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What's new in various product categories; monthly update.

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What's Happened to Needlepoint?

Where are the new, younger customers?

Staff Report (September 5, 2011)

(Editor's note: The previous issue of CLN reported on the declining membership of the Society of Decorative Painters, in part because SDP members are aging, and the category is having problems attracting younger members. That challenge is not exclusive to decorative painters, reports a veteran needlepoint designer/manufacturer/licensor.)

The most recent trade show I have attended was the 2009 TNNA show in San Diego. A little background:

In 1999 I was forced to scale down my needlepoint kit company which I'd run successfully for 10 years because so many consumers who used to buy and stitch all of my kits shifted their attention to the then 'new' Internet, that my sales declined 40% over four years.

I designed for a major company and they experienced a similar sales drop. Also, numerous craft/needlework magazines to whom I had sold many designs, closed, and most book publishers drastically reduced publishing needlework books.

As a result, in order to survive financially, I was forced to license my kits/charts to other manufacturers and return to my prior career. I'm still in it today and am still licensing some of my designs, so I decided to go to TNNA in January, 2009.

To me the show was schizophrenic -- the knitting/crochet side of the floor was busy and had lots of new fibers and interesting projects & products. The needlepoint side was like deja-vu; 70% of the designs I saw were the SAME as those I saw in 2002 (the last TNNA show I had attended 7 years earlier)!

There were very few new companies exhibiting, and three of the five I spoke with were very frustrated that they hadn't taken more orders. They said, "We take more direct-retail orders on the web daily than we have taken wholesale orders while at this show."

I asked the established needlepoint companies that I know why they didn't have more new designs and they said, "Our customers are in their 50's & 60's -- they are who we design for and this is what they want."

I asked, "What about getting younger consumers to do needlepoint?" They said their shop customers don't get a lot of younger clients, as most of them are knitting/crocheting or sewing!

This dovetails with my recent experience; in 2010 and 2011, I offered and taught several needlepoint classes through my local adult education center, and most of the students I got were 45+ and the classes didn't all fill. I live in New England and my area has only five needlework shops left in the area (from the RI border up to the NH border and west to Worcester, MA); there used to be at least 15 shops 20 years ago.

I keep hoping that needlepoint is due for an upswing (as all the needle arts are cyclical), but it hasn't come yet. So, unfortunately, I can see why the trade shows may be declining.

But I think it is terrible for the industry, particularly with products as visual and tactile as needle arts and crafts.

Have any of these shows re-explored the idea of having wholesale days and retail days? I believe the ACC (American Crafts Council) still does that at their Baltimore show. Certainly the independent retailers will miss out on a lot of new products if the shows disappear. It is still the most efficient and effective way to see (and touch) what product is out there.

xxx

 

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