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What Happened to PCP's?
The savvy Professional Craft Producers have
by Jean Leinhauser, Julie McGuffee, and Jean Kievlan (December
(Note: In a recent issue CLN asked what has
happened to the professional craft products. Here are some
Projects became too expensive.
The [Professional Craft Producers] have either gone underground
or there are not many left. It is almost impossible to sell a
hand-made craft item at a price that is worth the time spent making
it. When all components have to be purchased and time and profit
accounted for, it's almost sure to be a losing proposition.
I think the group seemed larger than it was because of its vocal
power. Anyone who has ever tried to sell at a craft fair knows the
attitude, "It's cute, but I could make that myself for a lot
less." – Jean Leinhauser, Creative Partners.
Too much "mass" competition.
The PC's were an extremely creative group of (dare I say
"crafters"?) and for many years a very healthy living
could be made by creating items and selling them at local and
national craft shows, craft fairs, and craft malls. This didn't go
unnoticed, of course, and soon their designs were being mass
manufactured overseas and suddenly "cute, crafty stuff"
(including lots of happy bunnies) started turning up at local
supermarkets, drug stores, gift stores, etc. So, the unique items we
used to find at seasonal shows, etc., were now available everywhere,
all the time.
It's kind of sad in a way; there was so much creativity out there
and it was always fun to see the unique items the PC's came up with.
A number of us have, as you know, gone on to design for different
industries – creativity has to have an outlet, but only the
"originals" are still hand made. There are still some good
craft malls, shows and fairs around, but a lot of the items being
sold now come from gift market.
Jean [Kievlan] and I continue to be successful. We've learned to
focus on different aspects of the industry and continue to bring our
ideas and creativity to whatever we do, whatever the medium –
that's what it's all about. – Julie McGuffee,
Kievlan-McGuffee Designs and Consulting Services. (Note: Julie
is also the host of the PBS series, Scrapbook Memories.)
Success means change.
I write this as I depart for the War Eagle Craft Fair in
Arkansas. Yes, I still have a booth there, and use it mainly to
market products I've designed for other manufacturers, gift items
I've purchased, conduct market research on consumer buying
preferences and trends, etc.
In the "old" days, I cut and painted wood and created
soft sculpture dolls and a variety of "hands-on crafty"
items to sell. Now, I market exclusively Christmas and seasonal
items, and am only doing two shows this year (down from four last
year). It will remain to be seen if higher gas prices even make it
feasible to continue going those shows.
What happened to the Professional Crafter? It's all summed up in
a five letter word: CHINA. For years craft manufacturers bemoaned
all those professional crafters who flooded the trade shows, wanting
to buy supplies wholesale. Bet they wish they were at the shows now
buying supplies! All I can say to those manufacturers who wished the
PC's would go away is be careful what you wish for!
The availability of cheap imports eventually made it difficult to
sell truly handmade items and the PC industry changed to an
"embellishment" genre, that is, purchasing pre-made items
to which something could be added to make it homemade (a wreath, a
jar, a plaque, etc.).
Now, much of the craft fairs are populated with mass-produced
items (and cheap looking ones at that), which has degraded that
market. Those "crafters" savvy enough to know that
uniqueness and quality still count, seek out small, non-mainstream
suppliers so they have "something different from the
It's obvious to the craft show attendee who sees the same product
(or a version of it), in booth after booth that the items are not
handmade, per se, by the exhibitors. Those crafters who purchased
the "same" items for resale now compete penny for penny
with each other, creating pricing wars. Those who can buy in larger
quantities can offer a more attractive price, and therefore have an
advantage over smaller, less capitalized PC's (sound familiar?).
Savvy PC's set themselves apart through attractive display and
presentation, and many still are quite successful with marketing
"handmade in China" gift products. Those most successful
have learned to pick the "right" products to sell; those
that sell through quickly. Thankfully, I've been extremely
successful picking the "right" products and have a 98%
product sell through rate, based on industry-standard mark-ups. Bet
some of the chain stores would like those same sell-through rates on
product they bring into the stores.
The "handmade in China" craft fair was further
undermined when gift items started infiltrating grocery stores and
drug stores. There's only so much demand, you know.
Are there still true "handmade by me" PC's out there?
Sure, but mainly in jewelry, glass art, and other more
artistic-themed products. "Cutsey" wood, ornaments and
stuffed seasonal characters still do extremely well – FROM OCTOBER
TO DECEMBER. Anything that can be personalized will do excellent in
terms of sales.
Some of us who started out as true PC's (I was
"discovered" by Suzanne McNeill of Design Originals at a
local craft show with my "Spoolie Dolls") have evolved,
finding a new niche as consultants, product developers, teachers,
designers, and television presenters. Our expertise brings a wealth
of experience to the creative industry. I confess, it is sad to see
the creative energy and ideas generated from all those professional
crafters gone from the craft shows. There were many innovative
ideas, techniques and whole product categories driven by the
Professional Craft genre.
An interesting note about current consumer buying trends at the
craft fairs: they don't seem to care if the product was made in
China, just that it has a good price, good quality, and is on trend.
This is quite a departure from years ago when consumers wanted truly
handmade crafts. Now they want price, quality, and style; it doesn't
matter where the item came from.
On a related note, I normally do two consumer craft shows in
October, this year I'll do only one. A major manufacturer has
contracted me to go to China with him, so I've cancelled the latter
consumer show. My knowledge of consumer buying trends, design, and
product development skills will be utilized as this manufacturer
makes decisions for new programs and product lines. The journey
continues.... – Jean Kievlan, Kievlan-McGuffee Designs and
(Note: Have any thoughts about the apparent disappearance
of the professional crafter, who just a few years ago was a major
force in the industry? Email email@example.com.
To read previous "Designing Perspectives" articles, click
on the titles in the right-hand column.)