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Are We Losing Our Core?

Is the industry abandoning many of the categories under the "craft" umbrella?

by Mike Hartnett (February 21, 2005)

(Note: I wrote this before the CHA show, then decided to wait to see if the show changed my feelings. It did, somewhat, so I added a post-show note.)

In recent years the industry has gone wild over scrapbooking. Beading/jewelrymaking is hot again, currently on the upside of its ongoing up-and-down sales history. And yarn is probably the hottest category of them all – a far cry from the time, not that long ago, when knitting and crochet were for old ladies only.

The industry always has something hot; decoupage, macrame, flowermaking, dollmaking, fabric painting, cross stitch, and wearable art have all had their days in the sun. What appears to be different this time, however, is the industry's rush to cash in on the current money-makers – at the expense of traditional categories, categories that have helped define a "craft" store for decades.

Craft basics, decorative painting, florals, and other seemingly integral departments appear to be languishing. It's often true that departments that aren't hot decline for a while, but this time it seems to be different.

Some manufacturers in the "down" categories are devoting a portion of their product development money to scrapbooking (as if the category needed more vendors), rather than concentrating all of their efforts on their "core competency" that made them successful in the first place.

Retailers have always squeezed departments to make more room for the hot category, but today some retailers are eliminating the slower sellers altogether. A Midwestern independent "craft" retailer with a huge store told CLN the only crafts she now sells are yarn, beads, and memory. The rest of store is devoted to readymade home dec items. Jeffrey Alans, a small regional craft chain (corporate name: Prarie Garden) is evolving the same way, and a long-time, very successful independent in the southeast told CLN his staff is pressuring him to drop other categories altogether. Questions:

1. If years ago retailers had eliminated their yarn departments to make more room for fabric painting and cross stitch, could yarn have rebounded the way it has?

2. I've attended consumer shows in scrapbooking, painting, crafts, cross stitch, etc., and without question the consumers who spent the most money were those at a miniatures show. Where is miniatures today? Can it ever make a comeback if most retailers don't offer even a mini-department?

3. Small independents can remain with a single category (although the thousands of little cross stitch shops that went out of business would disagree), but what do large stores do, if their only crafts are memory, beads, and yarn? Do they turn into imitation Pier I stores?

Meanwhile, Crafts magazine becomes Paper Crafts and CraftWorks becomes Create & Decorate. Michaels Create! stops publication. Television is filled with how-to programs, but virtually none dealing with crafts (in the umbrella sense of the word).

On the other hand, perhaps the industry is simply evolving into something it wasn't a few years ago (just like music and society in general are evolving). Maybe my worry/complaint, "Things aren't what they used to be," is just a sign of age and difficulty adjusting to change. Am I merely beginning to sound like my parents?

But if we abandon so many basic categories and the current hot sellers cool off, where are we?


I've returned from the CHA show and feel somewhat less concerned. The growing emphasis on home dec can be a tremendous boon to "craft" stores. I have more hope now that counted cross stitch and painting will rebound.

But I have an explanation why some exhibitors had a bad show. They offer products in categories x, y, and z that some of the "craft" retailers mentioned above have eliminated. If those retailers had maintained at least a small offering, they probably would have stopped at those booths. But they no longer carry x, y, and z, so they walked past those booths to get to the memory, beads, and yarn companies.

Still, I can't decide: Am I simply not adapting to the evolution of a healthy, growing industry? Or is there cause for concern?

Help me out here. Send me your thoughts, on or off the record. Email your comments, analyses, and disagreements to mike@clnonline.com.

An Interview with HSA's Joyce Perhac.

CLN: How would you describe the state of the sewing industry today?

PERHAC: It’s a very exciting time for the home sewing industry. Like any trade, we have our challenges, but we most certainly have our strengths. One of the core strengths that I see is our power in mass and our power in diversity. As the association representing every facet of the industry, we bring over 800 members together in one forum to promote our mission to "Get People Sewing!" And as we know from some of our research, 35 million American consumers are doing just that.

We’ve witnessed some exciting shifts in this number; more young people are learning to sew and we hear from many sources that more men are starting to sew. The HSA is working hard every day to amplify the message that sewing is fun and easy and anybody can do it. The more we work together – as suppliers, vendors, manufacturers and retailers – the stronger and more successful we will be at winning over new consumers.

CLN: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the industry today?

PERHAC: I believe education is a front burner issue, and it happens to be a top priority for HSA. It is our belief that teaching someone how to sew is just as important as providing a forum for continuing education for sewing professionals. Over the past few years, we have been developing a variety of programs to allow for all levels of educational pursuit.

Our Sew Trendy initiative, designed to engage the younger consumer via a year-long extra- and intra-curricular sewing program in partnership with the Family Career and Community Leaders Association (FCCLA), is in its pilot phase in middle and high schools in four key states. Our feedback from the FCCLA advisers, who are actively involved with students on a day-to-day basis, has been quite enthusiastic. If we teach them well, who knows what can happen?

Over the past two years, we have developed and marketed the Trained Sewing Educator (TSE) program and the Sew Trendy curriculum. The TSE, which launched in eight key cities last fall with an introductory session, will roll out to many more cities and expand to a full, two-day program designed to benefit the teaching professional and ultimately retailers. The program is intended to instruct sewing professionals on important issues, such as how to develop a lesson plan, price teaching services, and market an array of sewing materials. To date, we have trained 464 professionals and anticipate teaching another 500 to 600 in the current year.

CLN: There are now four trade shows (two spring, two fall). How should a prospective exhibitor decide which to support?

PERHAC: In 2004, the HSA was thrilled to announce that we would extend the National Sewing Show (NSS) to a twice-a-year status for our members and other industry businesses. At the March, 2005 NSS, which will be held at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, attendees will find one of the largest collections of buttons, notions , patterns, supplies, equipment and fabrics available under one roof.

Our attendees will also be invited to lectures and seminars providing cutting-edge business information and trend overviews. To date, we’ve been immensely pleased with the response to the roster of speakers we have engaged for the NSS and other HSA sponsored meetings, and believe we will continue to deliver a speaker of the same caliber with Robin Lewis. Robin is the publisher of Robin Reports, a monthly overview of strategic insights in the retailing industry, and former VP and Executive Editor of Women’s Wear Daily, and he will serve as our keynote speaker at the Spring show.

The NSS, under the management of the HSA, debuted a number of new and exciting elements on the trade show floor last fall with the introduction of email kiosks for the convenience of vendors and buyers; the VISIONS style show and the "Store on the Floor," a unique opportunity to see the newest products available at the show displayed in a store-like setting.

(Note: For show information, visit www.sewing.org.)

CLN: What are your goals for HSA?

PERHAC: The HSA has so many goals in our quest to best serve the industry, but if I had to narrow it to a few, I would say educating the trade and the public about the importance of sewing ranks up there. The good news is that we are making significant strides in this area via our educational outreach initiatives like Sew Trendy and the TSE program and we are going to keep on moving ahead.

The HSA also heartily endeavors to serve as a significant resource for lifestyle and global trends, an informational source, and a sewing and special market authority. We are making significant progress on this front as well. We continue to deliver on a dynamic roster of speakers; it thrills us to provide a forum of professional presentations that help our members consider their businesses in new and different ways.

Our web site, www.sewing.org, is rich with information and we continually deliver trend and lifestyle information and ways of making the art of sewing new and fun.

We will also be launching the inaugural issue of HSA Connections, a quarterly newsletter which will be full of concise and important information and tips for the busy trade professional and serve as a way of keeping our members connected.

In the coming months, we also plan to capitalize on our incredible success as an authority on the subject of Halloween. As you probably know, each year, the HSA crafts the list of "Top Ten Halloween Themes," which gets picked up in publications all over the country. We are looking to bring that same level of expertise to the niche markets of prom and bridal.

CLN: The staff at Sew News used to say that women sew clothing for the 3 F's – "Fun, Fit, and Fashion," rather than to save money. Is that accurate?

PERHAC: We promote the same message at the HSA. I particularly like the use of the word "fit," as our association promotes that word with both meanings. First, by sewing and tailoring an item, you will get a perfect fit. Second, we continually remind consumers about the positive and rewarding effects of sewing, which include a sense of accomplishment and a decreased heart rate.

The issue of "fit" is certainly a strong part of our message. But I encourage all of you to remember that we are your association and we welcome your feedback. Please feel free to email me at jperhac@sewing.org.

(Note: To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the headlines in the right-hand column.)



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