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Phone: 785-760-5071
Email: mike@clnonline.com



The industry as seen by top designers.

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Too Many Patterns!

Basic economics: a glut of anything lowers the price and the perceived value.

by Name Withheld (September 18, 2006)

(Note: CLN received this note from needlework veteran Wheat Carr: "The following was written by an extremely savvy shop owner with an unusually solid business background outside the craft industry. It has been forwarded to several designer groups, bUT I think it might be good content for CLN readers as well.

"It does not matter that he wrote in relation to yarn shops," Wheat added, "because if you don't think other needlearts, sewing and quilt shops are not in a similar dilemma, well, the kindest way I can think of to put it is you just have not been paying attention to the business side of your chosen career path. Every business that offers non-essential goods and services needs to be aware of today's business environment.

This gentleman was responding to something written about the importance of all segments of the industry to work together if we are to go forward and prosper. His name is withheld to avoid the inevitable shooting of the messenger when the message is painful. I have blanket permission to post it ANYWHERE designers might read it."

From the shop owner.

There is no doubt that designers should be paid for their work. However, it is a truism in economics that a glut of anything brings down not only the immediate price, but the perceived value as well. With hundreds of designers writing patterns, distributors giving them away, magazines soliciting freebies from more new designers, shops using Sweater Wizard to create on-the-fly "custom" patterns, etc., etc., a glut is truly what we have.

Note that I am not saying ANYTHING about the QUALITY of the patterns: most of our clients do not have the ability to discern the relative worth of a pattern, and it is THEIR perception of a glut that is important. I'm also NOT saying that any ONE of these are "THE REASON" why things are tough in the pattern business; on the contrary, it is only the COMBINATION OF ALL OF THEM that is causing the problem.

Let me say this again: THERE ARE TOO MANY PATTERNS AVAILABLE TO THE AVERAGE CONSUMER FOR US TO BE ABLE TO MAKE THE PUBLIC BELIEVE THAT THEY HAVE A HIGH INTRINSIC VALUE. Another way to say this is, Most customers believe that a pattern is not a thing of much value, because they are so readily available.

One way around this is to be so completely different as to remove yourself from the perception that you are part of the glut. As far as I can tell, there are only a limited number of designers who are Sui Generis, that is, in a class by themselves. Again, this is REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU THINK OF THE QUALITY OF THEIR PATTERNS.

Another way is to make the object(s) appear scarce, like diamonds (the price of diamonds is kept artificially high by a cartel). I don't think we can do this with patterns, but maybe someone else has an idea.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the pattern bubble is bursting, just like it did 5 or 10 years ago with counted thread and before that with cross-stitch. It is unreasonable to expect the marketplace to support an unlimited number of designers in the lifestyle to which they would like to become accustomed.

So, what's a store owner to do? The only answer I have is to prune diligently. Every business has items they buy that the consumer won't. Find the 200-300 patterns you love and sell regularly and stock those. The next 200 or so, buy one each if you can, or let the designer know why you can't carry her line. IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THAT EVERY DESIGNER MAKES A LIVING. It is the height of fiscal irresponsibility to deliberately carry items that don't sell, just 'cause you like them. AND WE ALL DO THIS, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER.

For future consideration, if the designers want to create a system for us to use, that works better for both of us, I'm all for it. I will help in any way I can, except to compromise my store's future by buying patterns I can't sell at prices that the public won't pay. ($7.50-10.00 WHOLESALE???)

Now, how do we work with patterns that help sell the yarns we stock? I think the answer is that distributors and designers need to work more closely to provide patterns in the yarns being introduced. Those designers will get shelf space. Designers who bring something really different to the table will also get shelf space. I don't really need or want 13 subtly different bottom-up cardigans, followed by 11 nearly identical pullovers (speaking for myself. Maybe you really want that much choice. In that case, read The Paradox of Choice and rethink your strategy.) I know many distributors have their own patterns, but they also need to work with outside designers to bring different patterns to market.

Another possibility is for designers to re-shoot older designs in new yarns. (Please, I'm a knitter, too. And I write a pattern every now and again. Don't start in on me about how much time and money it takes. I really do know. My question is, do you want to sell the pattern? Yes? Then why should I be the only one to re- knit it in new yarns/colors every year? If you've got a pattern that sells, invest some more time into it and it will continue to sell.)

(Note: To comment on the retailer's thoughts, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Designer" articles, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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