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Was It Good Advice ... Or Not?

Readers disagree, vehemently.

by CLN Subscribers, (September 18, 2006)

(Note: In the 9/4 issue, CLN published litany of complaints, scolding, and advice to the retailers, vendors, designers, and the entire industry. The author, a scrapbook/paper designer with an MBA, knowing she would be stepping on some sensitive toes, and asked that her name be withheld. The original pieces are still online at "Benny Da Buyer," Vinny "Da Vendor," Designing Perspectives, and in the 9/4 issue (see CLN Archives). What follows are edited comments from an avalanche of responses.)

The positive comments.

1. "Your MBA/Designer said all the things that need to be said and did it well! Kudos to her for writing and kudos to you for publishing. Now if only vendors and store owners would get off their collective butts and get to work!" Ė Sales Rep

2. "The article had lots of 'I wish I wrote that,' combined with 'and they say I take no Prisoners.' Whoever did write it, tell her she hase someone wanting to start her fan club." Ė Wheat Carr, Wandering Wolf

3. "Thanks for printing the e-mail that 'told it like it was." I sometimes think the scrapbooking side of the industry has become like the emperor's new clothes: no one is willing to tell it like it really is. The great thing is, because we are a creative industry, we will continue to roll along, ever changing with the times." - Manufacturer

The other side.

An MBA is not always one that lives in the real world. I happen to know that this "advice" is absurd for a number of "educated" and "real world" reasons.

Stores Ė all stores -- exist for the masses, to sell things. In the real world, a jar of Ranger Platinum UTEE is not going to be a best seller, which is exactly why it is not on the shelf ! It is about money and only money. And if selling your company nets you more than selling your "stuff", then you SHOULD be selling your company, it makes practical business sense.

People don't start businesses to be nice. They start them to make money.

Regarding the MBA's scrapbooking diva designer thing, what real designer acts like that? She confuses private work with commercial work and confuses a professional designer with a published scrapbooker.

Does the new CEO of Pepsi have her children appear on TV telling the truth, "Hey, we like Coke better, but buy Pepsi"? Or does she have the marketing team research, an ad agency write and pay an actor/actress to place a spin on the drink, "Dude, got your Pepsi?" Double Duh!

Commercial, creative design work is no different. In my own scrapbooks, of course my children are wearing spaghetti; having a hissy fit, or sticking their tongue out at me. Why? because that is our private scrapbook Ė our families memories. I wouldn't sell those for thousands of dollars, and no fit mother would embarrass her children or family to make a buck. The reality of scrapbooking is people who are not paid to design, or have the same layouts or pictures as I do; their families history and special memories which are NOT fit to publish Ė they are just not commercial enough Ė but are no less a memory. This is the difference between a professional designer and an unprofessional designer - knowing when to be what to whom and how to communicate it to the masses.

(Note: The issue of privacy and what's appropriate to publish is addressed in Kate's Collage.)

Highly successful designers are the ones with talent and the majority of the work. Are we all Tim Holtz? NO, why would we want to be? Who the heck wants to have to go to every trade show in the industry, sit on her behind, and demo all day long? Talk about tough work.

We each have a niche; some of us are even "not well known" but we are paid as well as Tim Holtz. We don't whine, point fingers or act like babies because we were business inept. You get what you deserve and our clients get what they pay for. Get paid nothing? Well then, perhaps there is a message there. Someone taking your jobs? It isn't necessarily because they are cheaper; take a hard look at what you do: is it good enough? Are you tuned into the market enough?

Those hundreds of "designers" in the scrapbooking field are getting on the nerves of the rest of us. A professional designer provides a multitude of valuable services. When a bunch of stay-at-home moms get out the fancy paper and glue pictures of their kids to it Ė they become designers? Please.

How can this possibly be compared to the skills required to knit and produce a pattern or technical instructions for an original sweater, or the time and original work that goes into any quilt? Those are real skills Ė a craft, if you will Ė skills that will endure the test of time REGARDLESS of the medium.

A well educated MBA knows that there are a number of things that influence a shopping experience. I personally appreciate not having to run to the store and use the Internet profusely for purchases. For me, going to the craft store is the same as grocery shopping Ė did I mention I hate to cook?

No doubt you will get a thousand replies to this short sighted scolding. My advise is simple: look to the REAL WORLD for answers. Scrapbooking is gonna fall off; it is getting to the point of saturation, and if I was a smart business owner, I would be trying to sell it off BEFORE it falls off. Ė Ann Krier, Crafterstudio, a division of Design One World, Inc.

From a storeowner.

As a retail store owner, I do not usually have time to reply to articles. However, I felt this article needed a reply from someone on the front lines, not just a disgruntled, unrealistic consumer/designer. (The author quotes from the original article, and then answers.)

"On-the-spot demos. A customer walks into the store and says, "Oh, Iíd love to learn how to do that." If itís quick and easy, pull out the stuff and show them. Great example is "Ink It" in Gilbert AZ. I walked in, she showed me how, I spent $182 on the spot Ė and definitely had not planned to do that! I just said, "Sell me everything I need to make that" after she did the demo."

This idea should be filed under the "Nice Idea, But Not Realistic" category. In my experience, if you have time to stop and demonstrate to one customer, your store is already in trouble because you donít have enough customers in the store.

Recently, my aunt, a lifelong crafter and very big spender, made the same suggestion when she started helping out in our store. She took it upon herself to try this out for about two weeks. We did find that sales increased slightly during this period of time. However, when I calculated the extra man-hours this required, it was not a large enough increase to cover the added labor expense. We scrapped the idea of on-the-spot demonstrations, instead choosing to have scheduled demo days at least once per week.

"Classes. Can you ever have enough? Have a cadre of instructors and let them keep 100% of the class proceeds. Give them 10% of the sales from anyone in the class (use coupons to track). Your profit will grow with repeat customers who will return to the store over and over."

I would love to hear advice from other store owners on compensation of instructors. We have found that classes taught by our staff can be great revenue generators, but have not had such luck with contract instructors. Our contract instructors do not seem to understand that they can not use products we donít carry. We have five regular contract instructors. We provide all of the product for samples and for the class kits. Instructors receive 50% of the class fee and a 10% commission on sales made by class attendees that day. We give our instructors free reign to use anything in the store they would like to develop classes, and yet they still use products we donít carry on a regular basis. As a result, sales are significantly lower after these classes (Usually about half). Definitely not worthy of receiving 100% of the class fees!

"Never argue with the customer or tell them to buy something else. I was just in a store looking for something and the clerk suggested numerous items as a replacement. She had no idea that I am a seasoned artist and was looking for a single, specific item. She irritated the heck out of me. I probably wonít go back!"

Would it have been so difficult to let the sales clerk politely know that you were a designer looking for a specific product? There have been many times that consumers have come in looking for a specific product they saw on a craft show or in magazine ad that we did not carry, but have a perfectly suitable replacement for. An example would be Diamond Glaze; Glossy Accents from Ranger is a comparable substitute. I would consider this good customer service. Some of our most loyal customers are the ones who came in looking for something we didnít carry.

"Stock items that cannot be found at Michaels, Jo-Ann's, Hobby Lobby, etc. I shop a lot online because no one stocks what I really want."

Look at the list of vendors at any CHA show in the paper crafting category and you can easily see why an independent store cannot have everything you want. There is just too much product out there. I showed the intro of this article to a couple of our regular customers, stamping enthusiasts who spend over $1,000 a year in our store. Their response to your journey to find Platinum UTEE was, "They make platinum?"

In my experience, designer and craft enthusiasts cannot be pleased with the product in one store or two or three or four. Store owners would all have to be committed for insanity if they tried to please this branch of consumer. All you can do is try to keep up with the trends and be the first to carry hot new products from vendors you are known to carry.

For instance, my avid stampers appreciate the fact that I always purchase any new Tsukineko, Hero Arts, or Ranger Products. I donít necessarily keep reordering these new releases, but they can count on me to have them. I canít compete with the endless selection of products on the Internet, so I just had to decide who I was and stick with it. Because of this, our customers forgave me for not knowing what a castaway pad was and one even brought me an article about it. Iím a Tsukineko store; thatís who I am. I may bring in other ink from time to time, but I canít carry them all. (I wish I could.)

"How do you know what customers want? How about asking them when they walk through the door? If that clerk had simply said, "we donít have it, but we will be happy to order it for you. Can we call you when it comes in?" I would have been a loyal customer for life!!! Especially if she called me with the product within a week or two!"

This is a scary thought! We already stock over 150 vendors in our 3,000 square-foot store. Special orders can drive a store owner out of business if you are not very careful. Most vendors will not allow you to order just one of something, plus you have to have a minimum order. It would have made no sense for the store owner to spend $150 to sell a $10 product unless an order was going to be placed anyway. We only place special orders with our distributors that we order from weekly.

Another fact that we have discovered in our limited three-year history is that by the time someone asks for a product, it' too late to order it. The consumer will have already purchased it in another store, made a substitution, or changed her mind.

Scrapbook consumers are especially finicky. I may get several requests for a specific Basic Grey line one week, but by the time I can place and receive an order for the line, itís old news. Those same consumers want the new Bohemian line instead. Itís like the stock market, if you try to time it, you might win a couple of times, but the odds are against you in the end.

Again, I canít say this enough: you have to decide what your identity is and stick with it. We all know what to expect from Target and we keep going back, even if they donít have what we want this week. We know their style. A paper crafting store has to find the right style for their neighborhood and demographic to be successful.

Well, I could keep going all night with my commentary, but I have a business, three kids and a husband who all want my attention now. By the way, I own a Paper Crafting and Custom Invitation store in Fresno, California. We just celebrated our third anniversary. The first two years were phenomenal, but this year has been a bit more challenging. Fortunately, our custom invitation business is growing enough to fill the gap. I am a life-long crafter, but was not a paper crafter before opening the store. My husband and I started this as a business venture, not a hobby. We are both IT professionals. My specialty is data analysis and inventory management. The store requires every bit of knowledge I have gained from every job Iíve ever held. It is a great challenge and I hope to succeed! Ė Jennifer Avedian, The Paper Crafter

(Note: To comment on any of the above, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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