irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.
Are We Losing Our Core? Yes and No
Readers respond to an intriguing question.
by Various CLN Subscribers (March 7, 2005)
In the previous Business-Wise column, Mike Hartnett cited how the
industry seemed to be flocking after the hot trends – memory,
yarn, and beads – while allowing other categories to languish, or
even disappear from certain stores. That might make sense in the
short run, but what effect will that have long term? Mike wasn't
sure if this was a serious problem or was he simply not adapting to
the industry's ongoing evolution, and asked readers to respond. Here
are some of them.)
Yes, it's a problem.
It seems to me as if the cause of this is to think that a craft
shop must make the same amount of money from each square foot of the
store. If this is the thinking, then that's reason enough for them
to switch over to only the crafts which are hot at the moment.
Unhappily, this does not take into account two very important
factors which are, I think, givens in the craft market: The first is
that all crafts are cyclical. Memory is very hot right now, as is
knitting, and beading isn't doing too badly. But other crafts like
paper mache just aren't on the radar screen at all.
But every craft is cyclical and one way to tell when a cycle is
going to take a downturn is when "everyone" is doing it.
This is true of almost anything: stocks (when your mom buys it, it's
time to sell); fashion (when everyone is wearing something, the
trend is over); and food (remember wine coolers?). This is not a bad
thing necessarily, but just part of the industry.
So I'd say memory and knitting are about to turn. When a craft
goes into the down cycle, several things happen; retailers who bet
too heavily on this craft go out of business, as do manufacturers.
Manufacturers who stay with their core, even if they add some trendy
things, are in much better shape. Same with retailers.
However, when the cycle goes down, some of the people who took up
the craft when it was trendy continue to do the craft. I started
needlepoint in 1970, right at the beginning of the needlepoint boom.
And I've done it ever since.
Those people who stay loyal to a few crafts have to be at the
core of any retailer's business, and are especially important for
the general retailer. Crafts stores, especially the small ones, are
not "drop in" stores; they are destination stores, even if
the destination is in the same town.
People will go out of their way to shop at a store which carries
materials for their craft. They will drive, they will make a day of
shopping, and, if the retailer makes it easy, they will shop by
phone and email.
This is why getting rid of unpopular crafts is so bad. If I do
miniatures and find that Store X no longer has a miniatures
department, I will not go back. I will find another destination
store where I can take my business. Even if it is something as
simple as glue, or needles, or ribbons; if I can't find it at a
local store, I find another place or another method, or just make
The store has lost a sale, and most likely has lost a customer.
The question for shops has to be, not what's hot now, but what
things can I carry which will cross crafts while still devoting some
space to all those departments which are no longer hot. Knitting
would be a good example. When "nobody but grandmothers"
knit, what did retailers carry? Baby yarns, some basics, and crochet
cotton. If decoupage isn't hot right now, then carry scissors for
close cutting and books of clip art (both good for memory), and
basic glues and varnishes (home improvement people).
The ardent decoupager will find things at your store and will
continue to visit, if only occasionally. Then when decoupage becomes
hot again, they will visit you more often. Don't carry varnish and
they won't come back when their crafts becomes hot.
BTW, I think decoupage might actually make a bit of a come back.
The way crochet is an extension of the knitting marketplace,
decoupage is an extension of the memory marketplace. Many of the
same skills could be used to apply the same kinds of things
(cut-outs, patterned paper, etc.) to furniture and household
accessories. In fact, I saw a decoupage book at my local bookstore
yesterday, I was so surprised.– Janet Perry, Napa
What's happening to painting?
I read your Business-Wise column with great interest. I too went
to a trade show (Frankfurt) with the same mission you did: find out
what is happening globally and where the trends are sending us. As a
predominantly fine art wholesaler, I was amazed to see the extent of
crafting, scrapbooking, and cardmaking in the Creative Building.
Without going every year, I may be at a disadvantage to speak
knowledgeably about the changes that I saw. But the majority of the
booths had the emphasis on beads, tiles, stickers, papers, and
accessories for scrapbooking; fine art seemed to be a sideline in my
I hear what you are saying about discontinuing everything but
what sells and the fear of cutting your own throat to save your
neck. We are in a scary time; imports from China in our fine art
sector are rampant. Quality still remains poor, in my opinion, but
for how long? The general feeling that I got from the manufacturers
that I am dealing with was gloomy. High discounting, low turnover,
and a poor, soft Xmas showing. Technology is what sold over the
holidays, not art supplies.
I did not attend CHA but have heard back from many that went.
Attendance seemed to be steady, scrapping is back with a vengeance
and in Canada we never really had the full impact years ago. So now
it is scary to jump on this band wagon again.
I enjoy reading your column because it gives me a great insight.
Keep up the great work. – Birgit Cooper, President, Heinz
Jordan & Co. Ltd., 416-663-9702
Why some things cost more, others less.
There are times when you scare me with how close your commentary
reflects my thinking. Were you standing behind me someplace when I
was attempting to explain to a small indie stitching shop owner that
unless crafts, and particularly those she specializes in, stay in
the chains, her customers will die and nothing will bring new blood
into the fold?
You published this excerpt in your last newsletter: "It's
certainly true that manufacturers have a lot less pull in the
marketplace than they used to. But they haven't lost it to Wal-Mart
and Target. They've lost it to you and me. The real transformation
of the past 30 years is the rise not of the American retailer but of
the American consumer.... That's why Wal-Mart is so tough to
negotiate with, and so relentless in its quest for lower prices and
lower costs. American consumers now consider it their due to have
access to a wide variety of cheap, reliable goods. Their allegiances
are fickle; brand loyalty is in fast decline." - James
Surowiecki, in the 2/14 & 21 edition of the New Yorker
Wow! I have said the same thing for about 10 years, but I have
always felt that nobody really believed it but me. We as retailers
can't go whining about Wal-Mart; that store is just responding to
the sharks (our customers) who are exceptionally efficient foragers.
As long as Wal-Mart can exploit labor and extract nearly every penny
of profit from the manufacturers and distributors it works with,
business will continue to shift to the Wal-Marts of the world.
Too bad. I wanted to buy a kite to decorate a wall in my store
this weekend. I haven't bought a kite in years. When I was a kid,
you could buy a paper and balsa kite at 7-11 for 19 cents (this was
1964 or thereabouts). There would be a big square box by the
checkout with maybe 100 rolled up kites inside, and lots of designs
to pick from. If not there, you could run down to the TG&Y, or
perhaps Woolworth's. Park in front, run in, pick a kite, run out.
(Actually, we walked or rode bikes to those places – no driving
since we had only one car).
Today after scratching my head, I went to Target with my daughter
to buy the kite, since I could think of nowhere else I had seen a
kite lately. The store was huge and newly remodeled. Lovely. I got
my daily exercise walking all the way back to the toy department
where I had my choice of five styles of $6.00 kites. Now I know
there's been inflation, but my hamburger meal that cost about $1
back then only costs about $4 now, but that kite has gone up a whole
lot more – from 19 cents to $6.
We as consumers did this to ourselves. We have driven down prices
on lots of high-demand items. Conversely, the other stuff that is
not in such demand, but not really that much harder produce, that we
used to be able to get for a reasonable price, is now astronomically
I hear all the time from customers via phone and email
complaining that their local specialty shop is charging $4 for a
little skein of thread. Of course, they have to, because the
consumer is buying all the other stuff at Wal-Mart (or wherever)
leaving the retail store to pay rent using $4 skeins of specialty
So what's to do about it? Nothing. There are more people who want
the lowest prices on the most products than there are people who
want a larger selection of merely reasonably priced products. So our
populace is now divided along income lines: you want something
unusual, be prepared to pay triple what it should cost (if you can
get it at all); you want a commodity, shop at Wal-Mart (or Target or
whatever discount club you like).
I hated having to go to a huge store and walk through the parking
lot and then the store and then the huge checkout line for a kite I
could have gotten in about 2 minutes when I was a kid. I just don't
see any way around this result, given the nature of consumers. – Catherine
Chains making things worse.
Here's my take on the show (off the record):
Other than seeing a lot of old friends and acquaintances, the CHA
show was a disaster! For those of us not in the "hot"
categories, you could count the number of independents we saw on one
hand and the majors were simply not interested in cross stitch.
We do business with Michaels, A.C. Moore, and Jo-Ann's and their
buyers didn't even drop by to take a peak at the new things we had
to offer. Of the majors, only Hobby Lobby made an effort to come by.
Even though we run the risk of losing some exposure and seeing some
of our foreign accounts, we can't justify going back to CHA.
Next year, I'll take the $7,000 I spent to exhibit and have some
face-to-face meetings with the buyers prior to the show. It's the
[chain] management's fault for not insisting that their buyers do
their jobs. One of the buyers was overheard to say that she was
"bored and just wandering around" when greeted by a
I hope you are right about counted cross stitch coming back. The
only way it's going to happen is for it to start at the grass roots
level. The chains (other than Hobby Lobby) have pretty much decided
that they are not going to make any effort to help. – Name
Change is good, not worrisome.
Yes, dear Mike, I think you are not adapting to the evolution of
the craft industry! What was our core yesterday is not going to be
our core tomorrow.
I've been in the industry even longer than you have -- since 1956
when I produced the annual MIA (Model Industry Assn.) trade show in
Grand Rapids Michigan. That show was entirely model airplanes, model
cars, model boats, model trains – and Hazel Pearson!
Through the years the MIA became the HIAA, then the HIA, now the
CHA. Each name change reflected the changing of the core. I do feel
that today we are undergoing the greatest change ever, as are the
lives of most of our consumers. Trends in crafts have always had
their first stirrings of change at the consumer level.
Our future is going to be different, but it is nothing to fear.
It will evolve, and the industry will continue with a new face and
new faces. And it is the more dynamic because of that. – Jean
Leinhauser, Creative Partners
(Note: To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on
the titles in the right-hand column. To add your thoughts to the
ongoing debate on the health of the industry, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
– on or off the record.)