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Why the Consumer is Bored
Reactions to Bob Ferguson's analysis of the
by CLN Subscribers (December 15, 2008)
(Note: If you haven't read retailer Bob Ferguson's
article, "Why Industry Sales Are Down," click on the title
in the right-hand column, and then read these reactions.)
Is a New Trend the Answer?
This is a math issue that we are dealing with. The financing of a
new trend. Does the industry wait and hope for a group of small
companies to begin a new trend in something? This could take awhile;
in this economy, this isn't necessarily a good idea.
In this more mature business of chain stores with concerns about
adding new vendors (not to mention concerns about adding a small
vendor), it seems the industry's larger companies need to work
together. New trends need to start and continue – at all types of
Bob is absolutely right. Staples are ... staples. They are
staples because their "need/use" is established and the
consumer knows what to do with them.
Really new products are iffy. The consumer has to be enticed to
"try it" and the proper support (at all levels) has to
exist. Essentially the manufacturer has to teach the consumer, in
all ways, what to do with the product. Instruction repeated, in all
forms, equals success and a staple may be created.
One of the problems with a new product is that the manufacturer
incurs significant expense, which has to be allocated to product
cost, to make the new product successful. Often after the new
product has been accepted, competitors enter the field with lower
cost versions, at greatly reduced price. The "duplicator"
can offer lower cost product because they don't necessarily have to
spend on development of instruction. That job was done by the
The exception to the rule is if the new product "solves a
problem" that the consumer already has, or the product's usage
is so obvious that little education is required. Not often do these
come about. (Goo B Gone is a good example of this type.)
On trends, which the industry is hungry for right now: It takes
more than one company to successfully introduce a trend. When
several companies introduce a category, there are enough product
volume and educational resources to make a statement. This was the
case in cross-stitch and scrapbooking. They grew from many small
There is also a pattern to growth in these categories:
1. Initial consumer interest and excitement. It offers
something new that people understood and found a use for in their
homes. Something that could be easily taught.
2. "Gathering of new product," similar to gathering
nuts in the winter. We all want to be prepared for
anything/everything that we love to do. Heaven forbid we get snowed
in without supplies.
3. "I think I have enough." Time to start working with
what I have. Retail sales slow down. It takes something really
exciting to make the now established customer want to buy more. Sales
slow down, significantly.
4. Lastly, "well the walls are full....the backlog of
photos etc. is under control....and I'm bored and what else is there
out there to work on". In this spot, we are losing
Granted there are many other reasons why we lose
sales/independents, but the real issue is that the consumer has
moved on and is looking. It seems we're at that point, as Bob says,
The trend doesn't go away, it just downsizes to the basics –
which hopefully, become staples.
What's next? I don't think the answer is in "one
company" trends, but in groups of companies cooperating
together to introduce a viable, consumer friendly trend. – Karen
Make Customers Happy.
You wrote at the end of Bob's excellent column "Bob raises a
number of questions: Why are there fewer new products? What happened
to project sheets, madeups, instruction booklets, and traveling
teachers? What's the danger in low prices? How do we create new
interest in crafting? "
I think there are many answers to this. One we see in the "Vinny
Da Vendor" column – the rigidity of many vendors and stores
in the industry. You see that in the needlework shop owner who won't
sell threads for a canvas bought elsewhere. In the bead shop, the
owner who says "Why would you want to do THAT?" when a
person comes in with a non-standard idea. In the rubber stamp shop,
the owner who can't see a use beyond stamping for the blanks in the
shop. The shop owner who doesn't want to look outside the comfort
zone to find new customers.
The end result of this is that the consumer pays in so many ways.
She doesn't innovate, she doesn't go back to that store, she doesn't
try that craft but another. And this ripples throughout the
industry. If she was an artist looking to branch out, she looks at
another idea. If she was a consumer wanting to try a new hobby, she
tries something else, or goes and reads a book – and those sales
are lost forever.
One reason why crafts stores have traditionally had up-ticks in
hard times is that they make people happy. Consumers receive the joy
of creating something and they have the satisfaction of giving
something unique as a gift. They have the virtuous feeling of saving
money. All this reinforces crafts.
While you might have bought a lipstick when you were feeling blue
when times were flush (cost $9-30), now you buy a skein of yarn
(cost $3). You got a pick-me-up from something lovely, for a lot
But if the store doesn't make you happy, why bother? If the store
doesn't inspire, why try a craft?
When I think about this, I think about Target. I mentally call
Target a happy place. I can go there and spend an hour or two just
looking and not buying a thing. At the end I am refreshed and happy
because the colors are bright, the store is clean, and I feel
welcome. Target gets my business over its competitors because it
makes me happy.
Contrast this to the late (and non-lamented) Kmart in our town.
It was dark, it always looked dirty (this probably was due to the
tan and brown linoleum floors), and the stock was always a mess.
Even if I wanted something only Kmart had, I wouldn't go there. I
might drive 20 miles to go to another Kmart, but I wouldn't go
Do you want to be a Target and make people happy and inspired and
coming to your store, or are you the drab, depressing store? –
Janet M. Perry, Napa Needlepoint, www.napaneedlepoint.com
True for Home Sewing, Too.
I read with great interest Bob's assessment of industry sales and
the independent craft business. As a veteran of the sewing industry
and a product of an independent environment, I think Bob hits the
nail on the head. Every product, whether a $10,000 sewing machine or
a $2.50 spool of thread, has features from which the consumer can
derive many benefits. A smart manufacturer will invest in its
customers by providing training to teach how to use the feature and
by providing programs to help the shop owner create demand for the
product (education, education, education). "Show me how this
benefits me and makes my life better, and I will buy it, not based
on price but based on how it enriches my creativity and
Eighty-seven percent of all sewing machines sold are $399 and
below. This tells us that these are mass-merchant machines with a
handful being sold at the independent level. Education is the
marketing that takes that 13% of the market and reinvents their
desire and motivates these enthusiasts to constantly invest in the
tools of their trade – teaching them to outgrow their sewing
machine and step up into a more highly featured machine. More
importantly, constantly bringing this elite group back into the
store, building the relationship with the owner that translates into
trust and sales.
I know you need to sell a lot of wiggle eyes and pom-pom makers
in the craft industry to equate to the sale of a machine, but the
principals are the same: create a desire, teach them what to do with
it, and they will buy. – Nancy L. Jewell, Manager, New Business
Development, Sewing Products, Coats & Clark
True for Beading, Too.
"What happened to project sheets, madeups, instruction
booklets, and traveling teachers?"
Here in my bead shop, That Bead Lady, Newmarket, Ontario, it is a
full time job to keep up with store display samples. We have a day
once or twice a month when the staff stops tubing and packaging and
they all sit and make new samples.
Customers actually say, when they come in the door, "Thanks,
I just came in for inspiration".
Yes, it is key! We also have colour story displays, which are
simply trays with assorted beads and findings that work together.
(Lots of customers have trouble with colour.) Often we are
replenishing these trays daily with goods that would be otherwise
lost in the store.
P.S. We have a Michaels about 10 minutes from us; customers tell
me the staff there knows zilch about beading, and often sends them
to us. My customers only shop there when they have a coupon. Isn’t
this what you have been talking about, Mike?
What happened to project sheets? The Internet. In my business,
you can find dozens of web sites with projects. However, beginners
don’t know that yet, so we still need in-store handouts for the
P.P.S. A couple of ideas for the scrapbooking stores who are
having difficulty: Stop calling yourself a scrapbook store. There
are many of us crafters out there who have absolutely no desire to
glue photos in a book with stickers around it.
However, I would be thrilled to learn how to use paper products
in my jewelry crafts. Almost every one of my customers sells her
finished jewelry, and there is nowhere to buy or make nice gift
tags, or price tags, or displays.
The other thing I have been looking for, with the whole
"greening" thing happening, is cloth bags my customers can
embellish, with beads maybe; nice bags they can use here at the
store. – Cathy Lampole, That Bead Lady, www.thatbeadlady.com
True for Scrapbooking, Too.
Great article today from Bob Ferguson. I know I’ve sent you
emails before, but I want to clarify who we are. We’re a small
manufacturer in the scrapbook realm, with seven years under our
belts. We’re actually doing pretty well, as we’re keeping it
small, and not trying to become Michaels' next new vendor. We also
do 13-15 consumer shows a year. For us it’s a marketing tool,
because we teach classes at the shows, and are using it to build our
brand name. We also have a booth where we’re typically the only
booth on the floor offering a free make-it/take-it. Some booths
charge up to $10.00 just to do a make-it/take-it. (They’re not
make-it/take-its, they’re mini classes. More on that later.)
I agree to a point that there are no new concepts, project
sheets, and demos are sorely lacking. But I have some thoughts on
Teaching Classes: Classes aren’t filling, and are rarely
meeting minimum numbers at the independent retailers. Last class I
taught at a retail location, I had six students (my minimum), and
didn’t make any money off the class. As a small manufacturer, that
doesn’t bother me because I know the store sold a lot of product
after the class, and the store owner has since re-ordered. That for
us is the goal.
Demos and make-it/take-its WORK! They really do! Something as
simple as a card that goes together in 2-5 minutes can sell $10.00+
per person of product. The key is, you need to have the product in
stock! If you run out, stop doing the project, remove the sample
from view, and do something else that highlights another product.
We choose and design our make-it/take-its based on what product
we want to move, and it works every time. For stores, we’ll ask
them what part of our line is a slower seller, and again, we’ll
design it around that.
Many times, these projects are done by store employees who don’t
understand up-selling. It’s the independent owner/store manager's
responsibility to teach and encourage the up-sell. Many times it’s
an employee who frankly doesn’t care. They are the un-lucky person
who’s been stuck behind the demo counter for the day. Whoever is
there needs to understand this is an opportunity! An opportunity to
work on their presentation skills, encourage customers to see a
product in a different way, and generally make connections with the
Another case in point: My business partner (aka Mom) and I are
also quilters, and just yesterday, five of us got together and were
working on quilt projects. Being a Sunday, there were only a few
options for open quilt stores to visit if we needed something, or
just wanted to shop. At the one we chose, they had a wonderful Tree
Skirt project sample hanging up, with a sign attached saying
"Kits Available". We asked about the kit, and they said it
was $44.95, but they were out, and might have more in about two
weeks. TAKE THE SAMPLE DOWN! I saw that, I wanted it, but was unable
to buy it. Unfortunately, this happened with three different
projects hanging in the store, and, this happens to be a store with
a very well respected quilt kit mail order business.
One thing I think independents forget is to making these demos
and make-it/take-its track-able. Sure, you can look at the bottom
line at the end of the day, and see if there has been a bump in
sales, but does that really tell you what you want to know? If you
had multiple demos going on, which ones worked, and which didn’t?
Which presenters were more successful at educating the customer, and
encouraging them to purchase? One way we track it is by giving the
customers who make-it/take-its a coupon. Usually our
make-it/take-its use one large-ticket item, like a $21.99 punch. We
usually give out a 25% off one-item coupon, knowing that most
everyone will use the coupon on the punch. If they do, we’ve done
our job of educating the customer on the products, helped them make
a cute project, and moved some punches!
If a store is doing an event, where they have multiple demos and
make-it/take-its going on, make the coupons completely different in
the sale items/prices, or even print them on different colors of
paper. Have the demonstrator write their name on the back, or
something to tell who taught the demo. And if it’s an all day
event, let your demonstrators switch projects! You probably should
have had a staff/demonstrator meeting to go over the projects
anyway, so they should be cross trained in all the projects. Let
them switch every couple of hours, because they’ll get really sick
of saying the same thing over and over. Repetition makes the spiel
stale; freshen it up with a fresh face! – Angie Warhurst, Boxer
Scrapbook Productions, www.boxerscrapbooks.com
Clean Instead of Sizzle.
We are seeing what we gave up on: an increase in basics and a
demand for new colors and new styles. It was there all along. It
never went away, we made it go away.
I was in the brand new, fancy Michaels some months back. My wife
and I walked and looked and looked. I said when we left, "Very
nice, but no fun."
It is a very nice, clean, fancy store. But there were no ideas,
no sizzle, no "WOW! I want to do that!" It was just clean
and neat. I don't think you need to be messy, but where is the
"I can't wait to get this and try it!"?
Somewhere in all the industry's growing up we substituted clean
Something else that sticks in my craw: About 9:30 am the Friday
after Thanksgiving, I went with my wife to Jo-Ann's. We went past
Circuit City, more traffic than I have seen in years, walked past
Hancock's and Ross, to Jo-Ann's.
Hancock had big sale signs everywhere and things marked "50%
off!" But only one clerk at the check-out counter and a huge
line. Ross had signage galore, two checkouts, and lines galore.
Jo-Ann's had lines BUT you would take a number at the cutting table
and they had a FULL staff of seven people cutting. When we were
leaving there was a line, but every checkout was staffed. – Name
Withheld (A manufacturer)
All the Same.
I went on a "fact finding" trip on the state of
business to Dallas yesterday: the consumer is BORED; they are all
seeing the same stuff, and seeing stores trying to GIVE it away.
This year is a turning point I think; innovation will have to come in
order for the industry to make it.
If you get a chance read the book Outliers by Malcom
Gladwell. It's excellent – especially about the rise of the
garment business in the U.S. – Bead Manufacturer and Retailer
We Need a New Category.
I read this all the time in CLN: the championing of
"innovation" and "new." But Bob says it
perfectly: no one is going to buy it if they don’t know what it
is/does. I rack my brain to come up with new ideas, but over and
over again the tried and true seems to do better. I don’t know if
we can come up with a new product; I think the innovation in the
craft industry will come from a new category.
I totally agree that it's a shame we compete on price, that cost
is what we use to drive traffic to the stores. But unfortunately,
that’s the reality of the situation; people want inexpensive over
innovative (at least in crafts; consumer electronics are different).
But that’s why Wal-Mart has become the biggest retailer in the
But I like what he said about "What's new?" Everyone is
looking for something new. Last Year Michaels spent millions
bringing in Martha Stewart to their scrapbooking department; she's
not a big seller, mainly because she had nothing new. Her scissors
were the same as the rest; they just cost more and had her name on
them. And they won't let you use a coupon!
At the same time, it's hard to create new products when you're a
small business in a credit crunch! So maybe we should look for more
ADD-ONS. Smaller things, like our vintage pieces people can add to
our existing line of merchandise. – A former Michaels employee,
now managing an independent bead shop.
(Note: Care to add your thoughts to the discussion? Email
them – on or off the record – to CLN at firstname.lastname@example.org.)