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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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An Eyewitness Report on the Jewelry Phenomenon, Pt. I

The ongoing saga of a new enthusiast.

by Mike Hartnett, (October 2, 2006)

In the last 18 months Barbara Hartnett, 59, has been transformed from a life-long non-crafter into a jewelry-maker who has spent approximately $10,000 on our industry's products. What follows is Part I of the her transformation and its consequences for the industry.

First, a little background: Ever since I entered the industry as Assistant Editor of Profitable Craft Merchandising in 1979, I realized if the industry was going to grow we needed to attract people like Barbara.

Barbara is bright, articulate, educated, and most important to the industry loves to shop. Back then she was a Professor of Psychology at Illinois Central College. She had earned a doctorate in Adult Education, but no one had ever taught her to knit, paint, or craft in any way, and one of the pitfalls of our educational system is that subconsciously you learn that if you haven't been taught how do to something, you can't do it. Because Barbara was never taught a craft, she assumed she couldn't.

So Barbara never entered a craft store or walked down the craft aisle until I started working at PCM. I quickly realized how easy many crafts were, and that anyone could create and successfully complete a wide variety of projects.

So, for more than 25 years, I dragged Barbara into craft stores to see what caught her eye and piqued her interest. Nothing. Sometimes a technique would attract her, but there were no designs that appealed to her. Or a lack of classes, or lousy customer service, would turn her off.

Periodically I would write a column, "Why Barbara Doesn't Craft," detailing her frustrating experiences in our stores independents and chains alike. At least two retailers I know saved those columns, and when they were planning to make changes in their stores, they would pull out those columns and ask themselves, "Do you think Barbara would like this?"

What Barbara does like is fashion. To say she is a clothes horse is, uh, an understatement. So looking back, it makes sense that she was intrigued by jewelrymaking.

Then about 18 months ago a friend taught an informal beading class. Barbara liked it, and then took a class at a small independent bead shop in the area. A third class occurred when she and I attended a CHA board of directors meeting. The meetings are held on weekends and often there are activities planned for spouses. At this meeting, Shirley Ferguson, who operates a great Ben Franklin store in Redmond, WA with her husband Bob, taught a jewelrymaking class to the spouses while Bob and I and the rest of the board were meeting.

Barbara was hooked.

She bought supplies from nearby stores the bead shop where she had taken her second class, Hobby Lobby, and Michaels. Soon she had transformed a junk room in the basement into the bead room.

Then one day I was talking on the phone to Linda Augsburg, an editor at Kalmbach, a Milwaukee-area company which publishes two bead magazines. I mentioned we would be going to Milwaukee shortly for a family reunion, and Linda invited us to attend the 2005 Bead & Button show that same weekend.

We went to the show and were blown away. There were hundreds of classes and more than 16,000 attendees, all spending money like crazy. What was equally surprising to me was the exhibitors. There were hundreds, and although I had been in the industry for 27 years, I had never heard of the vast majority of them.

Barbara spent more than $2,000 on beads. (I told you she loves to shop.) I bumped into a CLN subscriber who had recently opened a store in Green Bay, WI who told me she had bought her entire opening bead inventory $10,000 worth at the show the previous year.

We returned home and that's when I started writing in CLN that the bead trend was far greater than I had realized, but much of the trend was bypassing our stores.

Why now?

One surprise to both of us was the positive effect jewelrymaking has had on Barbara's health. She has a very high stress job. She had taken early retirement as an administrator and professor of psychology at the local community college and is now executive director of Friendship House, a United Way agency working with the poor in Peoria, IL.

Actually, saying her job is stressful is an understatement. Friendship House is in a nasty neighborhood: there have been two murders on Friendship House property in the past two years. (How would you like to go to work on Monday morning and discover at the back door the chalk outline of a body?) Barbara quickly learned that one of her responsibilities was to shoo away the prostitutes from the corner before the little kids came for their after-school program.

The needs keep growing, and there isn't nearly enough money. In the last five years the attendance at the soup kitchen has tripled, but the donations have not. The roof leaks badly, and there's no money to fix it.

But it was the personal stories that often had Barbara coming home in tears: When the little kids wanted to start a neighborhood clean-up program, Friendship House had to buy rubber gloves for them and warn them not to touch the hypodermic needles in the alley. In Barbara's first week on the job, an old woman came crying into Barbara's office. She had outlived her family and subsisted on a very small social security check. Now the city was evicting her from her tiny apartment because the slum landlord hadn't paid the water bill. There but for fortune....

If ever Barbara needed stress relief, now was the time. And jewelrymaking provided it for her. Barbara could go into her bead room and lose herself and her worries for hours at a time, then come upstairs proud, happy, and relaxed.

But it didn't take long before Barbara realized she couldn't possibly wear all of the jewelry she was making, and every woman on our Christmas list was now taken care of. "Maybe I better start selling," Barbara thought to herself.

"Oh Honey? Could you come here a minute? I have an idea...."

(Note: In Part II, I'll report on our efforts to sell Barbara's jewelry.)



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