irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an
occasional guest columnist.
Some Thoughts on Consumer Shows
Some help retailers, some don't.
by Mike Hartnett
(March 19, 2012)
About three years ago, CHA announced it was
sponsoring consumer shows, but did not mention which exhibitors
would be allowed to sell. Many retailers assumed everyone, including
manufacturers, would be selling directly to consumers and were
furious, convinced consumer shows would hurt them.
During the uproar, I researched the effect of
consumer shows in other categories. Shows that allowed all
exhibitors to sell to consumers did they, in effect, hurt
There have been consumer shows in virtually
every product category, and so I talked to numerous people on the
subject, and the answers seemed to depend on the category.
Finally CHA announced only retailers could sell
at the shows, so the furor died down, and the research I did on the
subject was moot. But here are some results.
Ceramics painting "greenware," then firing it
in a kiln was a large part of the early craft industry. Numerous
ceramic shops and consumer shows popped up across the country.
According to industry veterans, there's no
question that the shows hurt retailers. Some times "exhibitors"
didn't even exhibit; they would park their truck in the show's
parking lot and sell off the truck.
Most of the exhibitors at these consumer shows
were true artisans, selling incredible items such as miniature
crystal chandeliers and wrought-iron fences. They could never
produce items like that in enough quantity to sell to retailers, so
consumer shows merely inspired consumers, which had to have
eventually boosted retail sales.
At one time they clearly helped retail sales.
For example, the Society of Decorative Painting's annual convention
attracted consumers from around the country and offered classes that
provided new challenges to attendees. Certainly attendees spent
money at the shows that could have been spent back home, but when
they did return home, they probably spent more money during the year
than they would have if they had not attended the SDP convention.
Exhibitors did sell at the consumer shows, but
for many years at the suggested retail price, so they weren't
undercutting area shops. Then the crowds, especially from around the
country, began to slip and the price cutting by exhibitors began.
That definitely may have hurt brick-and-mortar sales.
Counted Cross Stitch.
Consumer shows probably hurt retail sales
because of the nature of the category. Buy a few charts and some
floss and fabric, and you're busy for months. For example, a
publisher produces a new chart, prints 10,000, and sells out to
retailers eager for something new. So the publisher thinks it's a
hot seller and reprints another 5,000. But retailers only re-order
2,000 because it's no longer new.
Now the publisher sits on 3,000 copies. What to
do with them?
But there were sooo many charts released into
the market that no consumer could see all of them. So the publisher
exhibits at a consumer show and sells them at a sharp discount. The
chart is still new to many consumers, who scoop them up at closeout
That doesn't leave much for the area retail
shops to sell.
I saw the effect up close and personal. My wife
Barbara, a notorious non-crafter, was intrigued with jewelry-making
but hadn't really done much until she and I attended the
Bead&Button show in Milwaukee a few years ago. When she saw all
of the amazing stones and beads, she was hooked. She bought a lot of
supplies that day and we've returned to the show every year since.
Since then she has spent substantial amounts at
consumer shows, but she's also spent a lot at retail stores, too,
money she'd never have spent if not for the inspiration and
education at the Bead&Button show.
When I was researching the effect of consumer
shows, I asked execs at Michaels and Jo-Ann what effect the
Bead&Button show has on the sales in their Milwaukee-area
stores. Both said sales drop during the show but increase after the
Most bead show exhibitors are small bead makers
or importers who are not equipped to sell to retailers who require
packaging, UPC codes, etc. They are the industry's gypsies,
traveling from one consumer show (there are 150+ each year) to
One problem: one year Barbara bought what she
was told were small silver spacer beads and made a bracelet for me.
Within a month the "silver" had worn off and lo and behold, the
beads were brass. If she had bought the beads at a local retail
store, she could have returned them for a refund. But the gypsy
she'd bought them from was long gone.
A Retailer's View.
I asked Scott Remmers, of Brea Bead Works in
Brea, CA for his take on consumer shows. Scott is also head of the
Southern California Local Bead Shops Assn., a group of 20-some bead
shops. Here's Scott's take on the subject:
"When there are local bead shows going on,
sometimes we are slower, but other times we are busy. Many times
people buy at the shows and come back to us for miscellaneous items
like head pins, stringing materials, etc.
"Lately, we have them coming from a show and
asking us to put it together for them. Even though that it is hard
to take, since they did not buy it from us, we turn the situation
around and tell them we have a workshop to help them design. Or we
will create a bracelet or whatever, but there is a fee. Many times
the customer doesn't understand why they have to pay $20 or higher
for us to put it together, so we go through the steps, including
that it will also take up to two weeks or more because of other
repairs and projects ahead of them.
"The typical response to the shows are that we can't carry
everything. So hopefully our customers will just create more
projects with the new purchases and come to us for the other items.
Maybe others who attend the shows don't know that much
about beading, so they search out their local bead stores to learn
"What all the LBS (Local Bead Shops) owners get ticked off about,
and this is no secret, is that so many of the gem show dealers raise
their prices way too high, discount the prices 50%-80% off, and it
comes down to retail or just below.
"So the customers are duped into believing it's
a great deal. They come into the stores and think the LBS is
over-priced. It's the pricing issue that I believe is hurting us. So
many times when I have talked to customers, they say "I can get a
strand of pearls for $18 at the show because they are 80% OFF and
yours are $20." I ask them if the quality and style of pearl is the
same and they come back with "No but
." So many times the comparison
is off but the perception of higher prices stay in their mind.
"The ugly part of so many of these gem shows are that it's not all
gems/beads/findings. It has become a swap meet! The quality of
gemstones has come down a lot at these shows. "Not all vendors, but
many of them, are selling average and below-quality strands. So they
are blowing them out and people again get a perceived value that
everything should be cheap.
"The last couple of shows I have been to here
in Southern California have people selling bed sheets, sunglasses,
and even some health-care, vitamin stuff.
"Just like every master retailer has said, the shopping experience
in the stores will win the customer over. That is what we have to
trust will happen."