With the demise of the Association for Christian Booksellers (CBA) and its annual trade show, booksellers from around the globe gathered at Christian Product Expo (CPE) in Murfreesboro, Tenn., from Aug. 25-27. Nearly 800 people attended, including bookstore owners, representatives from Christian publishers, authors, and media, according to the Munce Marketing Group, which hosted the event alongside the Christian Retail Association (CRA).

“It’s the new show,” Justin Paul Lawrence, senior sales and marketing director at IVP, told PW.

Bob Munce, president of both (CRA) and Munce Marketing, expanded CPE into an international event this year in order to support Christian retailers following the loss of CBA's International Christian Retailing Show. “We’ve been doing this show twice a year for 17 years, and this was our biggest yet," he said. "I want [CPE] to do three things: spiritually refresh, offer fellowship and encouragement, and have a strong business component."

Retailers received a reimbursement offer of up to $700 for attending CPE if they placed 30 orders during the show. As a result, Munce said, publishers are incentivized to pay for booth space, creating revenue that is returned to qualifying retailers.

Adam Dalton, sales manager at Moody, referred to CPE as a place for the industry to come together as sales representatives were able to present their books and authors to retailers both from their booths as well as during special book signing and reading events. Booksellers also attended sessions on church bookstore management and search engine optimization. “There’s encouragement, training, and tips for retailers here,” Dalton added. “They’re well cared for and placing orders—nobody loses.”

Talk of LifeWay’s store closures dominated the show floor discussions as Christian booksellers look for ways to capture LifeWay customers and learn from the chain’s mistakes. During an industry update featuring panelists from Ingram, IVP, HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP), Logos Bookstores, and DaySpring, retailers were encouraged to look at what ABA stores are doing, including supporting their local businesses, hosting events, and expanding their inventories, in order to survive and thrive.

“The industry update answered questions about what are the publishers saying, and a major takeaway was to expand the business into other product forms—general market books, Hallmark gifts, laser engravers— to broaden horizons,” said Munce, who moderated the session.

Several exhibiting publishers lent their support to Christian booksellers who are struggling to compete with Amazon and adapt to changing consumer behavior with special CPE discounts and offers.

“I came to get a read on the industry, and I’ve seen that it’s still alive,” said Stephen Strang, founder and CEO of Charisma Media. Strang noted that independent Christian retailers are more vulnerable to changes that are taking place in the book market than publishers, who have more options, such as selling online and directly to consumers. Given the challenges booksellers are facing, Strang said it was important for Charisma to be at CPE.

Ultimately, CPE fills the void between booksellers and book publishers left behind by CBA’s International Christian Retailing Show, according to Dan Van Gorp, senior director of independent retail for HCCP. “We felt it was a grassroots effort to reconnect publishers with retailers, and we wanted to help in growing this concept,” he said.

CPE's winter event is taking place in Wilmington, De. Feb. 9-11, 2020. The fall 2020 show will also take place in Wilmington from Aug. 16-18.