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TNNA: Market and Industry Comments

Changing times call for smart decisions.

by Marilyn Murphy, TNNA Past President, Board of Directors (February 2, 2009)

Just back from the January TNNA show in San Diego, and while the tenor of the show didn't carry the heightened robustness of recent years, it certainly surpassed many exhibitors' expectations, mine included. Certainly expectations were adjusted going into the market, but I heard comments from wholesalers and retailers alike that lead me to think, once again, that during recessionary times (or whatever the current term being used for this financial debacle we're in), crafts gain momentum.

There are so many good forces at work right now: the return to handcrafts, going local, being sustainable, the focus on community aren't all these things ripe for smart businesses to take advantage of, in some way, in some form? And, yes, there are many not-so-positive things that I don't need to point out here, as all businesses are facing challenges to some degree.

I was struck by the fact that more than one retailer told me that they are applying "the power of intention" (my words), have turned off the news, and have instructed their staff to do the same. They are doing what they can to remain positive, focused, and pumped up for their customers. And it's working.

While I don't have permission to name names, I spoke to a number of distributors who supply all segments of the industry: one had the biggest last quarter of 2008 than ever, and all started January out strong in comparison to last year. Companies that have reps on the road had mixed reports one major yarn company's spring orders were up over previous year, another one's were down, but not by much. Many wholesalers are experiencing more volume sales, but retailers (and consumers) are value shopping and purchasing lower-priced product. Margins are squeezed.

Definite good news: new consumers are getting hooked, even if they are starting out at low price points; now it's our job to keep them excited about the market and retain them as a customer. Attract and retain.

Most businesses on the yarn side of the industry experienced this decade's knitting boom and its crest thru 2005-2007. Most companies (and shops) experienced the downside of this wave in 2008. As expected, some shops didn't make it for a whole host of reasons. But in speaking to a broad spectrum of stores in different parts of the country, December was crazy busy and January was strong.

Some other shifts noted: Marketing budgets are going into online initiatives, either proprietary websites or to online promotions and advertising. Ordering online is increasing in both B-to-B and B-to-C commerce.

As mentioned, the trade show attendance numbers were down on both the exhibitor side as well as buyers. The buyer numbers are not final yet; however, we do know that pre-registration was down 19% and exhibiting companies were down 12% from the previous January show in Long Beach.

While the buyer company numbers were down, the overall spending wasn't. On average, of the cross section of the exhibitors, the responses were, "Great show"; "About the same as last January"; "We're down about 10% at this show compared to last year, but it's way better than expected"; and "Up about 10% over last year."

In other words, the buyers who chose to attend were buying. One needlepoint vendor said, "If you decide not to exhibit, it's fine with me. I'll take the business because I'll be here." And guess what? She had a great show. Of the seventeen new exhibitors, most reported having a good to excellent show.

And to squelch any rumors, TNNA's purchase last year of The Nashville Needlework Show is not drawing vendors away from the national shows. Only four exhibitors who showed in January 2008 chose to do the Nashville Show over the January TNNA show. The Nashville Show, February 7-9, is looking very positive.

The Opening Evening Programs were mixed (comparing last year's January show to this year's):

Sample It was healthy and buyers really like it. This event was started as a result of the unification of INRG and TNNA and is an activity for the Counted Thread & Embroidery Group with many yarn and needlepoint exhibitors also participating.

The Yarn Group's Fashion Show was on par for participating companies and garments. The Needlepoint Group's Galleria had significantly less participation but that could have been a direct reflection of fewer needlepoint exhibitors and the desire of the group to change that event in the future. The New Product area was also on par from previous year. Most new product introduced was in the accessory area, followed by yarn, then needlepoint.

The TNNA Board and Trade Show Committee are diligently working on ideas and incentives to increase buyer attendance at the June show in Columbus. The Board narrowed its focus on addressing trade shows two years ago and has been working with Steve Miller, an industry trade show consultant. The Trade Show Committee, co-chaired by Stacy Charles and Jim Bryson, was formed last fall and ideas for the June market are being vetted right now. TNNA is constantly working to serve the entire needlearts industry and the trade shows are a vital part to that there is no replacement for face-to-face time with customers, seeing new product in person, networking, and attending strong educational programs.

All in all, I'm betting that crafts will continue to be an ever-resilient market, but we all have to be smart about attracting and retaining the consumer.



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