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Creative Leisure News
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A view of the industry through the eyes of a chain buyer.

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It's Time To Re-awaken the Industry's Thinking

Time to embrace new ideas and expand horizons.

by Christine Meier (July 7, 2008)

(Note: Christine is a former craft buyer for Wal-Mart and co-founder of DMD Industries with her husband Randy. After they sold DMD to Creativity, they launched Canvas Corp. Christine is responding to Kathy Lamancusa's "Hey Craft Industry ... Where Are You?" article. To read it, click on the title in the right-hand column.)

The article was a confirmation of what returning to the craft industry has been for me after stepping away for a number of years. I began my career in the craft industry at the age of 16 on the floor of a Jo-Ann store and worked through high school and into college. After graduating, I was a craft and fabric buyer for Wal-Mart and dove in head first, learning all that I could and embracing every aspect of the market from the manufacturers, the designers, the consumers, and the retailers. After spending more than five years on the retail side of the business, I decided to step over to the other side, working in the wholesale sector and allowing myself to be more creative. When Randy and I started DMD Industries in 1996, the market was ready for something new and to embrace the idea of expanding its horizons.

We started in our garage and within a few years Paper Reflections' paper, bags, and memory products were in every retailer in the country. The retailers, buyers, and consumers were hungry for new products that would unleash creativity, but there was still caution among some, who were not sure consumers would really put photos, stickers, and paper into a book, and others were too focused with "existing" categories to consider adding something new like scrapbooking.

So we worked hard as an industry to attract, educate, and provide the buyers, consumers, designers, and ultimately the "scrapbooker" with new magazines, exciting advertising, great packaging, great design, and a new line of merchandise that worked together, as well as stood alone to create what is now considered the scrapbook department or the scrapbooking store.

The new scrapbook phenomenon unleashed creativity within the market, but more importantly it attracted people from far outside of the craft industry, allowing it to broaden its horizons. A good example was the product line and ad campaign that Curtis and the late Connie Platte of Crop-In-Style created. The line was designed with great attention to function, detail, style – and with a sense of fun. They supported the products and retailers with ads that helped create a great buzz for the line.

New manufacturers quickly appeared and became important suppliers; existing vendors followed suit and the industry grew to a new level, offering better packaging, better products, and better consumer outreach. Buyers could not get enough of this new market excitement, and all facets of the market enjoyed a great run.

The business changes.

The scrapbook industry is as important today as it has ever been, but the business is not being managed like it once was; it does not have the innovation or excitement it once had. Storeowners who did not take the time to learn how to run the business are gone; buyers who were at the top of their game during the heyday are, too. Some retailers have taken their eye off of what is new and focus only on existing categories – making the fewest changes possible. At the same time, retailers who put all of their merchandising eggs in the scrapbook basket ignored many of the other important craft categories, and soon the manufacturers followed suit.

When I began my career I walked the aisles of craft stores and departments and saw nothing but potential in the market. The ideas were limitless and the manufacturers and designers could not come up with ideas quickly enough. Today I walk the aisles and I am amazed to see that many of the displays, products, and even promotional items are exactly the same as there were eight and ten years ago. The phenomenon that swept through the scrapbook/paper craft market did not spread throughout the other departments by way of innovative products, updated packaging, and out-of-the-box product promotions.

The industry powerhouses went through such amazing growth that they had to control that growth and work hard to put procedures in place to ensure they were in stock and offered consistency from one store or department to the next. This effort paid off with well rounded departments that offered inventory that was based on sales analysis, space allotment, and available products. The focus became more about plan-o-grams, in-stock levels, and constancy in signage – and the influence of creativity began to dwindle.

Today we hear about the number of scrapbook stores that are closing and the lack of space within the retail aisles for new products. We have to take a closer look at why this is happening and what can be done, not only to reignite the scrapbook/paper craft market, but the other major categories, as well as potential new categories. We need to apply the same principles that worked in the onset of scrapbooking.

What's needed now.

The market needs to take a close look at itself and determine how to unleash the creativity that turned scrapbooks into an industry giant. How? By opening up the minds of the retailers and buyers to new products and categories, and continue the precedent of strong packaging and presentation, followed by new, innovative ad and marketing-awareness campaigns – created by both the retailer and the manufacturer.

DMD was purchased by Creativity Inc in 2002 along with Crop-In-Style. At the time Creativity had a vision to bring together creative companies that together would be more powerful and a creativity leader. Randy and I worked with Creativity Inc for one year blending DMD into the fold before we ventured out on our own. As long as our non-compete agreement was in place, we had the opportunity to look outside the market for new trends and areas of business of interest. This opened our eyes to how much opportunity there is out there and how little the craft market is taking advantage of that opportunity.

This sabbatical from the market allowed us to work on our newest venture that we have recently released to the market nationwide through the JoAnn’s superstores and in Canada through the Zeller’s chain. Our company, Canvas Corp., has brands under the name Canvas Home Basics. It's a line of basic home décor components, tools, and supplies – in essence the beginning of a department that supports that HGTV viewer, the home magazine reader, and consumers who do any form of creative projects for their homes.

These products are not about plumbing supplies or building a storage shed. They provide creative ways to hang pictures, innovative components for tablescapes, and simple components that allow the consumer to design and create beautiful rooms.

The demographics of the scrapbooker/crafter are very similar to the DIY-er. I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of interior designers, home owners, builders, crafters, designers, etc., to learn as much as I can about their needs and what is missing in the market. I am amazed at how little is available for creative homeowners.

The market is prime for a new phenomenon; it is up to us, however, to embrace this and do something to re-ignite the crafter and broaden the industry's consumer base. The potential is there. Yet, based on our experience we are amazed that many in the craft market have been unable to grasp the concept or see how it fits into their stores. By the way, the DIY and home décor markets are each exponentially larger than the craft market.

Scrapbook stores looking for new ways to stay in business and maintain their scrapbook customers should look for new categories that appeal to their customers. These stores already have a customer base and a following; now they have an opportunity to help their customers take the creative ideas they put into scrapbooks and move them on the walls, tabletops, and even painted furniture pieces.

There are multiple television networks and hundreds of publications devoted to creative-idea sharing – all supported by advertising – and a plethora of designers who are embracing this market, yet retailers are not truly capitalizing on the market's potential.

This concept is about bringing together a wide variety of products to provide a one-stop shop for the creative DIY customers who include the scrapbookers when they are not scrapbooking, party planners, interior designer, crafters, floral arrangers, weekend-warrior couples, contractors, builders, architects, artists, photographers, decorators, the new parents-to-be – the list goes on.

We are working hard with a number of accounts to blend the Canvas Home Basics program into their product offering, and we are excited by our early strong results. We are amazed, however, at the lack of vision by many of the powerhouses in the industry.

Again as I walk the aisles of some retailers, I am amazed at how little their offerings have changed over the years and how uninspiring these stores can be. I applaud them for being in stock, having product in exactly the same place every time I shop, and every holiday and season I can find the exact same products, but the market is long over-due for something new. Not new sticker designs, a pack of paper, or something in the dollar bins. It is about shaking up this market with some unexpected items, finding ways to attract new customers, and improving the image of the market both inside and out.

I long to feel the excitement that I once received from the market. When we first told buyers that consumers around world would mount pictures and apply stickers and die cuts into a book, we met strong resistance, but we eventually succeeded.

Now that we enter the market for the second time, we're spreading this new message: consumers will buy products that enhance their home. The products range from paints that cover what needs to be covered, clothespins and clips to display what needs to be displayed, decorative hardware that more beautifully hangs what needs to be hung, storage options, ropes and ribbons that are the finishing touches – and even sand that fills vases for a table-top display. The market needs products and retailers that together can inspire, merchandise, and educate consumers – something the craft industry is all about.

I am excited about the line, but even more excited about the potential for the industry and for consumers who would love to shop in stores that unleash their creativity, inspiring them to embark on exciting new projects.

The key is starting with the industry's leaders, helping them understand that it's not about maintaining existing business; that is not what drives the creative market. Rather, it is about so much more than that. As the leaders get a little taste of what the market is capable of doing, they will drive that through the organization. But even more important is to educate consumers that they should be more vocal about their needs. It is one thing to offer successful products, it is another to contribute to the market and in some small way see that you made a difference.

(Note: To learn more about the Canvas Home Basics program, visit www.canvascorp.com.

Is Christine right? Is home dec the industry's "next big thing"? Should it be? Email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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