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The trends, the issues, and productive business strategies.

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An Interview with Sue DiFranco

Candid talk on the state and future of scrapbooking.

by Mike Hartnett

CLN: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing scrapbook vendors and retailers in the new year?

DiFranco: The growing number of new businesses opening, and existing businesses in a related field now marketing to the scrapbooking industry. For vendors, this means companies in fields such as paper/stationery, embellishments, adhesives, and even corporations like HP, Epson, and Polaroid, are realizing that their products could also fit into the scrapbooking industry.

For independent retailers, it's the chain stores (Archiver's, ReCollections), as well as the other large retailers who are adding more space to scrapbook supplies (Target, Jo-Ann's, Wal-Mart, etc.).

The growing number of vendors means an increase in products, which already is a major challenge to many independent retailers. There's just too much product out there, and many retailers are having a tough time keeping up. With the fairly limited budget that many scrapbook retailers have, as well as fairly limited space, they can't possibly stock everything that's available, so they need to decide in what products to invest. Inevitably, customers will come in and ask for products that they saw in the latest scrapbook magazines, products that the retailer does not carry. In many cases, the customer simply seeks another venue to obtain the product.

Another challenge to both vendors and retailers is the fact that the trends change quickly; scrapbooking is one of the fastest changing industries I have ever seen. And consumers are constantly demanding new products. The vendors always need to stay one step ahead (and smaller manufacturers need to stay ten steps ahead, to be prepared when the larger manufacturer takes their product idea, have it mass-merchandised overseas, and rolls out an expensive marketing campaign). And of course the retailers also have to be constantly keeping up with what their customers want (the latest trends), while at the same time trying to move out old product from the last trend that's still sitting on the shelf.

CLN: In general, do you see scrapbooking continue to grow? Why or why not?

DiFranco: I do see it continuing to grow, at least for the next several years. Scrapbook enthusiasts are loyal to this hobby, and many continue to purchase product even if they don't use it (known as "hoarders" in scrap-speak). At the same time, more people continue to be introduced to scrapbooking, both in the U.S. and around the world. New markets are emerging as there are a growing number of diverse groups discovering scrapbooking (More on that below).

And of course, the reasons why people embraced this hobby in the first place are some of the reasons why it will continue to stay popular. It provides the mainly (at present time) women scrapbook enthusiasts both a "guilt-free" activity (the expense and time justified because the albums are ultimately for friends and family) and a chance to socialize and build relationships

(the reason why crops, retreats, conventions and other events are so popular).

I also think that spin-off professions will continue to develop from the scrapbooking industry, such as custom album design service. Many people like the look of scrapbooks and would prefer to have their photos organized into albums, but don't have the time, knowledge, or interest to do it themselves.

Professional scrapbook artists provide this service for them, so products continue to be purchased for people who otherwise would not have been consumers.

CLN: At first, scrapbooking was thriving in the West/Northwest and almost unheard-of in the East/Southeast. Based on your extensive retailer contacts, is the business still at different levels nationwide?

DiFranco: Although the East has been quickly catching up, the business is still at different levels across the U.S. It continues to be more dominant in the West/Northwest, with some areas over-saturated with stores.

Proof of the East coast's growing awareness of scrapbooking is the success of the 2003 Memories Expo show in New Jersey (which I believe almost doubled in size from the previous year's show), as well as the number of expos/conventions now being held in that area, particularly Creating Keepsakes University. The organizers of this incredibly popular event held one of their events in Connecticut in 2003, with a Boston location planned for 2004.

However, there are still many untapped areas in the East, particularly some parts of New England. One small retailer I know of in Rhode Island has a tough time because the limited number of people who do scrapbook in the area learned about it through Creative Memories and won't experiment with any other products.

Also, there are no scrapbooking stores in Manhattan (where I live) yet, and most people we talk to here have never even heard of scrapbooking! The closest thing we have is Kate's Paperie, a high-end stationery store that also carries some scrapbook supplies (and offers a 90-minute scrapbooking class for $60!). There are a handful of people I know in the city who do scrapbook, and they purchase their products at the closest stores (in Staten Island, Long Island, and in New Jersey), as well as online. I suspect that the outrageously high rent is the reason behind the lack of stores in the city although if all classes were $60, rent payment may be a bit more achievable.

CLN: Are we reaching a point (or have reached it) where there are too many vendors and retailers dividing up the scrapbook pie?

DiFranco: Absolutely! We have definitely reached that point, for both vendors and retailers. As I said earlier, more and more vendors are joining the industry every day. How many different paper and/or cardstock companies do we need to choose from? What about eyelet manufacturers (who, by the way, I hope are planning their next move for when the eyelet trend becomes yesterday's scraps)?

And smaller manufacturers trying to enter the industry are having a tough time competing. They need to get the word out to retailers, but can't afford the advertising costs in some of the more popular scrapbook consumer magazines. Sure, they can (and do) use alternative forms of marketing, but unless their product is truly unique and original, the larger manufacturers of similar products will probably receive more business.

There are too many retailers, especially in certain areas; we've seen the fallout from this over the past couple of years, but mostly in the past year. Stores have been closing down at what seems to me an increasing rate lately, especially in highly saturated areas such as the Dallas-Fort Worth area (recently packed with almost 30 independents, plus the arrival of two ReCollections).

Several stores have closed there in the past year, including Scrappy's, a highly reputable store with two locations that opened in 1998. The announcement that the stores were closing was a particularly hard blow to others in the industry if a long-standing store who was by all accounts successful and doing everything right can close, what does that mean for other "newbie" retailers?

Stores will continue to close, guaranteed. Many factors come into play, such as:

1. Competition from other local independent stores. Do you have any idea how many scrapbook enthusiasts decide to open a store "because they love to scrapbook" in an area already populated by several other stores? "But my store will be different/better," they insist. Doesn't matter. If customers have the choice, many will shop around and not buy all their supplies at one certain store (no matter how great the customer service is, unfortunately).

Eventually, something's got to give, and some stores are forced to close.

2. Competition from other sources craft chain stores, discount department stores, and online retailers.

3. Competition from the scrapbooking chain stores. The existence of Archiver's and Michaels-owned ReCollections, who have each recently said they plan on opening 200-300 or more locations in the future, has many independent retailers worried. And they should be.

Again, consumers will probably continue to shop at their favorite store when the chain comes into town, but unless they are diehard loyal customers, they'll probably shop the chain too. This again divides the scrapbooking pie. And the chain stores, who unlike many independent scrapbook retailers are businesspeople first (whereas many retailers are scrapbookers first, businesspeople second), plan their locations where scrapbooking is already established (i.e., near established independent stores). Current retailers should take a good look at the demographics of the areas where these chains are located and plan to open, and compare it to their own demographics.

4. Too much product. As I said earlier, there's so much product now available, many smaller retailers simply can't purchase it all. And because the trends change so quickly, the products they do purchase sometimes end up sitting on the shelf when the trend is over.

I would be very wary of advising anyone to open an independent scrapbook store right now, unless they had buckets-full of money, and even then, I'm not sure. And for current retailers who are faced with potentially closing or selling the store, if it's feasible and the idea is at all appealing to them, I would do it. There are so many other areas of the scrapbook industry

in which to be involved, including custom scrapbook design, and retailers may find themselves happier with their new career in the industry. I believe we're going to see a lot of major changes in the retail scrapbook world over the next year or so.

CLN: Has the embellishment trend peaked? Still growing?

DiFranco: I think it's still growing, although I believe it should reach its peak soon. People love to put stuff on their pages! And the more they see incredibly embellished layouts in the consumer magazines, the more many of them want to use embellishments on their own pages.

The relatively new popularity of ephemera and antique-style embellishments, which stemmed from the altered books craft, added even more items to glue onto scrapbook pages.

However, I am predicting a backlash happening soon. We've already seen hints of it on message boards; many scrapbookers simply don't like "lumpy pages," and prefer simple, more streamlined layouts. And there are generally two groups of scrapbookers: "creative" and "archival." Many who scrapbook because they want their memories to last for years stay away from anything that isn't of archival quality (such as many of the embellishments).

The more complex and embellished layouts in the magazines intimidate many readers, and I believe they may make a conscious switch back to "simple" pages, where all that really matters is the photos and the journaling ("retro" scrapbooking, if you will, going back to the early '90s). Also, the cost of embellishments is a prohibiting factor; when a layout ends up costing $10 or more in supplies to make, how many layouts will be made until the scrapbooker is broke?

Of course, there will still be lumpy-page lovers, and that's good because it will keep the embellishment manufacturers in business!

CLN: Is there a danger for retailers to specialize in just scrapbooking? Should they expand their inventory to include other categories, such as cardmaking, stamping, and framing (keeping in mind, they only have so much room)?

DiFranco: I definitely think they should expand their inventory into cardmaking and other paper crafts, as many scrapbookers are already using their scrapbook supplies for other paper crafts. Cardmaking is popular because it's a way of sharing your artwork and creativity with others (who may not necessarily see your scrapbooks).

If the retailer has the space, it may be a good idea to add these supplies, as well as coordinate existing inventory into a cardmaking area of the store, and promote it through classes, flyers, signage, and idea books.

Stamping is trickier. I know some retailers who have had great success selling both scrapbooking and stamping supplies, while others just couldn't get the stamping end going.

CLN: What effect will digital photography have on scrapbooking?

DiFranco: It has already begun to have a strong effect. As for digital photography, I don't know the exact statistics, but I do know many scrapbookers have made the switch to digital and love it. Digital scrapbooking (creating the layouts using graphics software and using either digital or scanned regular prints) is also catching on and becoming quite popular. However, traditional scrapbooking will always be around, and will probably always be more popular.

People who discover digital scrapbooking, and realize how relatively easy it is, fall in love with it. The benefits are great: the ability to manipulate images any way you want; "create" your own patterned paper, stickers, and embellishments; and save the results on CD and be able to reprint if and when the ink fades 50 years from now.

Many new manufacturers are offering products for the digital scrapbooker, such as CD-ROMs with graphics and layouts, and larger manufacturers in the digital industry are seeing this opening market and focusing on it, such as Epson and Adobe. I think digital scrapbooking will continue to grow over the next year and emerge as one of the "trends" of 2004.

CLN: Do you see any other new trends on the horizon?

DiFranco: The biggest new trend I see is the increasing diversity of scrapbook enthusiasts emerging, which in turn will lead to more diversified product selection. My husband and partner, Michael Venzor, and I have been traveling across the country and teaching a seminar called "Scrapbook U-Diversity" over the past year, and I have just written and released a book on the same topic (Scrapbook U-Diversity: Redefining The Scrapbooking Industry, available from Fun Facts Publishing). We have received a great deal of interest, as well as gratitude from "non-traditional" scrapbookers who thanked us that finally someone was addressing this issue.

The issue is rather unique to the scrapbook industry, and to my knowledge it's the first time it's been formally addressed. Generally speaking, many scrapbookers tend to be Caucasian married women, usually with kids, and typically of a Christian-based faith at least until recently. There is a growing number of "diverse" scrapbookers, and they feel under-represented by the industry. Many say that there is a lack of product selection, they don't feel well-represented by the scrapbook magazines, and some even feel uncomfortable/unwelcome at local scrapbook stores and crops.

Who are these scrapbookers? They are as diverse as they come! Men, teens, 20-somethings without kids, African Americans, Latinas/Latinos, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, gay men, lesbians, Asian Americans, Wiccans, Atheists and the list goes on. As scrapbooking continues to grow, it will inevitably continue to expand into these markets.

The wisest thing manufacturers, magazine editors/publishers, and retailers could do is investigate how they can get involved now welcoming everyone to scrapbooking. It's going to happen eventually, and those that are the first to reach out will earn the loyalty of these scrapbookers.

I am seeing the changes beginning to take place now; the magazines are definitely including more layouts from a diversity of scrapbookers, and I know of a few small manufacturers who are creating a line of more diverse products. There is clearly an interest in this topic; the "Scrapbook U-Diversity" seminar I'm teaching at the HIA show 2004 sold out two months in advance.

Note: Sue DiFranco is the founder and co-owner of Fun Facts Publishing whose mission is to help present and future scrapbook entrepreneurs succeed by providing them with solid information and inspiration.

She is the author of ten books on starting and marketing scrapbooking businesses, including Make Money Making Scrapbooks For Others, Memory Marketing: How To Successfully Promote and Publicize Your Scrapbooking Business, and Marketing With the Latest Scrapbooking Statistics. She is also publisher/editor of the free e-zine, Scrapbook Industry News, which has a circulation of more than 8,000, as well as Scrapbook Industry News Platinum Edition, a new monthly publication.

Together with her husband and business partner, Michael Venzor, Sue teaches scrapbook business seminars at national conventions and trade shows. The company also offers personal consulting and web design. The company's site, www.funfactspublishing.com, is updated regularly with fresh content and offers hundreds of free tips, ideas, articles, interviews, and much more. Established in 1998, Fun Facts Publishing is based in Manhattan. They will be exhibiting at the HIA show in Dallas in February in booth #6673.



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