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Creative Leisure News
306 Parker Circle
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com


 


Challenges, problems, and triumphs -- from a manufacturer's perspective.

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Attracting Younger Consumers

Yes, we aren't our mothers' knitters.

by Leigh Berggren, Discount Needlework (August 16, 2010)

The June 7, 2010 edition of Creative Leisure News included an article by Catherine Bracken entitled “The Future of Needlework: A brief, personal history, and a look into the crystal ball.”

(Editor’s note: Catherine’s article is will online. To read it, click HERE.)

My connection to Catherine is quite personal, because not only is she my former employer, as well as something of a mentor, but she is also the founder and former owner of my business. Since she shared her thoughts about the future of needlework in the hands of the younger generation, I thought it might be fun for the younger generation to respond!

I’ll start by being frank. I’m part of that younger “me, me, me, now, now, now” instant gratification generation that grew up with the Internet. Yup, I’ll admit it, we were born to technogeekdom. My high school graduating class was ‘99, and depending on who you ask, we’re either the last of the Gen Xers, or the first of Catherine’s daughter’s generation, the Millenials. We grew up with computers in every classroom, at least one home PC, laptops and cell phones and iPods, Blueray and DVRs and smartphones and iPads and a hundred other Star Trek-like gadgets that schedule and integrate and synchronize and eliminate the need for a road map (Mapsco? what’s that?) or a check book (debit card, duh!). Technology and on-demand information is second nature for us. So why would people my age who are used to living life in the fast lane care about hand-made things, especially when you can usually buy it for cheap at Wal-Mart?

It is, in my humble opinion, for one simple reason: The need to create is human nature. There is a unique pleasure in making something with your hands over buying it, even if Target does have a dozen like it at a third of the cost. Although in our grandmothers’ day it was probably cheaper to make than buy, but for us, saving money isn’t necessarily the point. There is a certain guilty, shameless pleasure in indulging in a singular task for hours (when the world tells you to multi-task), having a good stitch n’ bitch session with your BFFs (when you all could be doing other things), and then when you’re finished, looking down at your project and thinking, “Wow, this turned out great!”

It’s well known that knitting and crochet have enjoyed a Renaissance with the younger set this past decade or so. Knitting and crochet are also unique in that they have a sliding scale of affordability. It’s easy and cheap to get into, yet true aficionados can buy luxury yarns and findings for truly fine work. Most cities have at least a couple of really good, locally-owned yarn shops. Plus the knitting and crochet community is well-served online by web-based shops and popular crafter communities like Ravelry.com. All of these things are a boon to crafters like my 29 year old friend Krista, who has a portable spinning wheel (how cool is that?) and spins her own yarn! So what is preventing these crafters from making the transition from knit and crochet to needlepoint, crewelwork, and embroidery?

In my opinion, the issue is twofold: 1) Cost, and 2) Accessibility. Cost can be controlled by savvy shopping as well as scaling down beginner & intermediate project sizes, but accessibility is still a problem. Not everyone has a needlework shop around the corner, and even if there IS a shop, are store owners really catering to every demographic?

The knitting and crochet world figured out how to market to 20- and 30-somethings a decade ago, and so we still see quite a few specialty knitting and crochet shops around, despite leaner economic times. In fact, there’s a brand-spanking-new one called “Serial Knitters” (how awesome is that name?) opening up within two miles of me. These days it’s hardly uncommon to see a college student knitting a shawl at her local coffee house while sipping her vanilla soy latte with extra foam. But what about potential new needlepointers and embroiderers? How do we get their attention?

To keep any art vital, it has to be reworked and reinvented for and by the next generation, who always seem to make a bridge between upholding tradition and creating something entirely new. The Internet is the perfect place to bridge that gap, by making information accessible to multiple types of customers. I’ll be entirely transparent here – my core customers have been doing needlework for years, and don’t live anywhere near a needlework shop. So for them, my store is a way to keep doing what they love without having to drive three hours for supplies. However, there are only so many individuals that fall within my “core customer” definition, and serving only them isn’t enough. I’ve got to market to lots of different customers, especially to younger and less experienced folks who haven’t yet discovered the delightful world of needlework.

By embracing new means of connecting with young adults of the Information Age, such as creating a presence on Facebook and Twitter, I can also reach out to younger crafters and say, “Hey, check it out, this stuff is pretty cool!” But it’s only a start. Young folks today will research things that interest them on the web, but it’s got to be easy to find.

Point: Young folks are interested in trying new things, but it’s far less likely they’ve learned from Grandma than when Grandma learned from her Grandma, so they need another way to learn.

Point: If there is an opportunity to teach, it can’t be so difficult (or expensive) that a time-pressed 20-something will feel too intimidated to try.

Point: And if said 20-something does decide to give it a shot, are there designs and techniques that will pique her personal taste and style, or is too much of it so stuffy and old-fashioned that she loses interest before long?

Point: These are just some of many points to consider when contemplating the younger crafter, and nurturing her as she evolves from dabbler to hobbyist to needlework aficionado. Even though a proprietor such as myself is technically her peer, figuring out her tastes, her likes and dislikes, and especially her budget is a fascinating challenge!

Before I conclude, there is one issue I feel compelled to touch on. Both Catherine and I spoke a lot about needlework on the Internet, and both of us are aware that some needlework shop owners aren’t big fans. They feel that it takes away business because customers come into their stores to look, then buy cheaper online.

This is true, it happens. I cheat on Target all the time by ordering online something I saw at my local store -- and yet Target still manages to get thousands of dollars out of me year after year because they’re in my neighborhood. Target discovered early on that selling online in addition to having stores hugely increased their profits. They undoubtedly rode on Amazon.com’s coattails, and yet neither has put the other out of business, despite their best efforts I’m sure!

Now, I’m a web-only store and I like it that way, but I practically salivate at the opportunities local needlework shops would have if they decided to sell online AND have a store. Classes? Seminars? Web-only specials? Such endless options! And would I see them as encroaching on my realm if they also sold online? Heck no! I’d say, “Welcome to the pool, folks, let’s do some business!”

There isn’t a limit to how many needlework customers there are, only customers who have yet to be discovered. As I’ve said to some of my vendor partners, probably to their amusement and hopefully to their appreciation, I’ve made it my mission to help more of the needle arts enjoy the same crafting Renaissance as knitting and crochet, by making needlepoint, crewel, and embroidery appealing to a wider range of crafters. In other words, to make it “cool” again. I love my long-time customers and experienced stitchers, and enjoy meeting their needlework needs. Now the other part of my job is to find ways of capturing the interest and tastes of their daughters and granddaughters (and the occasional husband and son), so we can keep the needle arts alive and well for the next generation of needlework newbies.

(Editor’s note: Have any thoughts on attracting younger people to needlework – or any product category, for that matter. Email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)

xxx

 

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