A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
Retailers Respond to Scrapbook
How to be a merchant, not a missionary.
by various industry retailers (September 20, 2004)
(Note: An independent scrapbook retailer sent a
discouraging email to CLN (see the 9/6/04 issue). Mike
Hartnett thought it raised some troubling issues regarding the
future of independents, and emailed his worries to various industry
veterans. What follows below are responses from retailers. Mike's
original email and responses from a scrapbook company veteran and a
veteran designer appear in Business-Wise. Manufacturer responses –
and the independent's answers – are in Vinnie Da Vendor.)
Bob Ferguson, Ferguson Merchandising.
(Bob runs a Ben Franklin store in Redmond, WA. A member of CHA
and a leader in the Sierra Pacific Crafts group, Bob's store is
considered one of the most successful in the industry.)
Realistically, when the pipeline gets full in any area of
commerce, there are going to be some failures. In my opinion, the
pipeline is definitely full of scrapbooking retailers. Some are good
and others not so good. This particular creative endeavor is
relatively easy to enter since the investment is not large compared
to a lot of other retail adventures. This surely means that there
are or will be a lot of folks entering the business who are truly
not qualified or experienced enough in any form of retail to be
Because he could do it with relatively little money, 53 years ago
my father went into the restaurant business. The sum total of his
restaurant experience was that he liked to eat and he could cook. He
worked his butt off for four years, garnered some significant awards
from local and regional competitions, but the bottom line was that
never got any awards for productivity and he eventually went out of
Working his butt off simply got him an ulcer and a lot less time
at home helping to raise his four kids.
His failure was all in his lack of understanding of how a
business of this type should be managed and what motivated people to
buy. Then there were the employees; he did good work while his
employees stood around and watched him work.
He did not know how to control food costs through modern
inventory control methods, he did not understand that making a
profit was more than just seeing a 60% gross margin, and he could
not believe his employees did not have the same motivation to
succeed that he did.
Of course there were many other failures because he truly did not
"know" the business and did not have the staying power
financially to continue his very costly "education" in the
Are things really different in the scrapping arena? I don't think
so, based on what I see in many retail shops today: absolutely
motivated people trying hard to make a go of it and not being armed
with the latest information (or even how to go about finding it)
about pricing, trends, and consumer motivation, let alone what makes
consumers walk through the front door in the first place. These
things are a huge factor in the success or lack of same in the
scrapbooking business – as they are with most any retailer
This failure is not limited to independents, either. We recently
spent time in Dallas studying the scrapbooking business and found
startling differences in approaches and, of course, successes.
Witness this: In one center there is a brand new Recollections
store side by side with a Michaels. In fact there is a common wall
between the two and the scrapbooking department in the Michaels
store is directly adjacent to the wall between the Michaels'
department and the Recollections store. One can stand outside,
straddle the common wall and look into both stores at the same time
and see the activity of both scrapbooking departments.
In one there is old fixtures, dust on merchandise, no innovation,
30%- and 40%-off signs everywhere, no employees and NO CUSTOMERS. In
the other there is good lighting; great fixturing; merchandise that
was just introduced to the trade in the previous three weeks;
organization; a steady stream of employees taking the initiative to
say, "Let me show you what's new"; and there are about
10-15 customers constantly, day and night. Is the Recollections
store an independent? Of course not, but it is emulating what a good
independent can and should do to be successful.
To your question of inventory: should there be more 25-ct. packs
of paper? Of course there should be and in fact there are. Many
paper vendors offer choices in 25-ct., 50-ct., 100-ct., and 250-ct.
Each step down in quantity costs a bit more per piece.
Stickers seem to be a different animal in that they are either
packaged or on bulk rolls. There are generally way too many on a
bulk roll to be profitable, but with a little innovation and some
creative thinking, there are lots of ways to manage this excess
As retailers we often think we are bound by a certain gross
margin to establish our retail prices. Has any retailer ever had a
customer say, "Show me your $1.29 stickers" as opposed to
"Show me your stickers with birds on them"? Doubtful!
Would the consumer be willing to pay $1.59 for that sticker?
Probably! That additional 23% would go a long ways towards covering
costs involved in throwing away or cleaning up that 30% of those
stickers that will take more than a year to sell.
Paper is the same way. Who says that the independent store has to
match the pricing suggested by the vendor or dictated by an
understanding in the retail world that one must be competitive with
the lowest price in town? Remember, Michaels is always on sale at
30%, 40%, or 50% off nearly everything, and and yet right next door
at Michaels-owned Recollections stores nothing is on sale and they
have all the customers.
It is well understood that in the creative world of craft and
independent retail stores IDEAS, IDEAS, IDEAS are what sell goods,
not price, price, price.
I recently had the good fortune of meeting with a group of seven
independent scrapbook storeowners. What a treat! Each was successful
for different reasons. One had a huge die-cut center and attracted
customers to her store with the newest dies and multiple models
showing how each could be used to make a project.
One took her high ticket items and sold them at a
separate-location, outdoor-sale each weekend.
She sold more than 300 of Provo's Sizzix die-cutting machines
each month – and then the customers had to go and find the Sizzix
dies they needed to use in the machine – and guess which retailer
had the biggest selection of dies at prices that were very favorable
to her final margins?
Another near my store has an incredible, innovative activity
program each week and each is different. Yes, she has crop nights,
but like our own knitting classes that are now called "Yarn
Yoga" events, she has crop nights that are called a myriad of
catchy names that draw attention to the crops (like a "football
widows crop"). Her activity program reads like a booklet
announcing classes for a high school or college continuing education
Her store is jammed with customers and truly she is so darned
busy she has had to hire about 10 full-time people – poor thing!
(But she better know the techniques she needs in order to manage
that many folks or she will lose all her hard earned-profits.)
All in all, the entire business of retailing is not an easy one
and not for the faint of heart. I wish I could say that there are
some tried and true formulas for the successful operation of a
scrapbooking store, but there are just so many factors that enter
the picture, and they are different in virtually every location.
If I was sitting next to a Recollections store in Dallas, I would
find something else to deal with or have a paper arts mousetrap they
could not emulate. Even at the level of sales we run in Redmond, we
compete daily with so many scrapping outlets that we have to be
"on it" each day to stay out front.
Our biggest growth in the category is coming from the cardmaking
business and all it entails. I was surprised that of the seven scrap
stores I was so impressed with, only two of them talked of any kind
of success in their cardmaking departments.
I believe the scrapping store of today must evolve into a full
blown paper-arts store that incorporates not only cardmaking but
even things like origami, papermaking supplies, and perhaps many
other paper related creative products.
I will be anxious to hear of your findings from all the other
people whom you have asked to comment. I really want to know the
"answer" as well.
Russ Trentlage, Crafts Galore.
(Note: Russ is also a member of Sierra Pacific Crafts.)
Just a brief background regarding our "scrapbook"
store: We had a large, normal crafts store here in Centralia, OR and
three years ago our landlord built us a 6000 sq. ft. adjacent store
which has a walk-through from our old store. It has been very
Now, to your question: I have been successful in that area as I
have two highly motivated and enthusiastic people working there.
Really, this is key. As such, I have asked them to help answering
Tami: "Doing samples of a product does wonders. If it's on a
card, scrapbook, page, bag, or altered book, customers have to have
it. Just that fast you're out of it and your customers are asking
for it. This all at full retail price.
"Almost every company that sells stickers on rolls of 50
also sells them in packages. Then you only have to buy six – and
we always reorder. If it's a sticker that we keep selling out of
fast, then we buy it on the roll as its less expensive to the
customer and we always will have it in stock. We've never been
disappointed this way.
"We very seldom buy whole collections of anything. If you
know your area and your customers, you know what they want. Select
accordingly or ask the rep what the top sellers are and choose
wisely. You can always special order an item if a customer wants it
and it's not one you have."
Cindy: "I agree with the 'samples sell' idea. I have noticed
that many companies require a large order to receive a sample card
to display in your store. I prefer to place smaller orders and make
my own store samples. I am able to create a sample using products we
have in our store instead of always ordering everything the company
uses on their pages.
"When a company demands that we buy a complete line and
display center from them, we will not order. We know our customers
and order what we believe will sell in this area.
"Demonstrations sell products. Offer to stop what you are
doing and take a customer to your classroom to show how to use tools
Russ: We have been very successful with our huge 6000'
scrapbooking store. The key is to have employees like the two above.
Emma Gebo, Crafts & Frames.
(Note: Emma is also a member of the CHA board and a leader
in the Sierra Pacific Crafts group. Her store is in Pocatello, ID.)
You raise some interesting questions, and I surely don't have the
answers. I do know however, that without cross merchandising and
flexibility we would never survive. Our scrapbooking department
sales have evolved over the years; we sell fewer big items now
(bags, etc.) and more basics (paper, stickers, new items from Making
As we buy at the shows, etc., we really don't worry about the 50
sheets of paper/package; we can typically sell all 50, but don't
re-order that particular paper – we keep new ones rolling in.
That's pretty much the process we use on all of the products; there
are some basics that you sell day after day, but the majority of
items have a very short shelf-life and need to be replaced with
Inventory is an issue. It's easy to get too much in the
department, and it's easy to lose sight of the items that have been
sitting there for a long time and haven't sold. Our POS system helps
with that, and we double check all the information to make sure an
item hasn't been entered into our system in more than one way. It
truly does help to identify the X items -- those that haven't sold
in a period of time -- and forces you to mark them down or use them
in a creative new way to get them sold.
The Treasury of Memories store in Bellingham, WA has some very
creative ideas for scrapbook stores. She's a member of SPC, and one
of those extremely high-energy individuals. She's managed to
increase her business quite well from all that I know, but she also
works really hard at reinventing the store all the time.
I guess the bottom line from my perspective is that it is not the
fault of the vendors – it is the decision-making of the scrapbook
retailer. Just because something may look really good in the
vendor's booth – the retailer has to be able to see that item in
his/her store and know how it
will work adjacent to other products and in the mind of the
consumers. Will it work? That's the question that we all have to
answer, and many times we are wrong – but sometimes we have to be
more than a little skeptical when we analyze the opportunity costs
of an item.
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