irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.
Are We Losing Our Core?
Is the industry abandoning many of the
categories under the "craft" umbrella?
by Mike Hartnett (February 21, 2005)
(Note: I wrote this before the CHA show, then decided to
wait to see if the show changed my feelings. It did, somewhat, so I
added a post-show note.)
In recent years the industry has gone wild over scrapbooking.
Beading/jewelrymaking is hot again, currently on the upside of its
ongoing up-and-down sales history. And yarn is probably the hottest
category of them all – a far cry from the time, not that long ago,
when knitting and crochet were for old ladies only.
The industry always has something hot; decoupage, macrame,
flowermaking, dollmaking, fabric painting, cross stitch, and
wearable art have all had their days in the sun. What appears to be
different this time, however, is the industry's rush to cash in on
the current money-makers – at the expense of traditional
categories, categories that have helped define a "craft"
store for decades.
Craft basics, decorative painting, florals, and other seemingly
integral departments appear to be languishing. It's often true that
departments that aren't hot decline for a while, but this time it
seems to be different.
Some manufacturers in the "down" categories are
devoting a portion of their product development money to
scrapbooking (as if the category needed more vendors), rather than
concentrating all of their efforts on their "core
competency" that made them successful in the first place.
Retailers have always squeezed departments to make more room for
the hot category, but today some retailers are eliminating the
slower sellers altogether. A Midwestern independent
"craft" retailer with a huge store told CLN the only
crafts she now sells are yarn, beads, and memory. The rest of store
is devoted to readymade home dec items. Jeffrey Alans, a small
regional craft chain (corporate name: Prarie Garden) is evolving the
same way, and a long-time, very successful independent in the
southeast told CLN his staff is pressuring him to drop other
categories altogether. Questions:
1. If years ago retailers had eliminated their yarn
departments to make more room for fabric painting and cross stitch,
could yarn have rebounded the way it has?
2. I've attended consumer shows in scrapbooking, painting,
crafts, cross stitch, etc., and without question the consumers who
spent the most money were those at a miniatures show. Where is
miniatures today? Can it ever make a comeback if most retailers
don't offer even a mini-department?
3. Small independents can remain with a single category
(although the thousands of little cross stitch shops that went out
of business would disagree), but what do large stores do, if their
only crafts are memory, beads, and yarn? Do they turn into imitation
Pier I stores?
Meanwhile, Crafts magazine becomes Paper Crafts and
CraftWorks becomes Create & Decorate. Michaels
Create! stops publication. Television is filled with how-to
programs, but virtually none dealing with crafts (in the umbrella
sense of the word).
On the other hand, perhaps the industry is simply evolving into
something it wasn't a few years ago (just like music and society in
general are evolving). Maybe my worry/complaint, "Things aren't
what they used to be," is just a sign of age and difficulty
adjusting to change. Am I merely beginning to sound like my parents?
But if we abandon so many basic categories and the current hot
sellers cool off, where are we?
I've returned from the CHA show and feel somewhat less concerned.
The growing emphasis on home dec can be a tremendous boon to
"craft" stores. I have more hope now that counted cross
stitch and painting will rebound.
But I have an explanation why some exhibitors had a bad show.
They offer products in categories x, y, and z that some of the
"craft" retailers mentioned above have eliminated. If
those retailers had maintained at least a small offering, they
probably would have stopped at those booths. But they no longer
carry x, y, and z, so they walked past those booths to get to the
memory, beads, and yarn companies.
Still, I can't decide: Am I simply not adapting to the evolution
of a healthy, growing industry? Or is there cause for concern?
Help me out here. Send me your thoughts, on or off the record.
Email your comments, analyses, and disagreements to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Interview with HSA's Joyce Perhac.
CLN: How would you describe the state of the sewing
PERHAC: It’s a very exciting time for the home sewing
industry. Like any trade, we have our challenges, but we most
certainly have our strengths. One of the core strengths that I see
is our power in mass and our power in diversity. As the association
representing every facet of the industry, we bring over 800 members
together in one forum to promote our mission to "Get People
Sewing!" And as we know from some of our research, 35 million
American consumers are doing just that.
We’ve witnessed some exciting shifts in this number; more young
people are learning to sew and we hear from many sources that more
men are starting to sew. The HSA is working hard every day to
amplify the message that sewing is fun and easy and anybody can do
it. The more we work together – as suppliers, vendors,
manufacturers and retailers – the stronger and more successful we
will be at winning over new consumers.
CLN: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the
PERHAC: I believe education is a front burner issue, and it
happens to be a top priority for HSA. It is our belief that teaching
someone how to sew is just as important as providing a forum for
continuing education for sewing professionals. Over the past few
years, we have been developing a variety of programs to allow for
all levels of educational pursuit.
Our Sew Trendy initiative, designed to engage the younger
consumer via a year-long extra- and intra-curricular sewing program
in partnership with the Family Career and Community Leaders
Association (FCCLA), is in its pilot phase in middle and high
schools in four key states. Our feedback from the FCCLA advisers,
who are actively involved with students on a day-to-day basis, has
been quite enthusiastic. If we teach them well, who knows what can
Over the past two years, we have developed and marketed the Trained
Sewing Educator (TSE) program and the Sew Trendy curriculum.
The TSE, which launched in eight key cities last fall with an
introductory session, will roll out to many more cities and expand
to a full, two-day program designed to benefit the teaching
professional and ultimately retailers. The program is intended to
instruct sewing professionals on important issues, such as how to
develop a lesson plan, price teaching services, and market an array
of sewing materials. To date, we have trained 464 professionals and
anticipate teaching another 500 to 600 in the current year.
CLN: There are now four trade shows (two spring, two fall).
How should a prospective exhibitor decide which to support?
PERHAC: In 2004, the HSA was thrilled to announce that we
would extend the National Sewing Show (NSS) to a twice-a-year
status for our members and other industry businesses. At the March,
2005 NSS, which will be held at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
in Las Vegas, NV, attendees will find one of the largest collections
of buttons, notions , patterns, supplies, equipment and fabrics
available under one roof.
Our attendees will also be invited to lectures and seminars
providing cutting-edge business information and trend overviews. To
date, we’ve been immensely pleased with the response to the roster
of speakers we have engaged for the NSS and other HSA sponsored
meetings, and believe we will continue to deliver a speaker of the
same caliber with Robin Lewis. Robin is the publisher of Robin
Reports, a monthly overview of strategic insights in the
retailing industry, and former VP and Executive Editor of Women’s
Wear Daily, and he will serve as our keynote speaker at the
The NSS, under the management of the HSA, debuted a number of new
and exciting elements on the trade show floor last fall with the
introduction of email kiosks for the convenience of vendors and
buyers; the VISIONS style show and the "Store on the
Floor," a unique opportunity to see the newest products
available at the show displayed in a store-like setting.
(Note: For show information, visit www.sewing.org.)
CLN: What are your goals for HSA?
PERHAC: The HSA has so many goals in our quest to best serve
the industry, but if I had to narrow it to a few, I would say
educating the trade and the public about the importance of sewing
ranks up there. The good news is that we are making significant
strides in this area via our educational outreach initiatives like Sew
Trendy and the TSE program and we are going to keep on
The HSA also heartily endeavors to serve as a significant
resource for lifestyle and global trends, an informational source,
and a sewing and special market authority. We are making significant
progress on this front as well. We continue to deliver on a dynamic
roster of speakers; it thrills us to provide a forum of professional
presentations that help our members consider their businesses in new
and different ways.
Our web site, www.sewing.org,
is rich with information and we continually deliver trend and
lifestyle information and ways of making the art of sewing new and
We will also be launching the inaugural issue of HSA
Connections, a quarterly newsletter which will be full of
concise and important information and tips for the busy trade
professional and serve as a way of keeping our members connected.
In the coming months, we also plan to capitalize on our
incredible success as an authority on the subject of Halloween. As
you probably know, each year, the HSA crafts the list of "Top
Ten Halloween Themes," which gets picked up in publications all
over the country. We are looking to bring that same level of
expertise to the niche markets of prom and bridal.
CLN: The staff at Sew News used to say that women sew
clothing for the 3 F's – "Fun, Fit, and Fashion," rather
than to save money. Is that accurate?
PERHAC: We promote the same message at the HSA. I
particularly like the use of the word "fit," as our
association promotes that word with both meanings. First, by sewing
and tailoring an item, you will get a perfect fit. Second, we
continually remind consumers about the positive and rewarding
effects of sewing, which include a sense of accomplishment and a
decreased heart rate.
The issue of "fit" is certainly a strong part of our
message. But I encourage all of you to remember that we are your
association and we welcome your feedback. Please feel free to email
me at email@example.com.
(Note: To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on
the headlines in the right-hand column.)