The trends, the issues, and productive business
An Interview with Sue DiFranco
Candid talk on the state and future of
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.