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The industry as seen by top designers.

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Michaels, Pt. I

Why chains' education programs aren't what they could be.

by Anonymous (December 6, 2004)

(Note: The following is written by a craft designer who works part-time as a demonstrator in her local Michaels. We suspect similar articles could have been written by demonstrators at other chains.)

Michaels can't afford to educate its associates? Because that would result in higher prices and customers shop with their pocketbooks.

So what is Michaels telling the manufacturers who are paying for demos and sponsoring family events, scrapbooking days, kids' club, project sheets, and end cap promotions? I can only imagine what promises are made in Dallas.

And what is the reality when these events take place in every Michaels store? If store associates are demonstrating products they know nothing about, how is that selling the product?

I am a demonstrator for my local Michaels. I am also a craft designer with many years of experience who has designed projects for craft manufacturers including Michaels project sheets, kids club, kids summer camp, Michaels.com, and Michaels Create! magazine.

If anybody ought to be able to successfully conduct a product demonstration it would be me.

It seems that a product demonstration would be fairly simple and straightforward. It is, if a) the product is available; b) the additional supplies and tools are in the classroom cabinet; c) the instructions are available with photo illustration two weeks before the date of the demo; and d) the demonstrator has time to make up a sample of the project before the demo.

It is laughable to think that a demo would be scheduled months in advance and yet the product is not physically in the store. Even if the manufacturer has specifically sent product to be distributed in each store, that doesn't mean that it will automatically find its way to the classroom. Also, if the product is not specifically labeled for a demo, the education coordinator may not realize what the product is meant for.

If it has to be pulled from the shelf, there's a chance it's not in the store or it hasn't been stocked. Or it may be in the store, but no one knows where it is. And if the education coordinator has been told to keep costs down, and if one brand of product is already in the classroom, then that is what gets used.

Yes, that's right. If Company X is sponsoring a demo and there is a similar competitor's product

already in the classroom that has been opened and signed off for use, that is what will get used in my Michaels.

The same goes for additional tools and supplies. If the project calls for certain color surface and it's not available, the next best surface is used. I have seen some demonstrations done with product substitutions that bore little resemblance to the photo in the instructions.

Michaels has a plan-o-gram for the classroom cabinet. Only what is on the plan-o-gram is allowed - no exceptions.

The instructions for demo and event projects vary from well written with good color photos to non existent.

I have actually had to go home and go to the Michaels web site to get a photo of what I would be demonstrating because there was nothing other than a demo title and maybe a manufacturer's name.

But I can do that because I'm a part time educator. When an associate is doing the demo she doesn't have that luxury.

And the education coordinator doesn't have time to find the instructions, gather product from the shelves and classroom, and create a sample for each demo. The education coordinator in my store is limited to 15 hours a week, which doesn't give her time to coordinate each day's demo.

Neither do the associates, so they're flying by the seat of their pants most times.

Is it just my store? I hope not, but I can't see how it would be much different in others.

(Comment: Once again, chains would claim that spending more money on education coordinators and demonstrators would simply cause them to raise prices. But maybe, just maybe, a great class and demonstration program would cause sales to dramatically increase? The greater sales might more than offset the increase in employee costs.

Judging from the third-quarter and November sales results, the current status quo doesn't look that great. Maybe it's time for a chain to take a few stores, pump money into them for education, and see what happens.

This column is also an example of the overwhelming complexity of operating a multi-hundred store chain.

To read previous Designing Perspectives articles, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment (on or off the record) on this or other industry subjects, email Mike Hartnett at mike@clnonline.com.



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