailers are responding in strong numbers, echoing what all of us have heard: There’s concern for the state of our industry and it’s imperative that change happens now. Revitalizing sales must happen immediately, and UNITE 2018 is that moment in our industry. It’s the time when powerful connection happens and exhibitors showcase all they’re doing in product development and terms to help stores.

UNITE 2018 marks the historic rollout of new programs to help CBA members buy on terms, have real-time data about their stores, and work real-time with production experts receiving free-of-charge marketing tools and video pieces for their social media platforms.

CBA members can receive customized data from one of the leading data companies in the nation— information that will continually be gleaned for member stores to help identify the customer, products, and marketing that’s on target, providing storeowners with information they’ve never seen and couldn’t previously afford.

UNITE 2018 is our industry’s moment for a turnaround—the “line in the dirt” that embraces the fair trade principles of the old trading posts with the extraordinary commitment of an industry that understands we’re infinitely stronger together and we’re holding each other accountable to the God-given mandate to practice the Golden Rule and share the Gospel until all have heard.

Visit cbaunite.com.