The industry as seen by top designers.
Too Many Patterns!
Basic economics: a glut of anything lowers the
price and the perceived value.
by Name Withheld (September 18, 2006)
(Note: CLN received this note from needlework veteran
Wheat Carr: "The following was written by an extremely savvy
shop owner with an unusually solid business background outside the
craft industry. It has been forwarded to several designer groups,
bUT I think it might be good content for CLN readers as well.
"It does not matter that he wrote in relation to yarn
shops," Wheat added, "because if you don't think other
needlearts, sewing and quilt shops are not in a similar dilemma,
well, the kindest way I can think of to put it is you just have not
been paying attention to the business side of your chosen career
path. Every business that offers non-essential goods and services
needs to be aware of today's business environment.
This gentleman was responding to something written about the
importance of all segments of the industry to work together if we
are to go forward and prosper. His name is withheld to avoid the
inevitable shooting of the messenger when the message is painful. I
have blanket permission to post it ANYWHERE designers might read
From the shop owner.
There is no doubt that designers should be paid for their work.
However, it is a truism in economics that a glut of anything brings
down not only the immediate price, but the perceived value as well.
With hundreds of designers writing patterns, distributors giving
them away, magazines soliciting freebies from more new designers,
shops using Sweater Wizard to create on-the-fly "custom"
patterns, etc., etc., a glut is truly what we have.
Note that I am not saying ANYTHING about the QUALITY of the
patterns: most of our clients do not have the ability to discern the
relative worth of a pattern, and it is THEIR perception of a glut
that is important. I'm also NOT saying that any ONE of these are
"THE REASON" why things are tough in the pattern business;
on the contrary, it is only the COMBINATION OF ALL OF THEM that is
causing the problem.
Let me say this again: THERE ARE TOO MANY PATTERNS AVAILABLE TO
THE AVERAGE CONSUMER FOR US TO BE ABLE TO MAKE THE PUBLIC BELIEVE
THAT THEY HAVE A HIGH INTRINSIC VALUE. Another way to say this is,
Most customers believe that a pattern is not a thing of much value,
because they are so readily available.
One way around this is to be so completely different as to remove
yourself from the perception that you are part of the glut. As far
as I can tell, there are only a limited number of designers who are
Sui Generis, that is, in a class by themselves. Again, this is
REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU THINK OF THE QUALITY OF THEIR PATTERNS.
Another way is to make the object(s) appear scarce, like diamonds
(the price of diamonds is kept artificially high by a cartel). I
don't think we can do this with patterns, but maybe someone else has
Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the pattern bubble is
bursting, just like it did 5 or 10 years ago with counted thread and
before that with cross-stitch. It is unreasonable to expect the
marketplace to support an unlimited number of designers in the
lifestyle to which they would like to become accustomed.
So, what's a store owner to do? The only answer I have is to
prune diligently. Every business has items they buy that the
consumer won't. Find the 200-300 patterns you love and sell
regularly and stock those. The next 200 or so, buy one each if you
can, or let the designer know why you can't carry her line. IT IS
NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT EVERY DESIGNER MAKES A
LIVING. It is the height of fiscal irresponsibility to deliberately
carry items that don't sell, just 'cause you like them. AND WE ALL
DO THIS, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER.
For future consideration, if the designers want to create a
system for us to use, that works better for both of us, I'm all for
it. I will help in any way I can, except to compromise my store's
future by buying patterns I can't sell at prices that the public
won't pay. ($7.50-10.00 WHOLESALE???)
Now, how do we work with patterns that help sell the yarns we
stock? I think the answer is that distributors and designers need to
work more closely to provide patterns in the yarns being introduced.
Those designers will get shelf space. Designers who bring something
really different to the table will also get shelf space. I don't
really need or want 13 subtly different bottom-up cardigans,
followed by 11 nearly identical pullovers (speaking for myself.
Maybe you really want that much choice. In that case, read The
Paradox of Choice and rethink your strategy.) I know many
distributors have their own patterns, but they also need to work
with outside designers to bring different patterns to market.
Another possibility is for designers to re-shoot older designs in
new yarns. (Please, I'm a knitter, too. And I write a pattern every
now and again. Don't start in on me about how much time and money it
takes. I really do know. My question is, do you want to sell the
pattern? Yes? Then why should I be the only one to re- knit it in
new yarns/colors every year? If you've got a pattern that sells,
invest some more time into it and it will continue to sell.)
(Note: To comment on the retailer's thoughts, email CLN
at firstname.lastname@example.org. To
read previous "Designer" articles, click on the titles in
the right-hand column.)