A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
How One Independent Is Catering to
the "New" Consumer
She needs motivation and
inspiration, not a smiling bunny.
by Jan Stephenson (July 17, 2006)
(Note: CLN asked Jan Stephenson, Co-Founder/Owner of Spark
Craft Studios in suburban Boston to respond to our thoughts on the
"new" (younger, more urban) consumer. We suggest readers
visit the store's website, www.sparkcrafts.com,
before reading further.)
Below are my responses to your CLN comments. Of course,
these are based on my 1.5 years experience with Spark, so the data
is relevant but anecdotal. We'll see how things pan out in the
You wrote: "There appear to be three elements to the
crafter of the 21st century: 1. She's tech savvy. She may not need
her leisure activities to be high touch just because her job is high
tech. Escape from high tech? Technology is so ubiquitous in her life
she can't imagine - or wants to - escape from it."
Our clientele (21-45, urban, professional) is extremely tech
savvy and doesn't necessarily want to escape from it. They are
plugged in at work all day (most of them), and they carry cell
phones here to the studio.
I think Spark is successful in appealing to this tech-savvy
younger consumer not necessarily because we are
"anti-tech" or "no-tech," but because we offer
an attractive and fun leisure time activity. Our clientele seems to
crave interesting life experiences (travel, spa treatments, gourmet
dining, learning new skills, adventuring, etc.), which is where the
crafts and creativity we offer come into play.
Along the tech lines: we recently gave away some free HP digital
scrapbooking software we inherited. I was interested to hear from
one customer that she loved it; she said that she would never do
paper scrapbooking because of the time commitment, but she loved
doing it digitally.
Scrapbooking has been a struggle for Spark in general, I think, in
part due to Boston not being a geographic hot spot for the craft,
also because our clientele is younger and without kids which is when
people seem to get into scrapbooking more. So, we are considering
the digital options in terms of product to have on the shelves,
classes to offer, etc.
You wrote: "She doesn't have the "smiling
bunny" syndrome that her mother had. I'm not sure what she
wants to make, but whatever it is, it's not 'cute.'"
Yes, cute in a stylish way is in, but cute in a country/folksy
way is out – at least for our customers (again, young, urban,
highly educated). Our clientele gravitates toward what they see in
the fashion magazines, not in the craft publications (InStyle
vs. BeadStyle). So for jewelry we stock freshwater pearls,
Swarovski crystal, Czech glass coral, turquoise, semi-precious
stones, etc. Plain plastic and glass beads are used as accents, not
the focal point of our pieces. As for paper crafts – Amuse
ArtStamps are popular (cute in a stylized, sophisticated way); Paper
Salon; etc. Knitting – high quality but affordable yarns such as
Malabrigo, Manos del Uruguay, etc., seem to appeal to a wide range
of our clientele who are making accessories – scarves, mittens,
hats, etc., things that she can wear and be proud of, but that don't
take a lot of time.
You wrote: "She doesn't want to make the same project in
the same way as everyone else. She wants to make something
This is a HUGE part of appealing to our target demographic! Even
our beginner clientele who are often intimidated by crafts (we often
hear "I'm not creative; my friend dragged me here!") often
gravitate to kits at first, but they quickly want to swap items out
or embellish upon the kit, to individualize/personalize things. They
like to have a structure presented to them for idea generation (they
LOVE lots of samples!) but then they take it from there once they
have acquired the skills needed and the creative "spark"
and confidence to go forward. I think this is what keeps this
consumer coming back – help and motivation, but not a stifling,
structured environment for contained creativity.
A couple more points about this consumer: she likes instant
gratification and the end product is really important. If you can't
accomplish something relatively quickly and have it instantly
validated ("Beautiful necklace, where did you get it?"
"I made it!"), it's a harder sell. People are busy and
we're used to getting things done, especially career-driven,
ambitious women. And, it's as much about the product (cool, stylish,
fun, practical, useable) as it is the process (the knitting itself).
You wrote: "How many of these new consumers are out
Since opening in January 2005, we have generated a client
database of nearly 6,000 people, coming from 170 towns in
Massachusetts as well as from New England and other states (we've
even had customers fly in from abroad to visit us).
We've acquired our customers mainly through word of mouth and
guerrilla marketing tactics. Until recently, we've done very limited
paid advertising and even now our budget is modest. Our retail
location is on a side street in an urban neighborhood which is well
known for its bars and restaurants, not as a shopping destination.
This is proving a challenge and we have plans to move locations in
the next year or so as all of our business is currently
"destination-driven." We are not benefiting at all from
walk-by traffic; all of our customers currently come here
deliberately for a class, party, or to shop.
Despite a modest marketing budget, a challenging retail location,
and an average inventory of about 1/3 the average independent craft
retailer's (and a mere fraction of a Michaels!), we are achieving
annual revenues competitive with independent retailers that have
been in the business 8+ years (or, about a quarter of what a typical
Michaels does in a year).
I give you all of this information to make the point that we
believe this market is much bigger than what we are capturing! So
many people still don't know about us!
If we had increased walk-by shopping traffic, a "real"
marketing budget, and increased inventory, we could better reach the
more than 23,000 women in the Greater Boston area that we have
identified as our target audience based upon demographic profile
(narrowly defined by age, location, income, education level). This
doesn't even begin to speak to the secondary markets (namely 'tweens
and baby boomers) who don't know we exist because we are not
directly marketing to them and our store is basically hidden from
In other words, our destination-driven traffic (based upon our
targeted niche market – the one you describe in CLN) is
generating a sizeable revenue base that I would think any retailer
should want to consider.
(Note: CLN interviewed Jan about her
"new-concept" store in September, 2005. To read the
interview, click on "Spark Craft Studios: The Interview"
in the right-hand column. There are also some interesting thoughts
on the new consumers in the current issue of Business-Wise.
To comment on the new consumer or any other industry subject, email CLN
To read previous "Benny" entries, click on the titles in
the right-hand column.)