Catholic Business Tips

Interview with Johanna at Image Books.


At the International Christian Retail Show we were fortunate to get an interview with the director of marketing for Image Books. Image has been around since the fifties but for a long time was a very neglected brand at Random House. That changed a year ago when the imprint was designated as the imprint for all Random House Catholic titles. The first book released after the reorganization was Catholicism by Father Baron.

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Talks, Interviews and Ducks at the ICRS


So today was the second full day of the International Christian Retail Show. Our morning presentation was on why retail stores need to have an Internet presence. If you think your store doesn’t need a website you aren’t facing reality.

After my talk Zondervan hosted a delicious lunch and several of their reps sat with the attendees and talked about the industry and what Catholic stores are looking for. I think they were trying to learn more about the Catholic market than anything else.

We also met a couple that is on fire with a vision for a new Catholic store that they want to start in Dallas. They’re young and I think they could pull off something really wonderful down there.

Today I spent some time wandering the show floor so I put together a few clips of  some of the displays.

After lunch I did several interviews with vendors. My first one was with Influence Resources. They are an official publishing imprint of the Assemblies of God that only started two years ago.

Next I interviewed Johanna Inwood who is the director of marketing for the revitalized Image Books imprint from Random House.

I had already missed the march of the ducks at the hotel twice in the evenings so was determined to be there for it this time. I took a video of the tradition but the video clearly shows that I could never get a job as a paparazzi.

Since the 1930’s when a drunk general manager and friend returned from a hunting trip and thought putting live ducks into the Peabody fountain was a good idea, the hotels have had daily processions of ducks to the main fountain every morning and evening.

After the duck march I headed over to the Siam Thai restaurant to meet the Mike and Michelle from Catholic Word for dinner.

Dinner at the Siam Thai Restaurant


The International Christian Retail Show (Day 3)


This was really the first day of the show and even though I got here two days early, the staff of the Christian Booksellers Association had already been here for a week getting everything ready. The fixtures for the show are huge and they actually drive them out in a semi. I’m sure that some of you are saying “What else would they do, ship them Fedex?” Okay, but I never gave it any thought before.

(Half of) the entrance to the ICRS exhibit floor

At the ribbon cutting ceremony they had an opening prayer by one of the board members and then a short performance by the Irish Band Rend Collective Experiment. Here’s a video of one of their songs at the ribbon cutting:

Executive Director Curtis Riskey welcoming everyone to the show

Chairman George Thomson cutting the ribbon

At the ribbon cutting Curtis Riskey said that the attendees had raised several thousand dollars for a local charity that helps poor children. They also purchased material to fill 300 backpacks with school supplies for the kids. They asked the attendees to take time during the show to fill backpacks.

Backpack project for Orlando Children’s Church

The show floor looked better once the setup was finished.

ICRS Show Floor – this is actually a smaller exhibit area then in the past

The non-Catholic market has been ahead of the Catholic market technologically for a very long time. It’s probably because the Protestants are still sore about the Catholics publishing an English New Testament (The Rheims version in 1582) 19 years before the King James version was completed. They decided that the Catholics would never beat them again. Proof? This conference actually has an app and a QR code for download.

ICRS App – Catholics will follow suite in about ten years

I wandered the show floor for about an hour which let me see about one-third of the exhibit. Even though this show is smaller than some past ones, it still is a huge show. A couple of things I saw on the show floor caught my attention. First, was a solar-powered audio Bible.

The Solar Audio Bible, for those times when you are trapped on a desert island.

The other thing I saw was something I had first seen at the same show in Denver several years ago. I really had hoped it had died off but I guess it is actually gaining traction. I present to you…the host shooter.

Host shooters - now in three colors!

Host shooters – now in three colors!

This is actually a plastic, gold or silver plated dispenser for hosts for those who are paranoid about spreading germs. You hold it like a salad shooter, pull the handle on the back and it dispenses a host out of the bottom. When I first saw these four years ago I thought that they needed to be in a vampire movie where our heroes would use them to take down vampires that were invading their church. The company also sells hosts that are infused with wine to make receiving communion even more efficient.

In the afternoon I gave my first presentation:

The feedback was good both from the Catholic and non-Catholic stores that attended. We even had a store from Nigeria attending.

For dinner Johanna, the head of Image books, treated me to dinner at Capriccio’s, the hotel restaurant which serves very good steak. I’ll be interviewing her today about the return of Image Books and plans they have going forward.

Final thing for the day. The bathroom mirror has a strange light ring in it:

The weird thing about this is that when you look in the mirror you end up looking like this:


What I learned at the International Christian Retail Show (Day 1)


In the tradition of past trade shows that Aquinas and More has attended, I’m bringing you my experience at the 2012 International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in Orlando, FL.

The ICRS is the annual trade show organized by the Christian Booksellers Association. The first conference was in 1950 in Chicago. This is the largest gathering of Christian manufacturers in the country.

A year ago the CBA was looking at their store survey data and realized that over 700 stores that attended their conferences carried Catholic products. I was invited to assist the CBA in adding a Catholic component to the show for the first time in 63 years! To that end, I helped them find Catholic vendors to attend and am giving two talks at the conference. The first is about how to serve Catholic customers. The second is about how to get your brick-and-mortar store on the Internet. I’ll be posting the slides for both talks over at after the show. If you want to follow the show on Twitter look for #ICRS

So what have I learned on my way to this conference?

Even if you read the luggage notes that come with your plane ticket itinerary, call the airline to see if there are additional luggage restrictions.

I got to the ticket kiosk at American Airlines in Colorado Springs, paid the $25 bag fee and took our display case to the counter. The lady at the counter said “That will be $400.”

“No, there must be a mistake, the plane ticket is already paid for.”

“No sir, this isn’t for the ticket, this is for your box.”

Do you know how when you’re dreaming you sometimes feel like you’re walking through molasses and that everything is working in slow motion? That’s how I felt. You see, American Airlines charges $200 one way for a package over 70 pounds and another $200 for an oversized package. So that box, which is flying steerage in an unheated compartment and won’t be served drinks by the stewardess, costs more to send than me! If it hadn’t been Saturday morning, I would have gone to the Fedex counter and had the display shipped overnight which would have cost less. Unfortunately, I was stuck. After leaving the box and going through security I realized that they hadn’t refunded the other $25 that I had paid at the kiosk. Grrr. Fortunately, after tweeting about this @americanair contacted me to look up details about the flight and package so maybe there will be a happy resolution.


Blessings happen when you aren’t expecting it.

As I finished picking myself up off the floor from the bag fee shock, I turned around and saw Eric Grimm next in line. He is the member of the CBA that initially contacted me about helping with this conference and was going to be on my flight. I told him what happened and he said that he would arrange to have our display go back to Colorado Springs in the CBA’s truck. Thank goodness! He also treated me to breakfast and introduced me to a homeschooling family that has been helping out as conference staff for several years. The CBA, in spite of running such a huge show each year, has always had a small company feel and meeting this family just made the organization look even better.


Blimpy’s has good subs.

Hot Panini Sicilian at the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. Yum.


Always compare prices on car rental.

Advantage Car Rental is a better deal even if you get a $100 discount from National or Hertz. Mid-size car for four days at Advantage: $130. Same car with $100 off from National or Hertz: $160. Fortunately, I checked first.


Dry heat is a blessing. And a curse.

When Colorado Springs was burning down two weeks ago the temperatures were over 100 degrees and with the combination of the fires, smoke, and ash it looked like Mordor. The temperature in Orlando is in the high eighties but the combination of humidity and cicadas buzzing in the trees makes it feel far hotter and definitely stickier than Colorado Springs. After living in Dallas for several years and doing irrigation work there, you would think I’d have gotten used to living in a sauna. Nope.

This was Colorado Springs on June 26th, not Mordor:

You don’t have to get on a toll-road to leave the Orlando Airport.

I hate toll-roads. I’ve only been on the toll-road to the Denver airport twice in my life even though I’ve flown in and out of Denver many times. When I picked up my car and got my city map and started driving out of the airport I realized that the signs to both the North and South exits both had toll-road labels. Grrr. Fortunately, the map showed a two-lane back country road that left the airport and headed in the direction I needed to go. Score! So, yes, I did manage to get to the convention center without paying a toll.


Before you actually leave on your trip, find out which building the convention is in.

When Aquinas and More attended the ICRS in Denver several years ago, Iwas overwhelmed by how big the exhibit floor was. I’ve been to several Catholic Marketing Network conventions and they take up about 1/5 of the space. The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and surrounding area is on a completely different scale. It’s kind of like holding up a house for an N-gauge model train next to an HO-gauge train. It also felt like the first time I walked into St. Peter’s in Rome. The scale of the building is for giants, not regular people.

Orange County Convention Center and Crystal Palace

Approaching the convention center, my first impression was “It looks like a combination of the Sydney Opera House and the Crystal Palace.” The place is huge and the front is covered in glass and rounded white arches. It is a very classic looking building. After finding a place to park and getting inside I started to have a suspicion that I wasn’t in the right place. The signs were all for a pharmacy conference and everyone was leaving, not arriving. Hmmm. I tried to find an information booth which I think was nearly a half-mile walk through the building. Fortunately, I’d left all of my luggage in the car so I wasn’t hauling boxes. Finally, I was able to find a janitor who told me that I should check the other building (“Other building?”) to see if the conference was there.

Main entrance to the West Orange County Convention Center

The OCCC is so huge that they had to build two buildings. I had walked nearly a  half mile back and forth to my car in the North / South Building and was now being directed over to the West building which I had to drive to.


Parking lot” and “convenient” do not necessarily go together.

By this point I was just about worn out. I’d already gotten in more than my daily exercise in high humidity and been on a plane for several hours. I pulled into the West building parking lot and started looking for the registration desk. The parking lot entryway is massive but in one corner by an escalator I noticed a sign for the ICRS and thought that I was finally nearing my destination. (Insert laugh track).

The walkway between the Peabody hotel and the West OCCC building

Because the show hadn’t started yet, I couldn’t actually go through the exhibit halls but instead had to go upstairs, across a walkway between halls (each one is about ¼ of a mile long), down some more stairs to the main entrance which is at exhibit hall D. I needed to go to “A”. You know how little kids get jelly legs after they have been walking through a mall for a while or across the room when it’s nap time? That’s about how I felt but I didn’t have mom to drag me along.

Finally, after wandering several more cavernous corridors, I could see, far off in the distance like a mirage, signs with the ICRS colors! Yeah! As I approached I realized that there was far too little activity going on. In fact, the registration area was deserted. I looked at my phone and saw that it was 6:10. Registration had closed at 6.


The Peabody Hotel is not Motel 6.

Tower II of the Peabody Hotel

The main convention hotel is the Peabody, right across the street from the West convention building. The hotel is on the same scale as the convention center and actually stretches the same distance. My room is on the 20th floor and has a bird’s eye view of the “water feature” which looks like something you would find at Wet and Wild, water slide included.

The water feature – no diving allowed


Apart from the things you expect to find in a hotel room, at the Peabody you also get a bathrobe, chocolate and for those who really like to spend time in the bathroom, a tv built in to the mirror. That’s just a little too much creepy technology integration for me.

And they turn down your covers and leave chocolate!

International Avenue is like a food amusement park.

The street that runs between the Peabody and the convention center is full of restaurants. By “full” I mean that just about every square inch is stuffed with a cornucopia of restaurants as well as an upside-down Greek temple that looks like it crashed through another building, a theater and a mini-golf course that is like Disney’s Thunder Mountain on steroids.

No, I don’t see anything strange about finding an upside down Greek temple-like thing at an intersection in Orlando

Since I always like to try new things, I didn’t want to go to TGI Friday’s or a steak house so I found a non-chain Thai restaurant that didn’t think the music level had to go to eleven. I had a delicious and spicy green curry soup with Jasmine rice.

Green Curry soup. Spicy hot!

With that delicious dinner, I’ll close for the night. See you tomorrow!

What Happens When You Poison the Well


As I read the latest issue of Christian Retailing, I came across an article about the Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit. The article described the traffic at the show as “light”. I think that is a polite way of saying it was almost empty.

I’ve been to shows like that before. Vendors practically begging people to come to their booths and customers wandering the venue that seems even larger when there are hardly any other people walking around.

Several years ago our store attended the RBTE as both an exhibitor and customer and the venue was bustling. We didn’t do much business but it seemed pretty healthy. The one thing that I wasn’t happy about was the Catholic Book Publishers Association honoring of dissident Catholic Mike Leach with a lifetime achievement award. I heard that this wasn’t the first time dissidents had been honored at the show and it was the reason we never went back. Several other Catholic store owners that we talked with after the show also said that it was the first and last time they would attend.

What many publishers and groups still don’t seem to get is that YOU DON’T POISON YOUR OWN WELL. Why is this such a difficult concept?

The Briarhurst Manor – A Study in Customer Service

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Briarhurst Manor at Night

Briarhurst Manor at Night (Source)

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about the Briarhurst Manor and gave it a lukewarm review.

This year we decided to give it a try again for our 15th wedding anniversary. One thing they do very well is keep in touch with past guests. If you give them contact information, they send you a postcard for a discount on your birthday, wedding anniversary and the anniversary of your first visit to the restaurant.

The Briarhurst is nestled in a picturesque forest clearing in Manitou Springs and was originally built by Dr. William Bell, the founder of the town and co-founder of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad. It’s a pink stone home with all kinds of unique design elements and supposedly is haunted. It’s no wonder that it’s such a popular site for wedding parties and anniversaries.

When we arrived we were seated in the window seat of the library. The windows are probably original and are as insulating as you would expect 100 year old windows to be. Fortunately, there is a heater right under the bench so it was pretty pleasant. After the hostess seated us we waited for our waiter to show up. And then we waited some more. One waiter passed through the room several times and didn’t say anything. Another was taking care of every table in the room, including the other half of the window seat, but never acknowledged that we were there.

After 20 minutes (I’m probably way too patient), I went to the front desk to ask where our waiter was. The hostess was not the same one who had seated us but she went looking for our waiter.

Almost immediately the original hostess appeared at our table with our waiter and apologized. She admitted that she hadn’t told our waiter that he had a table outside of his regular section. She also offered us a free drink and said that they would do “something” with our bill. Our poor waiter was skittish for the rest of the evening. I think he expected us to start yelling at him or something.

The food was delicious and our waiter did a great job. We got a free hot coffee drink for dessert and our hostess took 25% off our check.  Would we go back? Yes, but only because of the followup by the staff.

So what’s the take away for your business?

  • It is the business of all of your employees to make sure the business runs well. The waitress in the room we were in was waiting on the couple at the other end of the bench from us. She should have noticed that we hadn’t even been given menus after stopping by the other table multiple times.
  • When you make a mistake, take ownership and fix the problem. Taking 25% off our bill was more than I had expected and left me feeling like the hostess really was sorry about the error.
  • Deliver on the expectations that you set. This restaurant is one of the most beautiful in the area and the menu (and price tag) is definitely fine dining. The service had better measure up to the unspoken expectations set.

10 Essential Actions to Prepare for the Advent & Christmas Season

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From my house I can see the first snow on Pike’s Peak. That either means it’s the end of summer or God is teaching some silly unprepared hikers a lesson.

In Catholic retail you can’t start prepping for Christmas in October because we have a season that really starts in November. So if you haven’t already begun here’s your checklist:

  1. Take a deep breath and remember why you opened your store. You aren’t trying to provide a Catholic branded consumer mentality. You opened your store (I hope) to strengthen the faith of other Catholics and answer questions for those who aren’t Catholic yet. Christmas isn’t a time to provide a Catholic version of the buying frenzy, it’s a time to help people get more meaning out of the season.
  2. Take advantage of seasonal specials that are offered during mid to late summer by you vendors. Printery House offers an unbeatable special on Christmas cards during the summer. Buy a certain number of packs and get a free display and no hastle returns on what didn’t sell! You can’t beat no-risk.
  3. See what sold really well last year. Your point of sale system had better be able to give you a bestseller report. Make sure that you have a good stock of the top 20% of those items.
  4. Schedule gift fairs at local parishes for the Advent season. It can be a great way to get your name out and help people have a more prayerful Advent.
  5. Clean your store. If you have been putting off your Spring cleaning all summer it’s time to put the best face on your store for ome of the busiest times of the year.
  6. Related to store cleaning but often overlooked, take a look at what’s in your front windows and other displays around the store. It’s time to take down the First Communion display and old movie posters.
  7. Check your advertising. Make sure that any ads that you are running get a face lift and have all of your correct information on them (hours, phone number, location, etc.)
  8. Put together a marketing calendar so you are sure to have the product you need when you need it. This will also help you get ready for specific events without them sneaking up on you.
  9. Check all your pricing. January isn’t the time to find out that the bestselling item of the Christmas season was actually 20% more than you were selling it for.
  10. Start paying attention to what publishers are releasing in the Fall. If you aren’t going to stock them at least be knowledgeable about them when customers ask.
  11. Bonus tip: This Advent (2011)one of the biggest changes in the Church that most of us have ever experienced will be happening. Make sure that you have plenty of new Roman Missals on hand. They will make wonderful Christmas gifts. If you don’t own an imprinting machine yet, go buy one. It will probably pay for itself this season.

How to Make a Last Impression


How to never get repeat business

This week a long expected and long dreaded event finally occurred. We came to work on Tuesday in a torrential downpour and thought we had a ceiling leak. It turns out that the water heater for the bathrooms had finally rusted through.

Today a plumber came to replace the heater.

The heater is conveniently located over our coat rack but we had a bucket under the drip so no ones stuff was getting wet. The ceiling tiles that needed to be removed were also conveniently located over the coat rack and had become waterlogged over the past few days. When the plumber started removing the tiles he didn’t bother to move the coats or even to come ask us to do it. He just started pulling down tile right on top of them. Fortunately, there’s nothing I like better than a coat covered in sour-smelling water and soggy bits of ceiling.

When the plumber left today we found that he hadn’t bothered to clean up after himself. The women’s bathroom was a disaster. Rusty water, bits of ceiling and metal were strewn across the sink, floor and toilet. The hallway outside the bathroom was covered in bits of ceiling tiles and he didn’t even bother to ask if we had replacement tiles to put back in so the ceiling is still the residence of several soggy and broken tiles.

It is clear to me that this guy never expects repeat business.

Of course, this is an extreme example but if you don’t make sure that every step in the sales cycle at your store works well you could leave customers with a similar impression.

The biggest challenge is to set expectations up front that are realistic but also ones that you may beat. Don’t tell a customer that his custom order will be available for pick up in four days if the vendor you are getting the product from typically doesn’t deliver for five. If there are any unexpected delays be sure to keep the customer informed because each day that goes by beyond the date that you promised delivery is another day that the customer is stewing about his order.

Be sure that the impression you leave the customer with won’t be the last impression he ever gets of your business.


Is Anyone There?

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A couple of weeks ago I went shopping for a mattress for one of my kids. I walked around the entire floor of one store, checked pricing and left without ever seeing or hearing from a single employee.

I guess the price on those mattresses could have been free since I could have backed my van up to the door and loaded up without ever having anyone notice.

The second store I walked in at least had an employee in the front who asked how he could help. I told him what I was looking for and he showed me two samples. I picked one, paid was leaving when I asked about a new mattress for our room.

Had I not asked the question the employee would have let me walk out the door without any attempt at seeing what else I needed. He didn’t even ask for my phone number, let alone an email address to fill me in on the latest mattress news.

As a Catholic store owner, can you say that your employees are really there and focused on helping your customers?

Here’s a quick quiz to help you figure that out:

  1. Do your employees have a written procedure to follow when a customer comes in?
  2. Do your employees greet every customer?
  3. Do your employees let customers know about specials you are running?
  4. Do your employees ask what customers need and ask follow-up questions to make sure they can find what customers really need?
  5. Do you have a plan in place for capturing customer information so that you can follow up with them in the future?

If you can’t say “Yes” to all of these questions it’s time to review (or create) your procedures for that all-important first impression.

E-books Outsell All Others On Amazon

Amazon Logo

Amazon Logo

So today Amazon announced that e-books are now outselling all other formats combined. Not everyone is buying it.

Most Christian publishers figured out that e-books were the next big thing two years ago. I’m hoping that Catholic publishers will step up to the plate quickly now.

In other completely unrelated news, someone made a bid to buy Barnes and Noble for 1 billion dollars today. That’s 1/9 of the value Linked In received on its first day after going public.

If you are a Catholic publisher trying to get your feet wet but don’t know what to do, please visit Catholic Digital Services. We can do it all for you.