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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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The New Craft Consumer

Where is she? All around us.

By CLN Subscribers (July 17, 2006)

(Note: In the 7/3/06 issue of CLN the Commentary included the following: "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. 2. 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." 3. She doesn't want to make the same project in the same way as everyone else. She wants to make something unique. The question is, how many of these new consumers are out there?" Here are some answers from readers.)

She's right here, right now.

Regarding your commentary: The "smiling bunny" syndrome went away a long time ago, and not just with young consumers. When it comes to following the rules and making a project exactly like the model, other than cardmaking classes, I can't remember the last class I sold that did not give participants choices.

Tech may be taking over, but because we do live in tech world, people who craft appear to be looking for an avenue of self expression. Most of my classes (again excluding cards) have become workshops. I provide an assortment of materials and make one or two models showing the same basic project with different colors /themes and provide technique instructions and suggestions during the workshop. These workshops sell out every time. One of my associates creates the cutest little memory books ever; her classes were rarely full until she added "you pick your theme" to the class description. Now she's turning people away.

My favorite is the Alter It workshop we offer once per month. At the moment, I have quite a waiting list. Were I in the store more often, I could offer two per month and still have a waiting list. And get this: the average age of my participants (including those waiting for space) is 65- 70 (although the group includes 30's and 40's as well), and all but one of them are quite computer-savvy, thank you very much!

In traveling the state and talking with store owners and instructors, this actually seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Assuming that the consumer you discuss is young seems inaccurate. Seniors have time, often have disposable income, are fascinated by technology, spend much of their time learning to use it, and love to craft. Women between 35 and retirement are looking for avenues wherein they can express themselves without the confining structures of their careers.

I will grant you that much of rural Arizona's economy is based on the huge influx of snowbirds we see every winter, so my observations may be skewed. On the other hand, I know that un-constructed classes and projects are selling across the board (beads, yarn, wood working, etc.), so it would be my guess that this applies nationwide and to most age and gender groups as well.

I have found; in my little neck of the woods, that projects which combine tech with traditional materials are very popular. An example is to use computer-generated transparencies to insert into cards for sentiments, or to create transparent foregrounds in other projects (we sell transparency sheets by the ream these days).

It seems to me that if we are not catering to your "new consumer," we are completely missing the boat. Trish Hansen, MoonSong Design

New stores for new (and old) customers.

You bring up some good points about the new consumer and I think raise some good questions. She may not be our core customer yet, but even our core customers are beginning to be more like her. Shops and manufacturers who remain unaware of this consumer risk, I think, on losing out on the new revolution in crafts.

I'll talk about my own industry. Recently I've been working with three folks in different parts of the country who are opening or expanding their shops. All three are firm in wanting a new look to their needlepoint shops; they don't want "old lady needlepoint." To them, this looks fussy and frumpy.

To tell you the truth, they're right.

But a store doesn't need to go far to change into a store appealing to the new consumer, nor do they have to go far to turn into a place where old needlepoint goes to die. In fact I see the same canvases in both kinds of shops.

So how does a fresh, not-boring canvas become boring once it goes into the shop?

The shop which appeals to the new consumer is bright, with lots of white and modern, fresh colors. A store I visited recently had white walls with orange and lime accents. Not my favorite colors, but it looked great and made you want to stay.

The stuffy store has colors which such out color. Bright lights make it easier for our aging core customer to see. If there is only track lighting or directional light, that customer may not come in because she can't see to walk around.

The new customer wants a homey atmosphere with real furniture. One store I visited had a couch (with needlepoint pillows) and a bookshelf (with needlepoint books to look at, not all for sale), and a coffee table. I could sit and relax while my friend checked out. The stuffy store has no chairs or a table reserved for the stitching friends of the owner. Our core customers will appreciate the thoughtfulness of the seating.

Information at the new store is readily available. Yyou know how much the thread will cost; it's there in readable type right by the thread. The stuffy store has no prices on any thread: you pick your thread and the clerk consults a chart to ring up the prices. Big friendly type is appealing to the new customer and readable to the core customer.

The entire inventory isn't on the walls. An edited selection is presented so I can get an idea of what is there. The rest of the canvases are easily accessible and within reach. The new consumer gets turned on by craft displayed like art. It appeals to the High Touch luxury idea. The core customer might not be able to reach the higher canvas, and she may get too much graphic "noise" from too many canvases to make a decision.

There is space in the store. The new consumer likes that she can walk around and see things. The core customer is happy there is space to move with her tote bag.

Help is readily available from both customers and workers. Crafts are communal activities. We should share ideas and projects with others. The new consumer is happy to be welcomed into the group, as this is part of why she is looking at crafts. The core customer gets turned off by exclusivity or by a shop owner who isn't pleased with the work of her customers.

I was in a shop once where the shop owner got mad at me, a regular customer, because I told another customer where in town to get an item she needed which the shop didn't, wouldn't, and never had sold. I felt like the owner got mad because I was telling her where to get gas or a doughnut!

Looking at this I find it tremendously interesting that I haven't talked about canvases, and that the things which make the store appealing to the new consumer also make it appealing to the core customer..

My feeling about shops who don't change to attract these customers either don't have a clue how badly their store turn off existing and potential customers, or they just don't care. In either case, when a new store comes into town which appeals to the new and the old, those stores will start having problems. Janet Perry, Napa Needlepoint, www.napaneedlepoint.com

Tech savvy: an understatrment.

Tech-savvy young people? Here are my children: 1. The 24-year-old will not leave home without the following: his i-Pod, PS2, cell phone /camera/ video unit. (Oddly, as a screen writer he prefers paper and twenty-five cent pencils to his laptop.) 2. The ten year old will not leave home without the following: His Nintendo DS or Xbox. (His mother refuses to buy him a cell phone or an iPod; he is too young.) 3. The seven-year-old will not leave home without feeding and walking her Nintend Dogs (hand-held dog game for Nintendo DS) and kissing the real dog good bye.

Tech savvy? How about tech addicts? Ann Krier, Crafter Studio, www.designoneworld.com.

New consumer, new types of designs.

I just read, (and always read) your newsletter of July 3rd, and was almost jumping out of my seat while I was reading about the "new consumer"!

"Thank goodness" is all I can say. For an industry that is based on creating and thus theoretically based on creativity I have seen very little of it. I naively entered into a scene that I thought would celebrate things that were different, approaches that were unique, visions that might make us ponder and move to new places.

I think that the industry has done a disservice to the consumer ("smiling bunnies") by dumbing down projects, not encouraging consumers to use their own minds, squelching self trust, and confidence, and reinforcing the ever present inner critic.

So I find it very encouraging that "doing your own thing" is an issue that the "industry" might be ready to look at and embrace, not only as a way of making money, but as a way to encourage and teach crafters to trust their own visions. It does seem like there is a movement afoot in this direction and I couldn't be more thrilled!

We have always encouraged our students to think of ways to shift the task in front of them. Offering a variety of ways to approach a problem. By nurturing this style of creating objects, I think that we build up the confidence to apply free thinking to all areas of our lives. Tracy Stilwell, Artgirlz, www.artgirls.com

Editor's note.

I have ranted periodically about the "smiling bunny syndrome" for years. My complaint wasn't the excessively cute designs themselves, but that the industry seemed to focus almost exclusively on them. The reaction from frustrated designers was universal: "Don't blame us! This is what the manufacturers insist upon!" Mike Hartnett

(Note: To comment on the consumer of the 21st century, email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com. To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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