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The industry as seen by top designers.

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Changing Customers, Changing Categories

Categories rise and fall, and today ....

by Tracia Williams (October 3, 2005

(Note: CLN has received numerous reports lately about the state of the industry most of them gloomy. One exception was from one of the industry's savviest designers, Tracia Williams.)

The customer is definitely changing. Ten years ago people went to a craft store primarily to buy items to decorate with paints, stencils, wreaths, etc. Now they go to Home Depot to buy a large portion of their home decorating supplies. The crafts I see people making now are more personal scrapbooks, jewelry, purses, stitching and embellishing clothing, seasonal gifts and keepsakes.

The one category that continues to be strong year after year is kids/group crafting. And it always will be as long as we have Sunday schools, Girl Scouts, pre-school, and kids making crafts at school.

We've been in crafts many years and we have a perception of what the craft industry should be; we think it should include acrylic paint and stencils, for example, but now these are just staples, not "hot" categories. They are down but at some point they will start to trend up again, but differently.

Take yarn, for example. When I was a kid it was popular to crochet afghans and ponchos. Then that faded in popularity; yarn still sold but was not a "hot" category. Now it is design driven and it took all this funky fiber and unique colors and the desire to make a scarf, a Martha poncho, or a felted bag; suddenly it is "cool" again to use yarn but differently than before.

Americans are crafting. There are more shows on tv about it than ever before, but it is not often referred to as "crafts." There is a movement for people to be more creative and to express themselves via art, such as the altered art craze or the popularity of creating art on canvas for home decorating with simple painting (inspired by the many how-to decorating shows on TV).

Professional Crafters.

The dust-collecting crafts are one-dimensional in popularity. That's the reason that the professional crafters seem to be diminishing; a big part of the PC business was what I call "dust collectors" painted wood pieces, painted wood on wreaths, wall plaques, pouting dolls, door stops, etc. Decorating is now more functional and cleaner in style less cluttered. Consumers' tastes have changed.


Independent retail is hard for any type of store. You have to be a good manager and have a keen eye for buying products and there is so much competition for the consumers' dollars.

I owned a country store/gift shop/florist in the 80's during the height of the country decorating period. It was a thriving store; we had a good business. As times changed and we saw that style of decorating diminish, we sold the store. But at the time, there were country stores popping up all over the place; some survived and some did not. We lasted eight years and decided that retail was too confining.

We have seen this same phenomenon with scrapbooking stores: they started popping up in every strip mall and some are making it and some are not.

I don't know if I believe that the failing of independent scrapbooking stores is a sign of scrapbooking leveling off; it might be that the market is saturated. Office Max, Staples, Target, typically non-craft stores have sections of it; television shopping channels feature it monthly; and home party plans sell it. And the major craft chains have expanded their scrapbooking-paper crafting square footage. There is a lot of competition for the scrapbooker's dollar.

Bright spots.

Group crafting with kids of all ages will never go away. Sparkles and glitter embellishing and jewelry making are very popular and will continue to grow in popularity.

Ribbons will continue to be strong and increase in sales.

I think scrapbooking will continue to grow. It is a craft that has sentiment and meaning to it. It is relaxing. It can be simple and not time consuming, if you have limited time, or it can be as elaborate as you want to make it. Scrapbooks are made with love, they are keepsakes, and is usually something a parent makes for a child or a sister makes for a sibling, etc. There are very few rules any more in scrapbooking. You can make a book in any size; it can have twigs, leaves, and buttons glued on the page and ribbons tied to it. The possibilities are endless.

Knitting is fun, it is portable, and a first-timer can make a stunning scarf that looks like a boutique item for under $20. It will continue to grow.

The creative-collage, mixed-media, altered look will expand and become more mainstream. I see this look on cd covers, in magazine ads, in the opening of television shows, and on clothing. You already see it in general scrapbooking magazines.

(Note: Tracia and her husband Chris run Tracia & Company Inc., a product development & marketing firm in Orlando, FL. Their primary client is Sulyn Industries. To read other "takes" on the state of the industry in general, read Business-Wise and on the state of scrapbooking in particular, read Memory, Paper & Stamps. To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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