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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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Answers to Industry Questions

Blunt, honest answers to questions posed by CLN.

By CLN Subscribers (May 1, 2006)

The 4/17/06 edition of CLN included the following issues and readers were invited to respond. Here are the original questions, followed by answers from a manufacturer, consultant, and designer.

The Questions

1. Has scrapbooking peaked, or is it still growing but some sales are being siphoned off by non-industry retailers? If so, how do we get those sales back?

2. Yarn sales are disappointing. Those young people knitting scarves last year was that a fad instead of a trend? Or did retailers simply over-estimate the category's continued growth?

3. Beading/jewelrymaking is hot, but much of it is happening outside our retail stores. How can the industry get that business?

4. When will Jo-Ann's turn around? Will it take until a new CEO is hired, gets his feet wet, hires a VP of Merchandising, he gets his feet went, and then finally makes changes? How long will all that take? Will selling off old merchandise leave the company with enough cash to buy higher-margin, better-selling inventory?

5. Who will be the new CEOs at Michaels and A.C. Moore? Will they be able to fill the big shoes left behind by Michael Rouleau and Jack Parker?

6. There's a trend by retailers to concentrate less on scrapbooking and yarn and pay more attention to traditional categories. Will that strategy work? (One major manufacturer of basic craft products told CLN he's having an excellent year, but isn't sure if that's a sign of a rejuvenation of his category or simply refilling a pipeline depleted by stronger than expected Christmas sales.)

7. Will CHA, now managing the summer show for the first time, be able to give it the boost that it needed?

8. Will designers find as comfortable and profitable a home in CHA's designer section as they did in the now-dissolved Society of Creative Designers?

9. A hot trend inspires people to open a specialty store; then eventually there is a weeding-out process of those independents who do not have the capital or the expertise to operate an ongoing, successful store. That weeding-out process has been occurring in scrapbooking. Is it complete, leaving savvy, successful storeowners, or is it ongoing?

10. Hot trends come and then usually fade to become a basic category. Another hot trend comes along, but not right away. Is the industry entering a fallow period between hot trends?

A Manufacturer: Rob Bostick, CEO, JudiKins

1, 9 & 10. Office Depot has replaced its scrapbooking section with school supplies. Target is replacing it with gift bags and wrapping paper. Has scrapbooking peaked? Yes. Is this a bad thing? Not if we learn something from it.

Like every craft these days, it starts with home parties, moves to independent stores, and gets taken on by the chains. They chew it up and spit it out. What's left is a small, interesting business that, if lucky, will continue long enough for a resurgence ten years later. (Scrapbooking won't last that long. Digital is changing the way you print photos and the average scrapbooking item sells for too little to generate good sales per sq. ft.)

I think scrapbooking peaked about the same time Wall Street dubbed it the next big thing. Maybe not in dollars for vendors, but certainly in terms of the number of participants. Fortune magazine said it was an up-and-coming trend and the big box retailers took notice. Sales surged as vendors stocked stores. But stocking stores with merchandise that gets dumped into sale bins a few months later is not a good business model. You don't become a hobbyist by rummaging through a sale bin. (If you're in the sale bin, you're already hooked.). Now the home party people have lost their way, the independents are either looking for ways out of their leases or other products to sell, the craft chains are groping for the next big thing, and vendors are booking into every show in a desperate attempt to find a new customer to sell to. Only the big retailers have moved on.

Soon, just like stampers, scrapbookers will be calling around for someone, anyone, who will tell them where to find supplies.

What happened to hobbies? Has the pace of life sped to the point that every aspect has become a trend? Isn't a slowing down of our hectic lives exactly what scrapbooking promised?

American lives are rich with wealth but not with diversity. We dump what we have to chase the next big thing. It drives my overseas distributors nuts. In a country as big as this, there is no reason we can't have lots of hobbies, all as big and equally as important.

The huge emphasis on scrapbooking at the wholesale shows over the last few years is scary. We have lost our foundations and only have fads. A fallow period just might kill us right now. Especially if some yells "fire!" and investment money sloshes away toward some other industry.

4 & 5. The change in CEO's won't make as big of a difference as taking Michaels private. Being able to plan for more than a quarter at a time and not to having to worry about how their share price compares with other Big Box retailers (selling much more profitable items) may have a calming affect on all of us.

2 & 6. Every crafter I know has closets full of yarn. Has anyone tracked sales of supplies with the use of those supplies? We all assume the more they buy the more gets used, but lately I am beginning to think two have no relationship.

3. If the beaders were smart they would keep their sales to themselves. Why let us muck them up? To be honest, I have looked at the market and beading is an interesting industry. At present there are three big types of beads: cheap machine-made plastic, medium-priced handmade (each from some small overseas village), and expensive handmade in the USA glass beads. The cheap. machine-made plastic beads are only bought for kids. There maybe a market for glass blowing supplies, but unless you are going to teach a village how to make some new kind of bead, there in not much room for more players. Every bead store I have seen caries about the same selection and there is little ability for the villages to produce more of the known kinds.

7. I was happy to see JudiKins received our first pick in booth spaces when I visited the web site. (Of course we haven't seen the paper work yet.) Maybe CHA is finally getting its act together. Preparations for the last ACCI show were a disaster. One hand didn't know what the other was doing. I hope this is a sign of a good show to come.

(Note: This is the first year CHA will actually be managing the Summer Show.)

Will Summer CHA survive? If consolidation occurs as conventional wisdom predicts, and it really does come down to just a few big retailers, we wont need trade shows will we?

A Consultant: Peter Heinsimer, President, Westlake Associates

1. Has scrapbooking peaked? The first phase of scrapbooking has peaked, and I think many of the potential first-phase consumers have used the photos from their pile. The digital cameras are here to stay, and I think might be having a negative impact on scrapbooking as people are doing different things with the pictures, from storage to printing, etc.

I think scrapbooking can do better by embracing the digital age and using technology in the stores and in product at the front end, like retailers do in back-office operation. Yes, sales are being siphoned off by non-industry retailers. The way to get them back is innovation, product knowledge, and service.

2. Yarn: fad or trend? The industry was not able to move the consumer from the fad/trend of scarves to another project. Sometimes I think we all feel there is an unlimited supply of beginner customers with a craft interest out there. Once again we find that is not the case.

I know I sound like a broken record on this, but one of the things that limits the size of the industry is our inability to constantly take a consumer from the beginner stage to the intermediate and advanced stages where the real repeat business is.

Another confusing issue for the consumer: something gets hot and there is such an over-proliferation of products that it gets confusing. Many industries have the same problem, but with us it tends to cause more inventory problems with wind-down or liquidation of what was hot yesterday and obsolete today.

As to the second part, in some cases the retailers might not have had a way to see how fast the fall off would happen and therefore had too much inventory. The best of class did the best job of limiting exposure.

Yarn will still be a good category and a lot of lessons to be learned from last few years. Companies like Lion Brand that turned the yarn business around will do it again.

3. Beading/jewelrymaking. In beading and jewelry/making you have a few different customer groups. This is a well established business that I think is in more of an up cycle than fad driven. The fashion industry is showing looks that lend themselves to craft beading and jewelrymaking.

Some of retailers need to have a more focused presentation stressing basics, fashion, fads, and trends. This has been an up-trending category for 10 years with the manufactures and retailers working well together to constantly bring new product to the consumer without losing the basics. The industry (retailers and suppliers) needs to market the category better to the consumer and the retailers need to teach more, and Again, TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TECHNOLOGY.

4. Jo-Ann's. The short answer is, who knows? Unlike Michaels in 1996, Jo-Ann's does not seem to have a deep-pocket interest that can bail them out if in fact it is needed.

There are a lot of great turnaround stories in retail. One of the most recent was J C Penney that everyone had written off.

The biggest concern for Jo-Ann's is what is going on while the search for the new CEO and then COO and his team comes on board? Sometimes in these cases a CEO will be able to bring part of a successful team in. This is a real wait-and-see-and-be-nervous situation. So far the handling of the situation the last few months makes the questions you asked valid. While Jo-Ann's may be an attractive takeover business based on their low market cap, unless it's an industry company that absorbs it, most acquirers like to have stable management in place.

5. New CEOs. Unlike Jo-Ann's where there are several top management open slots, Michaels has a seasoned team of highly qualified professionals that are lead by highly qualified Co-Presidents. Jeff Boyer and Greg Sandfort. In addition, Michaels has a very strong and experienced board of directors that has always shown the ability to be at the right place at the right time and to find top management and then let them do their thing.

Michaels has outstanding systems and a solid supply chain. Most of all, it has a strong cash flow and no debt. A.C. Moore has much of the same as Michaels with a strong President in Larry Fine. I would imagine that Jack Parker will stay in place until he and the board are satisfied that they do have the right people to move forward. The big question here could be if they brought someone else in as CEO and Larry Fine left. Then it might be a different situation.

6. Traditional categories. The retailers and suppliers will have to get the consumers motivated. Scrapbooking is easy to start; knitting a scarf is easy to learn. For the last few years everyone has been talking "quick and easy" and "the consumer wants 100% of the credit and only wants to do 10% of the work."

The world has changed a lot the last four years and is likely to change more the next four. We have to relevant with our products and uses. We have more competition for the consumer's time than we did a few years ago and we must market to them.

Personally I think that much of the future of our industry depends on marketing as much and as merchandising. Go look at the new supercenter Wal-Mart in Plano, TX if you want to see what change is like today. No one can afford to try to put a band aid on issues that need surgeons, and you better have the best surgeons if you are going to operate.

7. CHA Summer Show. While Offinger Management always ran a good show, CHA has a great record the last ten years of good shows. If the first summer show is a little rocky due to it being run by new people, it will be understandable, but if there is a summer show in 2007 it better be up to the CHA standards, period.

I have no reason to think this will be a problem as the industry is well represented by the board and with the accountability program at CHA, it should be easy to keep what works and make the changes necessary for anything that does not work.

8. Designers. The designers have done a tremendous about of good for the industry the last 20 years. I hope CHA will do right by what the Society of Creative Designers has accomplished and make them as comfortable as they deserve, and hopefully set the course to take them to the next level. If they do, job well done. If they do not, then shame on them.

9. Is the weeding-out process of under-financed, under managed scrapbook stores complete?, leaving savvy, successful store owners complete? NO!

10. A fallow period between hot trends? In many cases the industry starting with retail has been slower to market in the last few years. This is for a variety of reasons. Of course there are exceptions. There is a lot of upside for the whole industry working better on basic, fashion, fads, and trends.

This may be one of the divining issues for the industry the next five years. Look at best of class and they are always trying to improve in this critical area, be they small or large retailers, suppliers or support companies.

(Note to learn more about Westlake Associates, visit the CLN Company Profile by clicking HERE.)

A Designer: Wheat Carr, Wandering Wolf Designs

1. Scrapbooking. I think the answer is EVERY Category has peaked and will follow a "reverse" graph to the price of gas. Simplistic I know, but for those shops tracked these past 3 years, it is proving true. The anomalies are those with strong on-line presences.

2. Yarn. Retailers, chain and indie alike, failed to take the steps needed to change a fad into a trend and on to a "lifestyle." (Beadworking, by the way IS a lifestyle.)

3. Beading/jewelrymaking. Beading will never really be "chain friendly" Certainly they can supply the stuff that is easy to bulk price seed beads, some of the supplies & notions, even the tools but the heart and soul of the bead business is "art" beads and glass. You can display bead stuff, but the serious beadworker can buy it from far too many places for far too long at prices even Wal-Mart will have difficulty matching.

Beaders are likely the most significant underground craft; those in the bead business do not see the same rises and falls in sales. So, beadwork is just another roller coaster the chains can ride, but they likely never be able to really become a serious source.

The culture has never been store shoppers - it continues to be mail order/Internet and shows. That one-of-a-kind "focus" bead is too important.

5. CEOs. I sincerely doubt it newcomers will do what Michael Rouleau did. Rarely can you fill the role of the entrepreneur or engineer with a CEO; just ask Bell Labs what happens when the Suits took over.

6. There's a trend by retailers to concentrate less on scrapbooking and yarn and pay more attention to traditional categories. Will that strategy work? (One major manufacturer of basic craft products told CLN he's having an excellent year, but isn't sure if that's a sign of a rejuvenation of his category or simply refilling a pipeline depleted by stronger than expected Christmas sales.)

6. Other categories. Their growth/resurgence depends on how long people keep watching re-runs of Carol Duvall and Simply Quilts et al. Without the shows like these, sales of components cannot be driven in the volume needed (and don't forget my all important price-of-gas chart.

7. Will CHA give the summer show a boost? Not this year and I am increasingly convinced, maybe not this decade.

8. Designers. Some will, those who are already "in" or who have the more exacting credentials. But for the rest? And, for the bulk of those who "paid" their dues "after" the board's decision, but before the announcement, no.

As for the rest? Who knows? There is still no information beyond "trust us to do our best" being given to SCD past and current members.

Unless CHA does something REALLY magnanimous like offering to "grandfather" those who paid their 2006 dues to SCD (even if they must also pay CHA dues). A significant portion of those 177 unfortunate souls who paid their 2006 dues are out in the cold.

9. Is the weeding-out process of under-capitalized or under-managed scrapbook stores complete?

A flat out, resounding HELL NO!!! Threaded needle and scrapbook indies and to a significantly lesser extent, yarn and quilting shops are all going through a period of what I am calling "False Positive." The weeding out will probably intensify in late 2006 and throughout all of 2007.

10. Hot trends a fallow period? Maybe, but more likely a fallow period of expendable income. Consumers are being very choosy where they are spending their dollars. And this trend has been increasing for about 24 months.

No matter what the hot trend, thanks to the Wal-Mart-ing of America, ALL stages of the supply chain lack the resources to properly develop the market, much less do any marketing. Heck, even they know this is true - all I have to do is quote the same AP report you did. (Note: Wal-Mart deemed its test of advertising in 336 smaller newspapers a failure.)

One result is brick-and-ortar stores, indie or chain, are becoming public libraries where the consumer sees and touches the product, then either heads off to Wal-Mart to buy the Chinese version or home to their computer where they "can get it cheaper on the Internet."

Between you and me, my list of "who will go" now has less than half the retailers it started with in early 2005. Sometimes I would really like to be wrong.

(Note: Agree with the writers here? Disagree? Send your comments on or off the record to CLN at mike@clnonline.com. To read previous Business-Wise entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column.

xxx

 

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