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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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Why Trends Eventually Cool

Yarn sales may have slowed, but that can be true for any trend. Here's why.

By Deborah Murphy, Deborah M., Inc. (June 5, 2005)

(Note: Deb is responding to 5/15/06 comment in CLN on why a needlework shop has recently seen declining yarn sales. The original comment: "The owner of a yarn shop called recently asking why, after 15 years of increasing sales, his store is now seeing a decline from last year. I cited three reasons: A) We may have witnessed a fad. Some college students may have knitted a scarf and then felt, "Been there, done that." B) The trend inspired more stores to open or add yarn, so the pie is being divided into more pieces. C) Anticipating the trend would continue to grow, the industry made and stocked too much yarn. Now price cutting and dumping ultimately lessens the allure of his higher-end yarn."

The decline in yarn sales has also been affected by direct import and poorly executed private label, two challenges consistently under-analyzed, under-valued, and under-understood by our industry.

This overlaps your comments about too much inventory, which has also commoditized and diluted the excitement about the fibers themselves because yarns have flood departments with masses of choices that, for the UNINITIATED or CASUAL knitter/crocheter, are virtually undifferentiated, indistinguishable and probably meaningless.

This amount of yarn and the modest differences in the yarns (or, put another way, the "sameness" in the differences!) has set up the very problem for the entry-level and/or casual knitter/crocheter that pantyhose and toothpaste have long been derided about: TOO MANY CHOICES that present TOO MANY ESOTERIC ATTRIBUTES that cannot BE UNDERSTOOD or COMPARED easily, and, at the end of the day, are MEANINGLESS to the stitch-and-go consumer who was responsible for the huge up-tick in sales.

The excitement was fueled by several things which have been well-documented by you and CLN. What was perhaps underestimated or overlooked is that the incremental consumer also glommed onto knitting because it was EASY for her to understand what she could accomplish, easy to understand the color and texture, and easy to understand the project (a scarf).

We made it difficult by providing WAAAAY too many subtle choices in yarns instead of lots of choices about end-uses, easy techniques, and affiliation with a MEANINGFUL BRAND that has a relationship to her life and identity. We've made it less obvious what the buying decision was about, and confused the new consumer about what she was choosing between so she moved on.

A mid- to long-term strategy for the retailer/manufacturer partnership would have included A) HIGHER (not lower) prices; B) FEWER (not more) yarns; C) WAAAAY more end-uses/projects emphasizing event/occasions and gift/self-gift; and D) DISTINCT BRAND DIFFERENTIATION such as licensed, or limited and highly differentiated trend-based color palettes, or well-executed and meaningful private label or all of the above.

(Note: The following is from Deborah Murphy of Deborah M, Inc., a trend and product development firm which has recently moved to 1464 Harvard St. NW, Ste. 13, Washington DC 20009-8341. Call 973-978-9029. Email dmurphy3388@earthlink.net. To read previous Business-Wise entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on Deb's analysis or any industry issue, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)

xxx

 

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