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A view of the industry through the eyes of a chain buyer.

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How One Independent Is Catering to the "New" Consumer 

She needs motivation and inspiration, not a smiling bunny.

by Jan Stephenson (July 17, 2006)

(Note: CLN asked Jan Stephenson, Co-Founder/Owner of Spark Craft Studios in suburban Boston to respond to our thoughts on the "new" (younger, more urban) consumer. We suggest readers visit the store's website, www.sparkcrafts.com, before reading further.)

Below are my responses to your CLN comments. Of course, these are based on my 1.5 years experience with Spark, so the data is relevant but anecdotal. We'll see how things pan out in the coming years!

You wrote: "There appear to be three elements to the crafter of the 21st century: 1. She's tech savvy. She may not need her leisure activities to be high touch just because her job is high tech. Escape from high tech? Technology is so ubiquitous in her life she can't imagine - or wants to - escape from it."

Our clientele (21-45, urban, professional) is extremely tech savvy and doesn't necessarily want to escape from it. They are plugged in at work all day (most of them), and they carry cell phones here to the studio.

I think Spark is successful in appealing to this tech-savvy younger consumer not necessarily because we are "anti-tech" or "no-tech," but because we offer an attractive and fun leisure time activity. Our clientele seems to crave interesting life experiences (travel, spa treatments, gourmet dining, learning new skills, adventuring, etc.), which is where the crafts and creativity we offer come into play.

Along the tech lines: we recently gave away some free HP digital scrapbooking software we inherited. I was interested to hear from one customer that she loved it; she said that she would never do paper scrapbooking because of the time commitment, but she loved doing it digitally.

Scrapbooking has been a struggle for Spark in general, I think, in part due to Boston not being a geographic hot spot for the craft, also because our clientele is younger and without kids which is when people seem to get into scrapbooking more. So, we are considering the digital options in terms of product to have on the shelves, classes to offer, etc.

You wrote: "She doesn't have the "smiling bunny" syndrome that her mother had. I'm not sure what she wants to make, but whatever it is, it's not 'cute.'"

Yes, cute in a stylish way is in, but cute in a country/folksy way is out at least for our customers (again, young, urban, highly educated). Our clientele gravitates toward what they see in the fashion magazines, not in the craft publications (InStyle vs. BeadStyle). So for jewelry we stock freshwater pearls, Swarovski crystal, Czech glass coral, turquoise, semi-precious stones, etc. Plain plastic and glass beads are used as accents, not the focal point of our pieces. As for paper crafts Amuse ArtStamps are popular (cute in a stylized, sophisticated way); Paper Salon; etc. Knitting high quality but affordable yarns such as Malabrigo, Manos del Uruguay, etc., seem to appeal to a wide range of our clientele who are making accessories scarves, mittens, hats, etc., things that she can wear and be proud of, but that don't take a lot of time.

You wrote: "She doesn't want to make the same project in the same way as everyone else. She wants to make something unique."

This is a HUGE part of appealing to our target demographic! Even our beginner clientele who are often intimidated by crafts (we often hear "I'm not creative; my friend dragged me here!") often gravitate to kits at first, but they quickly want to swap items out or embellish upon the kit, to individualize/personalize things. They like to have a structure presented to them for idea generation (they LOVE lots of samples!) but then they take it from there once they have acquired the skills needed and the creative "spark" and confidence to go forward. I think this is what keeps this consumer coming back help and motivation, but not a stifling, structured environment for contained creativity.

A couple more points about this consumer: she likes instant gratification and the end product is really important. If you can't accomplish something relatively quickly and have it instantly validated ("Beautiful necklace, where did you get it?" "I made it!"), it's a harder sell. People are busy and we're used to getting things done, especially career-driven, ambitious women. And, it's as much about the product (cool, stylish, fun, practical, useable) as it is the process (the knitting itself).

You wrote: "How many of these new consumers are out there?"

Since opening in January 2005, we have generated a client database of nearly 6,000 people, coming from 170 towns in Massachusetts as well as from New England and other states (we've even had customers fly in from abroad to visit us).

We've acquired our customers mainly through word of mouth and guerrilla marketing tactics. Until recently, we've done very limited paid advertising and even now our budget is modest. Our retail location is on a side street in an urban neighborhood which is well known for its bars and restaurants, not as a shopping destination. This is proving a challenge and we have plans to move locations in the next year or so as all of our business is currently "destination-driven." We are not benefiting at all from walk-by traffic; all of our customers currently come here deliberately for a class, party, or to shop.

Despite a modest marketing budget, a challenging retail location, and an average inventory of about 1/3 the average independent craft retailer's (and a mere fraction of a Michaels!), we are achieving annual revenues competitive with independent retailers that have been in the business 8+ years (or, about a quarter of what a typical Michaels does in a year).

I give you all of this information to make the point that we believe this market is much bigger than what we are capturing! So many people still don't know about us!

If we had increased walk-by shopping traffic, a "real" marketing budget, and increased inventory, we could better reach the more than 23,000 women in the Greater Boston area that we have identified as our target audience based upon demographic profile (narrowly defined by age, location, income, education level). This doesn't even begin to speak to the secondary markets (namely 'tweens and baby boomers) who don't know we exist because we are not directly marketing to them and our store is basically hidden from view.

In other words, our destination-driven traffic (based upon our targeted niche market the one you describe in CLN) is generating a sizeable revenue base that I would think any retailer should want to consider.

(Note: CLN interviewed Jan about her "new-concept" store in September, 2005. To read the interview, click on "Spark Craft Studios: The Interview" in the right-hand column. There are also some interesting thoughts on the new consumers in the current issue of Business-Wise. To comment on the new consumer or any other industry subject, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Benny" entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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