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Creative Leisure News
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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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The Decade's Major Influences, Pt. III: The New Generation of Consumers

They've just begun to shake up the traditional order.

by Mike Hartnett (August 20, 2007)

(Note: To celebrate Creative Leisure News' 10th anniversary, I've surveyed readers and chosen the people, companies, and events of the past decade that have had the greatest influence on our industry of today. In previous issues I wrote about the decade's most influential category, scrapbooking, and the most influential person, Michael Rouleau click on the headlines in the right-hand column to read them. In future issues I'll write about other major influences Technology ... Media ... Changes In The Old Order ... Imports ... Investors ... Lower Margins ... Yarn and Beads ... Wal-Mart.)

Some random thoughts about younger consumers who are changing our industry in some mysterious, unexpected ways.

1. This generation is willing to try anything and don't feel bound by "old" traditions and stereotypes. A classic example is the recent resurgence of knitting. Wasn't that supposed to be our grandmother's craft? It didn't bother these folks when they read In Style magazine's article about celebrities knitting on movie sets between scenes.

A few months later, my niece who teaches at the University of Kansas called and asked, "Why are all my students suddenly knitting scarves?"

Then the growth of yarn sales slowed, in part because of the "Been there, done that" syndrome another feature of this generation.

2. The new generation wants to make one-of-a-kind projects rather than duplicate a model. This would explain the rise in three categories:

A) Scrapbooking every one is obviously one of a kind.

B) Beading/jewelrymaking. A bead magazine editor once told me that, because of the varied and haphazard distribution system in the category, the projects are presented as ideas, with no expectations that readers will copy exactly the model.

C) Yarn. Younger consumers like the fact that to knit a scarf, they can choose the weight and color of the yarn, and the length.

This interest in one-of-a-kind projects could also help explain the decline of decorative painting and counted cross stitch where the quality of a project is judged by how closely it replicates the model.

3. They are concerned about ecology. The Swap-O-Ramas that have been described in CLN work this way: you bring a bag of old clothes to the "Swap" and pay an entry fee. You dump your old clothes and fill your bag with other people's castaways. Then you attend the Swap workshops and alter and embellish your new old clothes to fit your body and your style.

4. They don't care about our traditional definitions and rules. They will mix and match designs and blur what we think of as separate product categories. They might be perfectly happy to personalize a pair of blue jeans with duct tape from a hardware store. That may not sound like a "craft" to us, but they're happy.

"Fine art" painters look down their noses at decorative painters, who scoff at crafters. None of that is relevant to this generation.

5. They want to be and look unique. They not only want their clothes to be unique, they feel that way about their bodies, too. How else can you explain the trend for tattoos and, gulp, body piercings?

Maybe it's not surprising, since so many Baby Boomer parents have been telling their kids and grandkids since birth that they're "special."

Questions about the future.

1. Whenever the industry goes through a fallow period between hot trends, I have always been confident that another trend would come along and, like the tide, sweep hordes of consumers into our stores.

I was confident after reading futurist John Naisbitt who predicted that the more high-tech our jobs become, the more we would need our leisure-time activities to be high-touch. That would explain the growth of crafts, gourmet cooking, gardening, and other high-touch activities. It certainly speaks to me; after spending all day in front of a computer, I love to go in the back yard and dig in the garden. For people my age (61) I think high-touch activities are our escape from technology.

But is that true for the younger generation? Is technology so ubiquitous for them that, rather than wanting to escape from it, they'd feel lost without it?

2. I'm afraid future generations of Americans may have a lower standard of living. Between the trade deficit, the budget deficit, job outsourcing, high energy costs, global warming, and the coming weight of rising Social Security and Medicare costs, when these kids grow up they may not have as much money as we have.

Traditionally the industry has done well during tough economic times. Consumers would try to save money by using our products to make gifts, update their apparel, and decorate their homes. Will that be true again?

3. Will the pendulum swing again, from one-of-a-kind products to replicas of a model? After all, the model was probably created by an artist/designer who has far more artistic talent than the average consumer.

4. The trend had been away from general craft magazines to specialty magazines (e.g. Crafts magazine becomes Paper Crafts). Will this generation that seems happy to cross over categories reverse that trend?

Thoughts from an industry veteran.

A note from longtime industry pro Karen Lichwalla: "My daughters-in-law and their friends are in their late 20's to early 30's now ONE of our customer bases (Baby-Boomers remain a second). They are very, very different in tastes than I was at their age: more hands-on with their kids, simpler in their decorating styles, and VERY busy with scheduled activities more so than we were.

"Some are scrapbooking when time allows. Some are knitting big/quick things. Their tastes seems to run more to "get it done fairly quickly" as opposed to creating an heirloom masterpiece. They are also more into functionality not crafting just for the love of it. Again, schedules are impacting them mightily, although I think it helps to have a craft that they can complete for the old 'ta-da! look what I just finished" approach.'

"Now, is this why needlework isn't selling to them? Maybe. I can't image my daughters-in-law working on something time intensive like this. Later they probably will; let's face it, everyone gets tired of 'quick' eventually. Also, they're still learning....

"In the meantime, us Baby-Boomers are working on grandkid things, and we truly are a sandwich generation between kids, grandkids, and helping elderly parents. It impacts our time to do heirloom projects too."

(Note: Agree with the thoughts in this article? Disagree? Send your thoughts on or off the record to CLN. Email mike@clnonline.com. To read previous Business-Wise articles, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

xxx

 

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