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Creative Leisure News
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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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What We Have Here Is a Failure To Communicate!

Which explains why some product categories are in decline.

by Barbara Matthiessen (April 7, 2008)

I am no business expert but have been in the arts and crafts business for a number of years and have sadly observed the decline of the industry in the United States, despite an overwhelming demand for creative outlets. This makes no sense to me or to many others. Demand is there, so why not the business?

The industry is not communicating. No one seems to be listening to the consumer. Rather than list what went wrong and why – we all have our pet theories about what’s happened – let’s look at what’s right. There are two strong fields of crafting right now, jewelry and quilting/sewing.

I can remember when quilting was something only grannies did, so what happened to make it so popular? Media coverage in print, TV, and on the Internet have supported and built this medium into a behemoth. In return, products in all the sub-categories have grown and evolved, as have designs. Styles, techniques, and skill levels span the entire spectrum, from the first timer to fine artist. The consumer demand is growing, as are the informational outlets and products. See the connection?

Connected to quilting is sewing in general. Look what Project Runway has done to encourage a whole new generation to learn about apparel sewing. The desire to create one-of-a-kind projects and have them fit is escalating rapidly.

Jewelry is another category that just keeps growing and expanding for many of the same reasons as quilting and sewing in general: lots of information/designs and lots of products. People want to make beautiful items they are proud to wear and give.

The investment range is broad in both of these areas. You can start small and grow to huge proportions with elaborate machines, tools, and supplies. This gives the beginner a chance and allows for continuous growth for all.

None of these are cheap, but they offer the consumer a quality product and a huge resource of information and inspiration. In return the consumer is supporting these industries.

Now, where does this leave the rest of the industry? Painting, seasonal décor and florals, kids’ crafts, clay, paper crafts, home décor, and the rest are lagging, not for lack of desire on the consumers' part but because there is little or no support for them. How many general craft magazines, TV shows, or Internet sites are there? When was the last time you saw a project sheet anywhere showing how to make a holiday decoration? Where is Carol Duvall?

There is an enormous demand for kids' crafts, yet only a couple of manufacturers aim any products here and project information is minimal. Where and how is this industry going to grow without helping children express their innate desire to create? The bonus to this is often the parents discover crafts that interest them by playing with their children.

Just before Christmas I was on a "mommy" site with more than 70,000 members. They were desperately looking for ideas on safe toys to make. Someone posted instructions on how to make a sock monkey and you would have thought it was the second coming! They went wild for it. Time and time again I have seen this on the net.

Painting is one of the most satisfying mediums there is, yet no one teaches it anymore, and the very few publications out there cater to the advanced painter. How is anyone new going to learn? Painting has the possibility to be all that quilting and jewelry making is today by providing an array of styles, techniques, and skill levels in updated themes.

Cross marketing of products is a natural. To create most projects, you need a surface, adhesive, coloring agents, tools, and embellishments. Where is the information on how to bring them all together? General craft magazines and TV shows used to demonstrate and inform – we need them back! If you think people know how to use that product sitting on a shelf with no samples, project sheets, or support aside from the label, you are wrong. The desire is out there to use all of these things, but you have got to teach people how.

Creating safe and green crafts is another consumer desire. This fits in well with cross marketing. Can we show the public how to make safe toys, decorate their homes in environmentally sound ways, or produce gifts they will be proud to say are green and beautiful?

We all know the benefits of crafting: relaxation, expression, creating memories or preserving them, and yes, even saving money. The public knows and desires these things too. So why are we not delivering?

There is also an ever growing senior population that wants to do more crafts but have not been designed for or marketed to. They need designs for less than strong or dexterous hands and fading eyesight.

We definitely have a failure to communicate here, and it is costing our jobs and frustrating the public. Let's work together and communicate with each other and rebuild public interest and confidence in this industry.

So much could be done if people would just quit whining and get to work. Sorry, I have just had it with woe-is-me designers who want "someone" to save the industry and give them work.

Questions, by Mike Hartnett

Barbara makes many excellent points, but they raise a question: why? Why are there fewer classes, demonstrations, project sheets, and general "craft" magazines and television shows? If a decline in communication/education is causing some product categories in particular and the industry in general to suffer, why has this decline occurred?

I have my own thoughts, but would like to hear from CLN subscribers. People in this industry are not stupid, yet they allowed this decline to happen. How and why did this happen? Email your thoughts – on or off the record – to mike@clnonline.com.

(Note: Barbara is the author of an e-book, Alternative Jewelry, which is available at www.craft-e-books.com. She also writes a blog at www.craftgate.com/blogs/barbara.)

xxx

 

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