Kate's Collage
"Vinny Da Vendor"
"Benny Da Buyer"
Kizer & Bender
Memory, Paper & Stamps
Category Reports
Designing Perspectives
Scene & Heard

Creative Leisure News
306 Parker Circle
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com


Challenges, problems, and triumphs -- from a manufacturer's perspective.

Printer Version

"How and Why We Changed Our Business"

Sometimes necessity forces gutsy businesses into new, scary areas.

by Jim and Linda Connors, Calico Crossroads (September 19, 2005)

(Note: Recently CLN reported about a dairy farmer who fell on hard times and switched to raising ... goats. It was published as a reminder of how a business owner sometimes has to make very difficult decisions and changes in order to survive. That started an exchange of emails with Jim and Linda, whose Calico Crossroads is a well known, well respected producer of counted-thread leaflets and chart packs. They are expanding their company into a major, completely different area.)

We remember the first time we attended the Charlotte Needle Arts show back in 1997. The excitement was like electricity in the air and when the doors opened on the first day, the crowds literally burst through with people dashing off to be the first in line at their favorite designer¹s booth.

How things have changed over time! By summer 2001, the writing was on the wall; it was obvious that the heady days of cross-stitch had come and gone as we watched as a mere handful of buyers trickled into a much smaller exhibit hall. The excitement had finally moved on and it was clear that if Calico Crossroads was to stay in business, we could no longer look to cross stitch as our primary means of revenue. That summer, the search for an alternative resource began in earnest.

After much thought and market research, we finally settled on consumer machine embroidery design and purchased our first machine and software that December. Thus began a journey lasting nearly four years from inception to our first sale.

Why machine embroidery? Several reasons. It leveraged our existing skill sets: Jim is network systems sales and marketing manager/engineer and Linda is a skilled computer graphic artist and desk top publisher. Our "Kats by Kelly" designs could be easily transported over to machine embroidery (or at least we thought so at the time – more on this later).

The technical and financial barriers to entry were especially steep, greatly limiting market entry to professionals with the skills and deep pockets. Our digitizing software alone cost nearly $20,000. And, unlike in the more restrictive cross stitch market, we could establish dual consumer/wholesale sales channels that would allow us to promote our products and generate an immediate revenue stream while at the same time supporting our retailers and driving business to them without fearing the usual boycotts and blacklistings so common in the cross stitch industry.

The challenges we faced were many and at times appeared insurmountable. The biggest was how to maintain our cross-stitch revenue stream to support our machine embroidery development.

Calico Crossroads basically has 1.25 employees. Linda does all the designing and runs the day-to-day operations while Jim helps out evenings and weekends when needed with technical issues, marketing, photography, and various other tasks.

Running the business was a full-time job for Linda and any moves into machine embroidery would, out of necessity, come at the expense of cross stitch. This was especially scary, as revenues would inevitably decline as we learned machine embroidery in an already declining cross stitch market. This was something that we had to accept and plan for. The trick was for the fall-off to coincide with the increase. Talk about a delicate balancing act! Even the slightest miscalculation could quickly put us out of business.

The learning curve was especially steep. Actually there were two major curves: learning the machine and learning how to digitize using the software. Learning the machine was the easy part; learning to digitize properly was even more of a challenge. As one could imagine, professional software packages such as Wilcom are especially difficult and time consuming to master correctly. Fortunately, there are many training classes offered nationwide; they just require considerable time, money, and commitment. Creating the updated website, www.calicocrossroads.com, incorporating machine embroidery with downloadable files, mastering and manufacturing CDs, and a host of other related learning experiences proved very educational as well.

Three years and eight months after committing to machine embroidery and buying our first embroidery machine, we stand ready to enter a fresh and very challenging marketplace. Our new website is up and running, marketing efforts have commenced, and we have just made our very first machine embroidery sale.

At this point, we are optimistic that we have made the right decisions, have a professional product, and will be able to recoup our considerable investments in this new business – but only time will tell. Our first digitized offerings are some of our "Kats by Kelly" designs, but watch for other original designs to come soon.

Cross stitch may be in a slump and all good things must come to pass, but history always seems to repeat itself, so don't look for us to abandon cross stitch anytime soon.

(Note: Visit www.calicocrossroads.com to see the results of Jim and Linda's efforts. Have you made a major change in your business? Share your story with CLN readers. Email mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Vinny" columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



horizontal rule

horizontal rule


Vinny's Recent Columns...
ADVICE ON EXPORTING TO THE UK AND EUROPE; An interview with the former CEO of HobbyCraft.

THE HISTORY OF WALNUT HOLLOW; One of the genuine pioneers of the modern craft industry.

HOW MICHIGAN SCRAPBOOKER WAS LAUNCHED; Substantial growth in 3+ years.

THE HISTORY OF PLAID ENTERPRISES, INC.; It's come a long way in 36 years.

"FLASH" SALES COME TO THE INDUSTRY; Q. & A. about the newest way to introduce new products or dispose of overstocks.

SITTING ON A BULLS EYE; What to do if competitors want your market share, or customers want to cut costs.


FIVE COMMON AFFLICTIONS OF SALES TEAMS; The result: Bad morale and lower sales.

BEYOND MARKET MULTIPLES: INCREASING THE VALUE OF YOUR COMPANY BEFORE THE SALE; How to create a company with greater appeal to buyers.

CHA SHOW NEW PRODUCT REPORT; Hundreds (thousands?) of products, many from new exhibitors.

THE SOLUTION TO MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS; A sure fire way to inspire them to quilt.

ATTRACTING YOUNGER CUSTOMERS; Yes, we aren't our mothers' knitters.

NEW PRODUCTS TO BE UNVEILED AT THE CHAS SHOW; Two parts: new exhibitors and veterans.

WHAT SCRAPPERS ARE SAYING ABOUT MANUFACTURERS AND PUBLISHERS; Scrapbook Updates' readers analyze the problems.

ANALYZING THE CHA ATTITUDE & USAGE STUDY; The rationale and the science behind the number.

REST IN PEACE: JEAN HOWARD BARR; JHB International's Founder and CEO.

POSITIVE NEWS ABOUT THE INDUSTRY; What they want/need from the industry.

COMMENTS FROM INDIE CRAFTERS; What they want/need from the industry.

UNDERSTANDING INDIE CRAFTERS (BY AN INDIE CRAFTER); What they want, what they buy, and how to reach them.

CHA EVENTS FOR MANUFACTURERS; How to get more out of a trade show besides selling your products.

CREATIVE INDUSTRY TURNS TO EDUCATION TO BEAT RECESSION; Simple solutions for vendors and retailers to create online video classes.

WHAT HAPPENED TO CREATIVE MEMORIES? Not adjusting to the times.


HOW A VENDOR SCAMMED A SCAMMER; A sharp eye, a sense of humor - and be wary.

HOW A SMALL VENDOR WAS ALMOST SCAMMED; A savvy, suspicious mind averted a serious financial loss.

COMPANY FOR SALE; The owner is retiring.

EXHIBITORS: YOU'RE WASTING YOUR MONEY! Check your customer list before pre-show mailings.

PLAID CONSERVES TO PRESERVE; Simple changes can mean big savings.

SUGGESTIONS FOR THE CHA SHOW; How to attract more buyers and exhibitors.

CHANGES AT A.C. MOORE; They may not be what they seem.

THE TERRI O SHOW IS COMING; Building industry sales by empowering consumers' creativity.


BOTTLES OF HOPE; A polymer clay grassroots movement.

SEWING SMILES FOR KIDS; Pillowcases and quilts for kids in hospitals.

HELPING THE WORLD IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE; Mrs. Grossman's, C&T Publishing, and Tara Materials.

HELP PEOPLE -- AND THE WORLD; How one company contributes to charities and to Mother Nature.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS AND HELPING THE WORLD; Plaid employees' long list of charitable activities.

A SAVVY WAY TO INTRODUCE A NEW LINE; Put it in the hands of consumers and teachers.

CHA AND PMA: SHOULD IT BE EITHER/OR? Why not take the best of both worlds?


RESPONSES TO CLN'S CODE OF ETHICS...from chain store execs, vendors, and reps.

PROVO RESPONDS TO CRICUT CRITICS; Unexpected demand caused problems.

ADVICE TO VENDORS; Common sense, please!

HOW TO HAVE A GREAT TRADE SHOW; It takes more than great products.

KEY CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE CRAFT INDUSTRY IN 2006; Office supply, private label, and direct import.

IS MIKE DUPEY RIGHT? The industry's retail pioneer's criticism of chain stores elicits strong reactions.

RETAILERS: CREATE A "PLACE," NOT A STORE; Customers return if they feel a sense of community.

"HOW AND WHY WE CHANGED OUR BUSINESS"; Sometimes necessity forces gutsy businesses into new, scary areas.

WHY INDEPENDENTS ARE DECLINING AND THE INDUSTRY IS SOFT; We can't improve the situation until we understand the causes.

HOW TO MAKE THE SCRAPBOOK PIE LARGER; "Keep it simple and non-threatening."

INDEPENDENTS: SUPPORT VENDORS WHO SUPPORT YOU; "Support goes both ways. It is a relationship of trust and consistency."

WHAT MAKES A GREAT SALES REP? Colleagues and customers remember the late Bob Watikins.

TRADE SHOW PRESS POINTERS; Maximize your publicity for a minimal cost.

HOW CAN A SCRAPBOOK START-UP SUCCEED? The answer may be a "Group" away.

DO TRADE SHOWS REFLECT THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY? If we're like other industries, trade shows may be in trouble.


THE STATE OF THE FLORAL MARKET; A blunt interview with Aldik's Larry Gold.

YOU WANT JUNK? YOU GOT IT; Pricing pressures are ruining good categories.

PLANNING THE PERFECT TRADE SHOW; Ten tips for CHA Winter Show exhibitors.

MORE VENDORS RESPOND...; A dialog between vendors and a savvy but unhappy independent.

VENDORS RESPOND TO INDEPENDENT'S PLIGHT; Why vendors have minimums and what retailers can do about it.

RETAIL, E-TAIL, AND "UNFAIR COMPETITION"; Expensive advertising, false promises, and little education.

THE TRIALS OF A SMALL COMPANY, PT. II; Expensive advertising, false promises, and little education.

THE TRIALS OF A SMALL COMPANY; Talent, drive, and product -- but no money.


THE THREE L's: YOU CAN'T SELL WITHOUT THEM; How to look, listen, and learn.

IT WASN'T ALWAYS THIS WAY...; but why does that matter?

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STRAWBERRY?; Does every new product have to be cheap?