VALLEY FORGE, Pa. — “Don't put new products in the children's play area. They don't know they're not supposed to play with them,” cautioned one 10-year veteran retailer to a young couple who plan to open a Catholic gift and bookstore next month.
Although snatches of similar exchanges were audible throughout Catholic Marketing Network's (CMN) third annual trade show, held June 17-21 near Philadelphia, no one walked away from the show with marketing tips alone. Tired bodies, aching feet, and a refreshed Catholic spirit more accurately describes attendees' comments.
The trade show is the only one of its kind in the country, said Catholic Marketing Network president Alan Napleton. Featuring more than 164 exhibitors of Catholic books, videos, statuaries, and other merchandise, and comprising more than 70,000 square feet of exhibit space, this year's show drew more than 3,000 participants — an increase of more than 145% from last year's count.
“It's the largest gathering of Catholic retailers in the country,” Napleton added. “The Catholic Marketing Network was formed three years ago as a response to the Holy Father's call for lay people to utilize every means of mass communications and commerce to spread the Gospel,” Napleton explained. “We're gratified by the overwhelming interest of the Catholic community which has helped make the CMN trade show a must-attend gathering for Catholic professionals.”
“One of the real values of this show,” added Ignatius Press director of marketing Tony Ryan, “is learning what customers like or don't like about your company.”
Ryan also pointed to a growing number of new Catholic recording artists and groups, and a number of new chant CDs, including one called Women in Chant produced by the Benedictine nuns at Connecticut-based monastery Regina Laudis monastery. “There are a lot more Catholic musicians coming up,” he said, adding that Ignatius Press wrote more orders this year than in previous years at the show.
Maureen Pinney, customer services manager for the religious jewelry and articles manufacturer McVan and Company, noted that many retailers were looking for new products or for new jewelry or rosary suppliers. She made a number of new contacts at the show.
“More people were looking for traditional Catholic prayers on plaques or prints,” noted Sue Kloeck of Indiana-based Abbey Press.
Several book and gift store owners commented on the increase of customers wanting to better understand their faith. Apologetics books by such authors as Karl Keating, Patrick Madrid, and Matthew Pinto and others were especially in demand.
Each year the show has expanded in more ways than with exhibit show floor space to incorporate the growing dimensions of Catholic influence in the marketplace. This year, a half-day, pre-conference seminar by Joe Tabers, president of Productive Training Services, was offered free-of-charge to more than 125 retailers who sought practical tips on how to improve their customer service and more fully incorporate their Catholic Faith into their business relationships.
In addition, the first annual Catholic Communications Expo was held simultaneously with the trade show. Hosted in conjunction with California-based Lay Catholic Broadcasting Network, it focused on the development of Catholic radio and the effective use of the Internet.
Next year, Napleton plans to add visual arts to the communications expo with another simultaneously held event dedicated to featuring Catholic producers, directors, and others involved in the production of Catholic films and videos. In addition, he plans to showcase Catholic artists and sculptors.
“The Catholic Marketing Network is an apostolate and a ministry first,” explains Napleton, who understands that while many participants are producing products that will foster the Faith, they must also be concerned with following a business plan and meeting their financial obligations.
“By assisting the individual businesses and ministries involved in the manufacturing, production, and distribution of Catholic materials, we are supporting the Church and helping to build up the body of Christ,” Napleton said.
Lu Cortese of California-headquartered St. Joseph Radio, whose program is broadcast daily around the world on Mother Angelica's WEWN, concurs. She recorded nearly seven hours' worth of radio programming each day of the conference, featuring on-site interviews with many of the more than 100 Catholic authors, contemporary and classical musicians and artists at the show.
“One thing we try to do is give trade people, authors, and artists an opportunity to be on the air who would never otherwise have that opportunity,” explained Cortese. “We had authors and recording artists waiting all day to get on air!”
Musicians at the trade show included seasoned professionals such as singer-guitarist Tony Melendez, international Irish tenor Mark Forrest, and international recording artist and Grammy-nominated singer Kathy Troccoli, a, singer Sara Hart, as well as “The Singing Nuns” from St. Michael's Convent in Spokane, Wash., and newcomers such as singer Lynn Cooper and others. Authors included best-selling author Michael O'Brien; Karen Santorum, wife of U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.); popular Catholic novelist Bud Macfarlane, and many others.
St. Luke Productions' The Story of A Soul, a moving one-woman performance recreating the story of St. ThÈrËse of Lisieux, was presented to a capacity crowd of more than 1,700. And nearly 60 attending musicians and authors showcased their works at an informal Friday evening author-artist reception attended by retailers, distributors, and media professionals.
Napleton said that the Catholic Marketing Network plans to immediately start building on the “tremendous momentum” of this year's event, starting early to bring it to the next level of expansion and opportunity for participants.
For more information on the Catholic Marketing Network, call Alan Napleton at 800-929-0608.
Karen Walker writes from Corona Del Mar, California.