Whether it’s the fable of the sower, the disparate gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, or the prophetic soils in the Book of Isaiah, images of gardens and planting are frequent in scripture.
That being said, it was still quite the intuitive leap when the team at Greenville-based Genesis Marketing Group began to see the potential of home and garden stores as a new branch for the Christian retail market.
“At the start of the pandemic, they shut down basically the entire country, and we watched our sales drop by more than 90% overnight,” said Tim Morgan, holdings CEO with Genesis Marketing Group. “But what we also saw was home and garden stores were not closed down. If you think about it, who goes to home and garden stores? Normal, everyday people — and a lot of those people are Christians.”
That resiliency is what has allowed Genesis Marketing Group to not only survive for 50 years, but to thrive. The company, led by President David George, Executive VP of Sales Les Jones, CFO David Stockard and Executive VP of Key Accounts Chuck Zimmerman, has managed to retain its full staff during the COVID-19 crisis while seeing increased sales compared to the year prior.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that a company built to meet the needs of the Christian marketplace should find itself celebrating its golden anniversary at a time when a plague of Biblical proportions has spread across the world, but Morgan and his team were undaunted.
“Look, there are not a lot of companies that can claim to have been around 50 years, especially this year as a lot of companies were forced to close or significantly reduce their staff,” Morgan said. “But I’m a firm believer in keeping the faith and trusting in the Lord, and you can figure out a way through.”
The decision to partner with home and garden stores is an apt example of the Genesis team managing to “figure out a way through.”
“People didn’t have anywhere to go to buy inspiration products from the store,” Morgan said. “We went to these stores and saw we were missing a huge opportunity here, and we’ve seen huge acceptance in the home and garden market this year.”
Genesis has now partnered with hundreds of new stores carrying inspirational Christian products, including Ace Hardware.
But demographic changes were already causing a radical shift in the Christian market even well before the pandemic hit.
Since the boom era of the early 2000s, when trade shows were packed and a wave of renewed spiritual enthusiasm seemed to have spread across the country, a drastic number of Christian bookstores have closed their doors, including LifeWay Christian Resources, which closed all 170 of its locations in 2019. Morgan said that’s due to a number of factors: aging owners opting to retire, financial turmoil wrought initially by the Great Recession and now the pandemic, as well as a shift toward online retail.
“The other big shift was when music went digital,” Morgan said. “There was a time when Christian stores were the place all the young people went to buy their music, a hub and gathering spot, but with iTunes first and then streaming sites, young people stopped coming in, and that really hurt the market.”
Rather than bemoan the younger generation or see the decline in Christian stores as evidence of some larger decline in faith, Morgan and the team at Genesis knew what they were witnessing was simply a natural shift in the market.
“A lot of people want to take cheap shots at the younger generation, but I see they are as serious about their faith and as passionate as any other,” Morgan said. “Another thing is, they really want to live their faith, not just talk about it.”
One part of that, he said, is realizing that the former barriers between what is so-called “Christian” and what is so-called “Secular” are no longer so rigid.
What customers ultimately want is convenience and quality, Morgan said. He can remember years ago, when the Christian movie “Fireproof,” starring Kirk Cameron, was released, a woman he knew complained that all the copies were sold out at Walmart. Morgan knew there were stacks of copies at local Christian bookstores selling at the same price, but he understood customers had been so hard-wired to shop in a certain way that they never considered that as an option.
“I realized then we had to expand our market,” he said. “People expect you to make a presence, because it’s now mainstream, so to speak.”
Morgan has no intent to gauge what the next 50 years will hold, as he’s never been one to try to guess the market, only to adapt when it does inevitably change.
“All I can say for sure is, God is good,” he said.