Early August saw the 17th annual Catholic Marketing Network convention. The event is really a trade show where suppliers can showcase merchandise to buyers. It’s also a great place to witness trends within the Catholic community. This year’s show was brimming with enthusiasm for expanding inventory to include new items tailor-made for Catholic shoppers.
The convention was buzzing with opportunity. Many there were discussing how to reinvent Catholic gift stores with new items and new marketing strategies. The foundation of Catholic supply houses has long been the sale of devotional materials like books, icons and rosaries but the buzz on the convention floor was that this is a good time to expand inventory. A lot of the excitement about tapping into the Catholic sales market has to do with the church’s new pope, Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is a leader who has already managed to gain positive attention from the world press and many Catholics are energized by his outspoken yet loving leadership style. Pope Francis is clearly interested in reaching out to all Catholics including those currently outside the fold of the church. This rekindled enthusiasm among Catholics and belief that Francis will be effective in calling many to faith, is expected to translate into increased sales at Catholic gift stores.
Already, demand for Pope Francis-themed items has begun to soar. One of the largest suppliers of Catholic artwork reported devoting entire work weeks to producing wall art featuring the Pope, including at least one life-size cardboard cutout of the pontiff. Catholic gift stores will certainly be offering more greeting cards, Holy cards, bookmarks and other items highlighting Pope Francis. But most vendors agreed that it is time to start offering Catholic shoppers an even broader range of merchandise that celebrates their faith.
Of course, Catholic gift stores face some of the same challenges confronting all book retailers and faith merchandisers – a competitive market where consumers don’t necessarily need to shop at a specialty store to find what they want at the best price. Catholic retailers need only glance over at evangelical retailers to see how stiff the competition for customers can be. Evangelical bookstores are struggling to compete with online bookstores and giant discount stores that now carry some, though not all, of the same merchandise.
While mega-stores may carry some of the big name book titles and generic Christian gift items, Catholic stores can still be competitive if they revamp their marketing strategy to include items that promote the Catholic faith/brand. There is room for innovation and creativity in the current climate. The Pope has infused Catholics with renewed zeal and there will be demand for faith-centered merchandise if it is offered with a bit of savvy and a lot of excitement.
If you are looking for cards, gifts or books that celebrate your Catholic faith check out The Printery House. This Catholic purveyor of faith-centered gifts and supplies is run by the monks of Conception Abbey, and sales help to support the on-site seminary. Cards are made on-site at The Printery House using the artwork and lettering created by the monks themselves.