Q & A Regarding Thomas Nelson’s “Open House” Announcement

Yesterday, we sent out a press release announcing “Open House,” an event we plan to host in Nashville for our top Christian retail accounts in the Spring of 2008. We will invite two employees from each selected store and pay their expenses to attend the weekend conference in Nashville. The Open House initiative will take the place of our attendance at the CBA Advance convention.


Publishers Weekly ran an article in PW Daily about this entitled, “Nelson Out of CBA Winter Show.” Of course, the emphasis was on the fact that we have decided not to participate in next year’s CBA Advance trade show. Open House is our alternative. I thought the article was accurate and balanced. However, as I suspected, it has created a bit of a stir.

So, rather than leave people to speculate, I thought I would answer the questions I think they will most likely ask. So, excuse me while I interview myself.

QWhat is Open House? How would you describe it?

ARight now, we see it as a three-day, two-night event held in Nashville in the Spring of 2008. We want to provide Christian retailers with the opportunity to hear from our top authors, industry experts, and Nelson executives. We also want to provide a forum for retailers to give us honest feedback. We want to make sure that we are delivering products and programs that meet their specific needs as Christian retailers. Our goal is inspiration and education.

QWhat is your primary motive in creating Open House?

AWe want to better connect with CBA retailers. CBA Advance doesn’t afford us that opportunity because retailer attendance has dropped so significantly in recent years. It’s just no longer worth the investment—and, believe me, it has been a big investment. For the same amount of money, and in less time, we believe we can develop a deeper, more beneficial relationship with our CBA customers.

In addition, when we attend Advance (or ICRS for that matter) we can only afford to send a select number of employees. Open House will allow more employees to interact with more retailers. We believe that this will help our people better understand the unique needs of this channel and how we can help.

QIsn’t this evidence of a lack of support for CBA?

ANo, in fact, I think it is the opposite. Because we are committed to the Christian retail channel, we are not content to waste so many resources year after year with so little to show for it. We believe we can redeploy those resources in better ways to serve the channel and make a difference—both for us and Christian retail.

Reality is that the stores themselves aren’t supporting the show—at least, not like they used to. From my perspective, the channel does not need two trade shows a year. This strategy does not serve suppliers or retailers. Neither of us can afford to waste resources on redundant activities.

QDo you think this will hurt the CBA trade association?

AIt depends on what other suppliers do. If they pull out of Advance too, it might hurt the association in the short-term. But, in the end, the association will prosper if it does a good job meeting the needs of its constituents. If it doesn’t do that, than whether or not we attend this trade show won’t matter one way or the other.

QWill Open House be held at the same time as CBA Advance?

ANo. It will be held at a different time than Advance.

QWhat expenses do you anticipate Nelson paying?

AEverything—airfare, hotels, and meals.

QOn what basis will stores be invited? What criteria will you use?

AWe haven’t yet made that decision. We are looking at several models. However, it will likely be volume-related. Based on our data, about 125 retail accounts are responsible for 80% of the sales volume in this channel. We obviously can’t afford to invite and pay for everyone, so we have to focus on the stores that will provide the biggest return on our investment. We anticipate a good cross-section of chains, marketing groups, and independents. All of these types of accounts are important to us. We plan to invite at least two people from each account.

QWill accounts from other channels be invited?

ANo, we see this as exclusively for Christian retail.

QDoes Thomas Nelson plan to pull out of ICRS (the summer CBA trade show), too?

AWe plan to attend ICRS this coming summer, just as we always have and at the same level of participation. However, we believe that show must change in order to remain viable. I have expressed my concerns to Bill Anderson, President of CBA, as have several other publishers. Our ongoing participation will be based solely on whether or not it meets our needs as a supplier. We will re-evaluate after the show this summer. The criteria is simple: “Is the show a good return on our investment?”

It’s no secret that this channel is facing significant challenges. Everything needs to be on the table. None of us can afford to keep doing something because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” The market has changed. To remain viable, we all have to change with it. Someone once defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.” If this channel is going to grow—and I believe it can grow—we are going to have to do things differently. I’m not sure what all that means, but I am not content to keep doing the same things in the same way and hope for a different result.

QWhat about other suppliers that can’t afford to do a similar thing?

AThere are hundreds of strategies that will work. What works for us, may not work for others. That’s reality. However, my responsibility is not to figure out what someone else’s strategy should be—including CBA. That’s their job. I will help if I can, but I have a company to run. My primary responsibility is to help my customers, authors, and employees succeed. I believe that Open House is a step in that direction.

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  • http://www.freemoneyfinance.com FMF

    Chordant (then) EMICMG (now) did this about ten years ago with great success. I think it will be a hit with those who attend.

  • http://www.studiosmith.blogspot.com Barry A. Smith

    Hi MIchael. Quick question. It sounded as if you're still evaluating this, but what types of changes would you recommend be made at ICRS for it to be a show you would find worthwhile and a good return on investment? Anything top of mind?

  • http://www.jimseybert.com Jim Seybert

    Mike – You make a very valid and critical point in stating that the health of CBA (the association) is a matter of what THEY decide to do.

    You said – "in the end, the association will prosper if it does a good job meeting the needs of its constituents. If it doesn’t do that, then whether or not we attend this trade show won’t matter one way or the other."

    And I agree 100%.

    An old Nashville area preacher uttered one of my all time favorites during a sermon a few years back – he said, "Status Quo is just Greek for 'the mess we find ourselves in.'

    Your decison, while perhaps not the easiest nor most popular, has helped shake the status quo box.

  • george

    This is an inspiring direction to take. The CBA advance was a lifeless event from everyone I talked to. I think this move will make change that is necessary. Being involved with new ideas and ways to adapt to a changing enviornment is what makes Thomas Nelson a company to be part of. Thank you for opening doors and closets and asking is this still the best way.

  • http://www.goodwordediting.com/?p=45 Goodword Editing

    President of Nelson Believes Christian Publishing Has Room To Grow

    Yesterday Michael Hyatt wrote this about Christian publishing:
    It’s no secret that this channel is facing significant challenges. Everything needs to be on the table. None of us can afford to keep doing something because “that’s the way we’ve …

  • Roy

    Great decision. ROI is very important to Nelson and our customers. Being able to meet one-on-one with focused dialogue should bring measurable results.

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