Christian Product Expo (CPE), the bi-annual trade show hosted by the Munce marketing group and the Christian Retail Association (CRA), held its winter event in Wilmington, Del. from Feb. 9-11, attracting approximately 300 publishers and retailers. Attendance was up 15% from CPE Winter 2019 which took place in the Poconos, Penn.,according to Bob Munce, president of the Munce Group, but the number trailed CPE’s international summer event of last year, held in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

CPE has taken on a greater significance following the demise of the Association of Christian Retail (CBA) and its annual trade show, UNITE, Munce hopes to grow both the winter and summer shows through innovative programming, informative seminars, strong business components, and fellowship. With a session titled Gaining New Customers: Retail Training, CPE Winter focused on reaching past churchgoers and exploring ways to engage broader audiences through literature.

“From a mission perspective, Christian bookstores want to spread the gospel, and appealing to seekers isn’t emphasized enough,” Munce said. “What’s going to get them through the door?”

Christian bookstores are often the only booksellers in their towns, and Munce is encouraging those retailers to carry inventory beyond their core Christian products. This can include cookbooks, travel books, and self-help books, as well as greeting cards and gifts. Further, Christian retailers can grow their businesses by selling second-hand books or adding a café to their store, according to Munce.

On the show floor, sales reps from dozens of Christian publishing houses populated the 36 booths (which represented 67 companies). Greeting existing and new customers, many reps referred to CPE as “an order-writing show” that affords the increasingly rare opportunity to meet face-to-face with retailers and lend support to indie Christian stores.

“There are customers ready to buy here,” says Dave Salzmann, a salesman for Tyndale House Publishers, and Lois Oberlin, sales specialist for the Baker Publishing Group, noted that CPE always leads to substantial fiction sales.

The largest booth went to HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which gave away several galleys of forthcoming books such as My Name is Tani by Tani Adewumi and Uncommon Ground by Tim Keller. In addition to giveaways, publishers introduced several of their authors to retailers during CPE during book signing events, prayer breakfasts, and “personality parties.”

CPE International is taking place once again at Wilmington’s Chase Center on Riverfront from Aug. 16-18. Looking ahead to 2021, CPE Winter will take place in Charlotte, N.C., followed by the international summer event in St. Charles, Mo.