Christian retailers from around the U.S. gathered in Lexington, Ky. August 14-16 for the summer Christian Product Expo, hosted by the Munce marketing group. Nearly 650 attendees, including authors, publishers, literary agents, and sales representatives, roamed the show floor, which featured 101 vendors—up by 10 from 2021’s event. Seventy-four stores reported that they took 2,488 orders at CPE, a small gain over 2021.

Attendees included Susan Linder, owner of The Christian Bookstore in Union City, Indiana, who was there with her daughter Amanda, who also works at the store. “We come for the learning—listening to what other stores are doing and apply it to ours,” she says. Linder only attends the summer CPE events, explaining, “Amanda and I get to see the new things coming out, and get ready for our Christmas catalog, which starts November 1st and goes through December 24.”

During the show, Linder said she met with two sales representatives and placed several orders for books, including Hispanic material.

Ann Kardos, co-owner and manager of the Logos Bookstore in Kent, Ohio, attends CPE every year to both give and receive encouragement. Kardos’ parents first opened the bookstore in response to the Kent State shootings of 1970, and she works hard to stock both Christian books and products as well as those that appeal to the general market.

The show also included an Industry Update, during which four panelists discussed supply chain issues, labor shortages, and other challenges currently facing bookstores. Speakers included Mark Griffith, v-p retail and business development at DaySpring; Rick Shear, ministries and independents sales lead at B&H; Donna McCollough, owner of Dove Christian Supply in Dothan, Al.; and Jeff Crosby, president, ECPA. While “goods are no longer stuck on boats offshore,” Griffith says tensions remain at loading stations in California, and he predicts a trucker strike in the state in the near future. Panelists agreed that stores should be ordering their Christmastime inventory well in advance to guarantee timely delivery.

Crosby pointed to growth in the overall market, inclusive of religion, for audiobooks and children’s books, and noted that more Christian publishers are adding children’s titles to their frontlists. Bible studies and Christian educational materials are also seeing a sales boost in the market, while nonfiction is on the decline as “people want a diversion from the real world,” Crosby says.

McCollough admitted that using social media—Facebook Live in particular initially made her “uncomfortable”—but that it has led directly to sales. She hosts regular weekly online devotions as well as a “Friday Reads” book recommendation event, in addition to frequently posting on Facebook and Instagram. “We’re creating an experience,” she said. “We’re more than just books, we’re a Christian lifestyle store, we’re a community; we’re dealers of hope and encouragement that big box stores are not going to have.”

On the show floor, Justin Paul Lawrence, v-p of marketing and sales at IVP, manned the publisher’s booth and noticed that the event “seems to be healthy and growing—right-sized for where the industry is going right now.” He added, “CPE is great for me because I get to talk to actual managers from stores around the country. They're lovely people and I have a lot of long-term relationships with them, but they're also not afraid to tell us when they don't like something, whether prices, terms, or content. But since it's in-person, you can actually probe and get down to what the issue really is.”

Christine Whitaker, president and publisher of Whitaker Publishing, attends CPE “to connect to the industry face to face,” she says. Whitaker introduces retailers to new titles, offers discounts, and works to build relationships during the event. “Books are still bought and read because of relationships,” Whitaker says.

Held twice annually, the winter CPE 2023 show is scheduled for February 5-7 in Columbus, Ga. Summer CPE 2023 will be held once again in Lexington, from August 6-8.