A Change in Our Trade Show Strategy

Today, we announced that we will no longer be participating in the two major trade shows in our industry: Book Expo America (BEA) or the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS). As I said in our press release, we have been discussing this move for some time. In fact, it’s a conversation we have had every year since I have been at Nelson (ten years).

next exit, the future

But the current economic downturn is forcing us to re-evaluate every marketing dollar we spend. This is not the reason for our shift in strategy, but it is the catalyst. The reality is that these trade shows provide very little return to us on a hugely significant investment.

Why have we made this decision now? Last weekend, we hosted our inaugural Open House at the Music City Sheraton in Nashville, Tennessee. Our top 100 Christian retail accounts attended the two-day, two-night conference. These 100 accounts represent about 1,400 store fronts.

Our goal was to arm participants with a better understanding of industry trends and merchandising strategies, while inspiring their relationships with God. The event also allowed for renewing friendships with other retailers and the Thomas Nelson family.

At the Thursday evening “3:16 Celebration” at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Max Lucado and friends, Sandi Patty, Jaci Velasquez, Travis Cottrell, and Heather Headley presented the timeless truth of John 3:16 through beautiful worship music and inspiring messages of God’s grace.

During Friday’s “ReThinking” sessions, world-class speakers John Maxwell, Tony Jeary, Michele Miller and the Disney Institute’s Tom Madden, equipped retailers with practical advice on how to increase their effectiveness as leaders and marketers.

On Saturday morning I spoke on the topic of “Ten Reasons I Am Still Excited about Christian Retail.” Andy Andrews concluded the event with an inspirational and honest session on “ReThinking Possibilities.” It was a great finish to a great conference.

Based on feedback from the attendees, the event was a tremendous success. Of the attendees surveyed, every single one said that they intended to participate in future Open House events. Ninety-five percent said their businesses would be strengthened by the event.

For example, Tim Way, Divisional Merchant Manager for Family Christian Stores (more than 300 stores nationwide), said,

Thomas Nelson’s Open House was one of the best Christian retail events I have attended in my 25 years in the industry. The sessions gave me highly practical information I can use right now. Additionally, I came away spiritually uplifted and encouraged.

Steve Potratz, owner and founder of the Parable Group (more than 200 stores nationwide), said,

The program was absolutely top notch and the fellowship was great. Most of all, the commitment demonstrated by Thomas Nelson to the Christian retail channel was clear and very encouraging.

Historically, trade shows have played an important role in publishing and bookselling. I have attended scores of them and have very fond memories of connecting with customers, authors, and the media. But the market has changed. Dramatically. We simply can no longer justify the enormous costs associated with these trade shows. Having inaugurated our own event, it’s time for us to leave the past behind and step into the future.

We intend to make Open House an annual event for our key Christian retail accounts. Amazingly, our top 100 Christian retail accounts generate more than 80% of our revenue in this channel. Therefore, we must be intentional and strategic in how we connect with them. Open House provides us with a better way to invest in our future and theirs.

If you work in the industry or are in the media, you may have additional questions. I have compiled a Q & A page here.

Update: The news media is now covering our announcement. I thought I’d provide a little commentary here:

The Tennessean: They got the strategy-thing right, and they put it in the headline. Unfortunately, they said that the shift in strategy was the result of the economic downturn. Not exactly. That was merely the catalyst that led to us re-evaluating our participation in these shows.

Also, the Tennessean interviewed my friend Rolf Zettersten, publisher of FaithWords, for the article. He says he’s having a good year and “won’t contemplate making such a dramatic change.” I don’t know what having a good year’s got to do with it, but I can certainly understand why small publishers, who don’t have the kind of routine, face-to-face contact with their accounts that we have, would want to stay involved.

The Bookseller: This is a UK-based trade publication. Like the Tennessean, they said that our decision was based on “economic pressures.” Maybe we shouldn’t have led with that in the press release or maybe we should have made it more clear. Regardless, I approved every word, and there’s no opportunity for a do-over.

On a positive note, they provided very little commentary and simply repeated my quotes. They also linked back to my blog, which is great.

Macworld: No, they didn’t specifically mention Thomas Nelson. However, the same day we made our announcement, in an article entitled “Apple Takes a Trade Show Pass,” the editor noted, “In confirming its decision not to have a booth at NAB, the company [Apple] said it was ‘participating in fewer trade shows every year, because often there are better ways for us to reach our customers.’”

The Bookseller: Evidently our announcement created quite a stir at the London Book Fair. I have been exchanging email messages with the editor of the Bookseller this morning.

He wanted to know what our decision meant with regard to the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs. He even called a few minutes ago to make sure he had the story straight. I told him, “We attend numerous international shows. We will evaluate these on a case-by-case basis. We will continue to attend them, so long as they enable us to connect meaningfully with our customers in the most economical way possible. Currently, we plan to continue participating in both the London Book Fair and Frankfurt.”

Publishers Weekly: This article is fair and accurate. Lynn Garrett, the reporter, nailed it. She does a great job of getting to the story behind the story and setting our decision in a larger context.

CBA Official Response: Evidently, CBA sent this out last evening. I wasn’t on the list. I didn’t know about it until someone from the media mentioned it to me this morning and then forwarded the email to me.

I certainly appreciate Bill Anderson’s heart. He is obviously reminding people of the value of ICRS and hoping that others don’t follow our lead.

I won’t comment further other than to say I have fond memories of all the conventions I have attended through the years. I am simply posting Bill’s comments here for the sake of presenting the other side of the argument.

I will post more later as other stories are published.

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