The 2013 International Christian Retail Show closed today in St. Louis, after three days of focus on the importance of addressing and building experiences and emotional connections between retailers and customers.

The Show opened Sunday with a general session on customer experience and included a panel of retailers, suppliers, and marketing professionals discussing how Christian stores have an advantage over online retailers and mega-discounters by connecting emotionally with customers. A Skype interview with the leading expert, Colin Shaw of Beyond Philosophy, discussed how emotions lead to loyalty and increased sales. He outlined the importance and power of differentiating stores through customer experience and relationships.

This year’s Ministry in Action program recipient, St. Louis-based ministry Humanitri, received 100 laundry bags, filled with household items plus an offering of more than $6,000 for its family-support programs.

Sunday night’s Worship Him event brought together Pastor Max Lucado and musicians Steven Curtis Chapman and Laura Story in a night of inspiration and encouragement to an industry that needs to know that it will get through the tough times that the world is experiencing.  Christian stores will participate in the fall launch with an exclusive ministry outreach for Salvation Army clients.

“Worship Him kicked off the week on a very high note that continued through the week,” said Curtis Riskey, CBA president. “With everyone who’s represented here, it reminds me that ICRS remains the apex of the industry, where all who have the common mission to distribute Christian resources come together to celebrate what God’s doing in their lives, ministries, and businesses.”

Following the event, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum announced he would be the new CEO of EchoLight Studios, and later announced a $20 million investment fund to produce Christian films to inspire moviegoers and DVD buyers. A recent CBA study found that DVD sales in Christian stores increased 27% from 2010 to 2012.

Film companies screened several upcoming films for ICRS attendees, once again taking advantage of the Show as a launching pad for family- and faith-friendly entertainment.

This year, ICRS continued its focus begun last year on authors connecting with retailers for co-marketing initiatives. Author and publishing related events included an author boot camp; fiction-product event that highlighted opportunity categories, such as young adult; Author Avenue, a special area for book signing and meet-and-greets; and meetings and award banquets from the American Christian Fiction Writers, Christian Authors Network, and American Writers and Speakers Association, among others.

Author Ben Sellitto, author of Trusted and Believable Leaders, said the Show has been amazing.

Angela Breidenbach, author of Healing Heart, said, “ICRS has been the absolute highlight of my year.  I met so many retailers and readers that I’m the one walking away with a full heart, so blessed to have been here.”

Other strong points from the show include the Retail Academy, presented by Bob Negen of Whiz Bang! Training and sponsored by Ingram/Spring Arbor. The third year of the retail seminar continued to be popular as retailers proactively work to adapt to new realities of retail technology and marketing for growth.

Workshops also focused on pressing retailing issues, such as lifestyle marketing, social media, turning around a store in a tough environment, technology tools, trends for effective marketing, retailing in the digital-media age, and more.

The new Lifestyle Stories exhibit presented research to help retailers better understand new moms, boomer women, and male customers.

New Duck Dynasty products were highlighted at the show and part of the Lifestyle Stories exhibit for men. The line provided the opportunity for retailers to be “happy, happy, happy.” Sherry Morris, Carpentree marketing manager, spoke on a panel addressing lifestyle marketing. She encouraged retailers with her rule of thumb rhyme when buying gift lines, “Bestsellers rule. New is cool. Cores don’t end. And trends are friends.”

Cynthia Ruchti, author and professional relations liaison of American Christian Fiction Writers Association said, “Our purpose in coming to ICRS is always what can we give to the retailing community in resources, encouragement, and a listening ear. We’ve formed new relationships reestablished old connections with optimism and sparkle.”

Ohio retailer Eli Hochstetler said, “It’s been good show, and we’ve enjoyed our time.”

“ICRS has been an incredible encouragement this year as once again buyers and sellers have been given an opportunity to be connected at a relational level,” said Eddie Nostrant, president of Spirit & Truth Jewelry. “It’s about exalting Jesus through the distribution of God-glorifying products for the purpose of spreading the Gospel.”

Although attendance was down, Riskey said comments he received overall were positive. Professional attendance was down 15% to 1,485 buyers with more than 3,700 total. International attendance was down 21% to 288 from 57 countries.

Sharon Dumas, a new product provider, said she believes she was here at God’s appointed and anointed time. “CBA, Suzy Q, and Shoppes that Poppe have given me a vision for what I need to do. What an honor and privilege to meet so many and be connected with fellow believers in such short order,” she said.  

ICRS 2014 will be June 22-25 in Atlanta, GA.