Insights on business -- and life.
My 20 Years in the Industry, Pt. II
"We cannot ... run companies
for stockholders only or look for the one item that will last
by Karen Ancona/CLN (March 19, , 2007)
(Note: After more than 20 years, Karen recently stepped
back from her position as Editor of CNA. In this and future
issues, Karen shares her thoughts on the industry, where it's been
and where it's going. To read Pt. I, click on the title in the
CLN: What are the major changes you've seen?
Karen: Of course every industry has realized change over the
last twenty years. A global economy and technology have impacted how
we all do business.
But specifically during my career in the craft industry, I have
been fortunate enough to know men and women who started companies in
the trunk of their car and on their kitchen table. That was back in
the 80s and early 90s. I watched those people grow those companies
into fine businesses that supported their families and made some of
On the other hand, I've watched some pretty big thinkers fall
flat on their faces here. It's always been a tricky industry and it
takes a pretty clever and dedicated person to succeed at it, even
though it's what we used to call an "easy entry" industry,
meaning it didn't take much capital to get started. [Retired CEO of
A.C. Moore] Jack Parker, whom I respect tremendously, once told me
he thought ours is the most difficult retail environment.
In the past twenty years we went from an industry trying to
figure out wholesale pricing for designers who met minimums to an
industry learning about EDI, EAN, UCC Systems, and other supply
chain issues. Twenty years ago the sale of a company for $60 million
was huge news. Now we watch our stock prices.
Years ago leaders tried to stay in the industry. Now many use it
as a stepping stone to other opportunities. Twenty years ago we knew
about each others' kids and illnesses and hopes and dreams. It was a
small and personal business. No more.
In the 80s our biggest controversy centered on idea theft between
exhibitors at trade shows. Now we worry about chain store buyers
knocking off manufacturer's products.
Change is the only constant, as you know, and if you want to make
it big here, you've got to master the challenges that come with
Our products change all the time. It's the nature of our beast.
My husband Bill, who has been forced to read every issue of CNA,
remarked frequently that each issue was totally different than the
one before. His career was in the home center industry where a 1/2
inch nut is pretty much the same as it was 40 years ago. And a
hammer is like the one your grandpa bought from the local hardware
store when he first left his mother. Not in the craft industry. We
change whole departments about every five years. In the area of
publishing, it makes it hard for publishers who want consistency in
CLN: Despite the changes, what basics have remained the same?
Karen: Basically, and we should never lose sight of this, we
are an industry that serves a fickle consumer. I don't mean that in
a nasty sort of way. It's just that our consumers are creative
people. They remain our customers only if we keep them interested
with new stuff, new opportunities. Think about this: even creative
types making $1,000,000 a week portraying some character on a
half-hour sitcom will elect to leave that comfy income behind to try
something new. Our creative consumers are just as antsy. It's the
nature of the beast.
Creative types are all risk takers. Creative types, whether they
are artists, actors, business builders, or crafters, are fulfilled
only when whatever they are doing is new and exciting. We cannot,
therefore, run companies for stockholders only or look for the one
item that will last forever like that hammer I talked about in the
This is one industry where we have to keep our consumers' need
for change, merely for the sake of change, in front of our
decisions. Instead of being brand loyal, our consumers have always
been seekers of new products and techniques.
(Note: To contact Karen, call 941-639-0961 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)