A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
What To Do About The Shrinking
Think outside the box.
by Janet M Perry (June 2, 2008)
(Note: Janet is a needlepoint designer, author, and
consultant. She specializes in writing stitch guides for
hand-painted canvases and has just published her second book, Bargello
You may not have noticed it, but there is an elephant in the
room. The elephant makes it hard to move, and you've got to move the
elephant or figure out a way to work with it. The thing about
elephants is that most people ignore them. While you're doing that,
the elephant grows and ultimately squeezes you out of business.
So what's the elephant? The shrinking economy and, for many of
us, our inability to find innovative ways to sell and market in the
face of this. Sure, we moan about businesses setting up on eBay, or
we bemoan the presence of Internet-only stores. But do we support
our own suppliers; have we looked to more modern methods of
marketing to attract customers?
I'd like to present what I think is a real marketing success
story as a case in point. You may not be able to adapt it to your
own market segment, but how can you create something like it that
ends up being a win for everyone, customer, shopowner, and supplier?
Needlepoint canvases are expensive, a designer's line tend to be
large, and it is difficult for even the most well-stocked store to
carry everything. The canvases are created by hand and often
represent a substantial investment. While for many crafts a $25
project can be stocked and sold to a customer as an impulse
purchase, $25 represents the low end of needlepoint canvas and only
buys you the canvas, not the threads.
So needlepoint designers have a problem; their product is
expensive and takes up lots of space. Shopowners have a problem too;
they cannot know their customers well enough to stock everything
they might want. Customers have a problem; the purchase of a
needlepoint canvas, in these hard times, is a planned purchase and
you don't want to buy wrong and have that canvas sitting in your
It used to be that customers just picked from what is available.
Now, many shops have a bookshelf of catalogs, made by the designer
for the shop. They are in plain old three-ring binders (so pages can
be added easily), and the pages are in page protectors. Every design
is pictured in color. Sometimes there are also pictures of stitched
The customer browses through the pictures and chooses the canvas
to order. Prices are on a separate sheet, so the customer has no way
of learning the wholesale price.
From only knowing one shop that did this 10 years ago, now I see
it more often than not.
I think this works in needlepoint because most needlepoint
canvases are not impulse buys – they are too expensive. Most
needlepointers are, in fact, willing to forego having it now for
having exactly what they want. This method works for needlepoint
because of the combination of the shopowners' needs and the
customers' desires meshing nicely.
But if we expand it into other areas, could it work for knitting,
scrapbooking, or cross-stitch? Many knitting shops have notebooks of
patterns, but they have the actual patterns in it. What if instead
it was a catalog, maybe even with materials lists, so the pattern
would be ordered, but the yarn could be bought right then. Would
Would it work if the customer picked the pattern from the catalog
and the shop downloaded and printed the pattern right there? Would
that meet the customer's expectations, the shopowner's need for
inventory without investment, and the designer's need for increased
sales? Would a scrapbooker look at a catalog of designer pages and
then order the components? Would someone making jewelry forego the
tactile thrill of picking beads on by one and order from a larger
selection in a catalog? And if they did, how fast would they want
In retail, in general, people buy what they want. Now. If they
wanted to wait, they might buy off the Internet, or through mail
order. But does that hold true for everything in your store? Can you
bring in more sales or new customers by virtually expanding your
In other parts of our lives we are often willing to wait between
the purchase and the delivery. Many of us buy cars this way instead
of off the lot. Lamps Plus makes tons of money by not stocking very
much and shipping almost everything to your house. You might buy
groceries from your local store on-line and have them delivered (but
not usually this afternoon). So consumers have demonstrated that
they can wait to have the product they buy.
All of us are facing constraints in our industry. For all of us,
we face a shrinking economy, and rising costs. All of us sell a
product which is bought with discretionary income. (Anything outside
of food, basic clothing, your home, and a way to get to work is
discretionary.) But whereas I find other markets to be more than
willing to adopt marketing methods which come from other areas and
adapt them to our market, often people in the crafts business do
How many of you send out weekly emails to your customers? A bead
store in my town does and now has all my business in that area. I
haven't been in her competition in almost a year. I get the emails
and it reminds me about her.
How many of you blog? Here's another way to highlight what you've
got and what you're doing – and touch your customers. Maybe even
touch customers you didn't know you had. People follow blogs, and
read them regularly. They aren't hard to do, they don't have to be
long, and sometimes they don't even have to be right on the topic.
One shop I know had several great posts about moving the shop. If
you have a shop pet, there's a blog entry. Did you make a new model
for the shop? There's a blog entry. Are there new products? There
are lots of entries. There are even blogs which help you, as a
business owner, write blogs.
Could you shoot a video on how to do something and post it on
YouTube? Could you do a podcast? Look around: what's impressed you
on another site or at another, totally unrelated shop. Maybe it was
a virtual curtain maker at a fabric shop. Could you create a virtual
sofa and let people imagine a needlepoint pillow on it. A set of
virtual frames, where people could paste different types of pictures
to imagine their stuff in your custom frame?
Think outside the box.
What are some creative ideas we can use to solve this problem? In
needlepoint, the printed catalog has done it. What ideas from other
markets can we apply to our own?
(Note: To see Janet's work and additional thoughts on the
industry, visit her site at www.napaneedlepoint.com
and her blog at www.nuts-about-needlepoint.com.
To read previous "Benny" columns, click
on the titles in the right-hand column.)