While attendees at this week's annual meeting of the International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, Fla., were pleased at the event's continued expansion beyond the retail space, attendance was down. ICRS confirmed that 3,002 people attended the show, a 25% decline from 2014.
Despite the drop in numbers, the June 28 - July 1 event, is still something many feel is important. And, as Christian retailers have continued to struggle in the face of the growing popularity of Christian products at mainstream outlets, there has been appreciation for a show which has, since Curtis Riskey took over as CBA president in 2010, continued to shift away from a purely buying and selling conference.
"At a time when religious issues seem to be so divisive in our world, Christian retailers have never been more needed," Riskey said.
The show's attempt to expand beyond retailing was seen in a more significant presence of international attendees, as well as professionals from the film industry.
Tom Knight, senior v-p of sales at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, noted that the growing international presence at the show speaks to how selling rights has become more important to the conference. “We’ve met with people from Australia to Ghana,” he remarked.
Speaking to the continued strength of Christian-themed work in Hollywood, the show hosted screenings of films like Alex and Stephen Kendricks’ upcoming film War Room, as well as the screen adaptation of the bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven.
“Film companies are starting to realize that Christians go to the movies,” said Cynthia Ruchti, professional relations liaison for the Association of Christian Fiction Writers. Ruchti hosted a session dedicated to faith-based fiction and contributed to a session on trends in Christian film. “We need to make sure the message of faith is organic in our stories."
One topic on everyone’s mind was the continued legal wrangling over the buy-out of bankrupt Family Christian Stores. The sale of the chain of Christian retail stores was recently denied in bankruptcy court, and many attendees seemed cautious but intrigued by the opportunities that could arise once the future of the company is determined. Speaking to the wait-and-see attitude of many fair-goers, Ruchti said: “Everyone is holding their breath.”
One market that showed a strong growth at the conference was gift merchandise. A large portion of the show floor was dedicated to gift books and other faith-based products.
The show also evidences ways publishers are coming up with creative ways to put books in front of their target consumers. One example is the gift book line HCCP launched and is selling through Southern car washes; the line has achieved surprising initial success.
Continuing CBA's commitment to charitable endeavors in ICRS host cities, $2,600 was collected in an offering to Orlando Children's Church. Founder of the Church Peter O’Driscoll accepted donations throughout the show from his location on the exhibit floor next to a bus used to transport over 350 children to church every Saturday.
Next year's ICRS will be held June 26-29 in Cincinnati, Ohio.