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

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An Interview with SPC's Alex Nielsen

Explaining the new affiliate program for independent retailers.

Staff Report (January 7, 2013)

SPC (formerly Sierra Pacific Crafts) began informally 40 years ago when two retail stores in Washington started working together. SPC now serves more than 60 independent member stores who represent nearly 1,000,000 square feet of retail space and 150 million dollars in retail sales. A.C. Moore, a family-owned chain of 140 craft stores, is also part of SPC's community.

SPC has recently launched an affiliate program to bring the benefits of their community to retailers of all categories and sizes.

CLN: For whom is the affiliate program designed?

NIELSEN: Our affiliate program is designed for family-owned retailers in creative industries. Specifically, this program is designed to attract retailers in niche markets such as scrapbooking/paper arts, yarn, and beading. We have successfully served full-line craft stores for decades and in the process have developed a package of benefits that will help any independent retailer thrive.

CLN: What benefits would a retailer receive for joining SPC?

NIELSEN: We have benefits that improve almost every aspect of retailing from operations to merchandising to marketing. The primary benefit -- which is nearly impossible to put a dollar figure on -- is being connected to a community of like-minded retailers and their great ideas. Sharing is at the heart of everything we do and we are sharing year-round.

There are also some tangible benefits that more than pay for dues. Immediately after signing up, we encourage new members and affiliates to take advantage of our competitive credit card processing and freight rates. We have weekly publications, frequent conference calls, sharing meetings, and everyday domestic vendor discounts. Recently, we launched a private Pinterest-style website for sharing photography and great ideas with an iPad app coming soon. We also have an incredible direct import program.

CLN: How does your import program work? What types of products?

NIELSEN: Twice a year, a volunteer team of store owners travels overseas for two weeks searching for great merchandise. They then work with SPC staff to pull together an offering of 2,000 - 3,000 different items. In January, we present these items at the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market. In June, we create an ad hoc showroom in our warehouse in Portland.

The team focuses on finding unique, high-margin merchandise in a number of categories. We are very strong in home decor, seasonal, project surfaces/components, frames, baskets, candles, glass, and more. Because of the diversity of our membership, we have an equally diverse product offering.

Behind this program are the unsung volunteer-heroes of SPC that spend literally thousands of man-hours putting this all together. The expertise, taste, and experience they lend to the program is invaluable and is what really makes our program so successful. 

CLN: How does Petersen-Arne fit in the program?

NIELSEN: Petersen-Arne has been a close vendor partner of SPC's and our membership for many, many years. They now carry a selection of our exclusive import merchandise for resell to our members and affiliates.

Two of the biggest challenges with importing for independent retailers are lead times and minimums. When our stores order product from us, they are looking at lead times anywhere form 60-180 days with minimums that are sometimes daunting. 

With Petersen-Arne in the mix, retailers can take advantage of applying a replenishment model to imported merchandise. Our stores now have Petersen-Arne backtags on SPC imported merchandise. When they sell out, they can get that product back in their store with their regular Petersen-Arne order rather than wait until SPC's next round of orders. It is incredibly exciting.

This also means that there is a selection of our product immediately available for purchase through Petersen-Arne for new members and affiliates. Petersen-Arne will have some of this product available in their booth (#2636-7) at the upcoming CHA show.

CLN: What are the cost and obligations?

NIELSEN: There is an application fee and monthly dues. The application fee is normally $500 for affiliates and $1,000 for member-owners. We are offering half-priced application fees now through February 15th.

Monthly dues are based on the annual revenue of the member or affiliate. Some common ranges are $100 per month for stores with annual revenue under $250,000 and $375 per month for stores with annual revenue between $1 million and $2 million.

CLN: What's the difference between an affiliate and a member-owner?

NIELSEN: Member-owners purchase stock in SPC. They receive rebates and may serve on our board. They purchase merchandise at a lower price than affiliates.

Affiliates have a lower application fee and they do not have to purchase stock in SPC. They pay 10% higher for imported merchandise than member-owners and do not receive any rebates.

CLN: How often and where do SPC members get together?

NIELSEN: As often as possible! We have two official owners meetings during the year that are dedicated to sharing -- the location varies every time. This year we are going to San Diego in March and Louisville in September. 

Our import show takes place twice per year. In January, it is in Dallas. In June, it is in Portland. The June event also features a vendor table top show that we call "Mixed Media Madness".

We also get together at various tradeshows and vendor showrooms throughout the year, including CHA, ASD. 

When we are not getting together in person, we are sharing through conference calls and publications.

CLN: Are there some intangible benefits?

NIELSEN: As a community, SPC consists of some of the most successful independent retailers in the country. Most of our members have been in business for more than twenty years. Many are second or third generation. I alluded earlier to the importance of sharing in our group. This would not be possible without the immeasurable amount of creative capital that we tap into on a daily basis.

Take owners' meetings for example. It's not always convenient to travel across the country to share ideas for two days. But it is always worthwhile. You never know what the next big idea is or who is going to share it.

CLN: How do interested retailers, especially those attending the CHA show, learn more?

NIELSEN: For the first time, we'll have a booth at CHA: #2648, next to Petersen-Arne. We will also be at the Dallas Gift Market from January 16-21 with a showroom (2F400) and booth (190-220). Stop by for a visit!

Our website is http://www.spc.us or retailers are welcome to call the SPC office at 503-685-161 and talk to me (ext. 304) or Miranda Gould, our Membership Coordinator (ext. 300).



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