irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.
Barbara Becomes An Enthusiast, Finally
A first-hand view of a consumer getting hooked
on a category.
by Mike Hartnett (August 1, 2005)
Soon after I came into the industry I realized if it was going to
grow, it needed to attract women like my wife, Barbara. She's smart,
loves to shop, and has good taste. (Well, maybe not in husbands.)
But she thought she wasn't creative in a craft sense, never learned
how to knit or crochet, and learned in grade school she
"couldn't" draw. She doesn't like to do things unless she
believes she can do them well.
So for 25 years I have been dragging her into our industry's
stores, and often she's attended trade and shows with me. She would
roam the aisles and I would watch to see which categories piqued her
interest and which displays caught her eye.
Once a project in an instruction book intrigued her. But her face
fell when she looked at the materials list; she didn't know what
some of the items were, or where they were, and there wasn't a clerk
in sight to help her. She walked out. Lesson: customer
service can make all the difference.
Later Barbara became interested in counted cross stitch, so we
went to a specialty shop. The clerk (owner?) was engrossed in a
conversation with a stitching enthusiast. Barbara waited as the two
women tossed around terms like "14-count Aida,"
"linen thread," and "new DMC colors." She got
tired of waiting, had no idea what those things meant, and finally
walked out. Lesson: consumers don't like to feel stupid.
Sometimes she would be intrigued by a particular technique, but
the projects she saw in store madeups or instruction books didn't
appeal to her. Lesson: not everyone wants to make a smiling
Periodically I would write about Barbara's experiences in hopes
that the industry would learn from her experience. Some people
listened. I know of at least two retailers who saved those columns,
and when they were planning major changes in their stores, they'd
take out the columns and ask, "Now, would Barbara like
Unfortunately, she is not interested in scrapbooking. After
walking through chain and independent stores and trade shows,
Barbara has concluded scrapbooking is time-consuming, complicated,
and expensive. We all know it doesn't have to be those things, but
that's the image our stores have projected. Lesson: the kind
of products, projects, and merchandising displays that appeal to
enthusiasts scare away the uncertain novices.
Years – decades – went by and Barbara had hardly spent a dime
in our stores. Then one fall she saw a project in a magazine that
called for making Christmas ornaments by swirling Delta paint in a
clear ornament. She tried it and was successful, so she made
ornaments for her staff for Christmas.
That gave her the confidence to make soap and bath salts. Those
projects were successful, too, but there's a limit to how many
ornaments, soaps, and bath salts a person needs or could give as
gifts. And there was no ongoing challenge; Barbara felt she had
mastered these crafts and so continuing would just be repetition.
Lesson: there has to be success, but also a feeling that there's
more to learn or techniques that could be improved.
So the bottom line, after 20-plus years: If the industry had to
rely on the Barbara Hartnetts of the world, we'd all be selling
Then three things happened earlier this year: 1. Barbara
became intrigued enough with jewelry-making, that she took a class
at a new bead shop that opened nearby. 2. At CHA board
meetings, there's usually a craft class of some sort for spouses.
This spring Shirley Ferguson, who operates a Ben Franklin Crafts
store in Redmond, WA with her husband Bob and son Neil, taught a
jewelry-making class for spouses. 3. She visited a glass shop
in a nearby town and saw incredible glass beads for jewelry.
Then the coup de grace: we learned about the Bead&Button
show in Milwaukee sponsored by Kalmbach Publishing. It was the same
weekend as a family reunion in Milwaukee, so we attended. Us – and
Barbara went, uh, crazy.
Today we have enough beads in the house to last a decade – but
of course Barbara's an enthusiast now, so they're not enough.
Barbara is now starting two businesses. She is the Executive
Director of Friendship House, a United Way social agency that works
with the poor in Peoria, IL. Much of the Hispanic population lives
near Friendship House and many of the women are in traditional
(sexist) marriages where the wife/mother has to stay home. Many
doesn't even have a driver's license.
So Barbara is going to set up a jewelrymaking cooperative. She
will teach the women to make simple jewelry and sell their
She's also setting up a second business to sell her own
creations. She's become a professional craft producer.
It has been fascinating to watch up close the transformation from
a hesitant novice to a hard-core enthusiast. Here are a few things
I've learned so far:
1. Never under-estimate the power of magazines. One magazine
inspired her to make Christmas ornaments years ago, and today
Barbara goes over the bead magazines, including the ads, with a
2. When a consumer becomes an enthusiast, she will make time
and find the money. The dictum, "Crafts must be quick, easy,
and cheap" is not true once she is hooked.
3. The issue of dumping old product at consumers shows: Were
some of the beads we saw in Milwaukee "old"? Quite
possibly, but they were all new to Barbara.
4. Retailers should love new novices because they buy so many
tools, which are often higher-ticket items than the basic
consumables such as paper and stickers. (I bet there are hospital
operating rooms that have fewer tools than Barbara has.)
5. A futurist once said, "The more high-tech our jobs
become, the more high-touch our leisure activities will be."
Barbara's job working with the poor in Peoria is not high tech, but
she is one brainy woman. Earned a doctorate, taught psychology for
25 years, and uses her brain constantly. I think one reason why
jewelry-making appeals to her is working with her hands.
I'll report periodically on Barbara's progress. I'm guessing one
of these days she's going to want to make her own beads. I can hear
it now, "Honey, I'd like a blast furnace for Christmas."
Note: In the August issue of CNA magazine, Editor
Karen Ancona, an old friend of Barbara and me, analyzes Barbara's
transition. I saw an advance copy, and it's well worth reading. To
read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the
right-hand column. To comment on this or any other industry issue,
email CLN at email@example.com.)