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Progress? If you say so.

Are craft stores losing their identity?

by Kate (October, 2003)

(Note: Kate is a mid-level manager at a major industry company.)

In this age of frantic-paced lifestyles, retailers try to be a one-stop shop. If the six degrees of separation can connect a new product line with standard inventory, then offering it on store shelves is justified. Now grocery stores contain dry cleaners, banks, coffee shop chains, and mini- toy and office supply stores. Drug stores develop film and hardware stores sell appliances. Fast food burger joints have added pancakes, salads, and sundaes to their menus.

Now, I'm all for making life easier. The fewer stops I have to make, the happier I am and the more I accomplish. However, when the expanding variety of inventory starts to change the overall nature of the store, I question the logic.

As a child I would constantly pester my mother to take me to the small mom-and-pop craft stores. As a young adult the craft chains moved in and offered an explosive spark for my creativity. An hour wasn't nearly enough time to spend investigating all the products and dreaming of ways to use them. Today I approach a trip to the craft store much in the same manner as I approach any chore -- it's something I have to do so I do it.

Here's why a visiting a craft store has evolved from a creative delight into a chore:

A couple weeks ago I needed two colors of DMC floss for a project. I went to the local chain store and wound my way to the back corner, only to find that the chain has discontinued the colors I needed. I assume some beancounter had decided the colors I needed weren't popular enough to be profitable.

Not profitable? Since floss is a 30-cent item (or less), the profit can't be very high regardless. Isn't floss there as a lure to draw the consumer into the store? But now, what about the customers who purchase leaflets, only to find the colors they need are unavailable? Hasn't the goal of drawing the consumer into the store been lost, since they must go elsewhere to buy what they need?

(By the way, I asked a clerk if the floss colors I needed were in the back room. She didn't know what floss was.)

On my way out of the store empty handed, I wandered around to reassure myself that this was the craft store of ten years ago that was such a spark to my creativity. Instead, I found this:

Readymade cotton throws like in a department store -- to sit under while crafting? Greeting cards and wrapping paper like a card shop's -- to use after completing a project? Puzzles and Thomas the Tank Engine toys like Toys R Us -- to amuse your kids while you craft? Cooking spices like a grocery store -- to carry the creative process into dinner preparation? Home dec products like Pier I -- to ...what? Framed art like a museum store -- to hang in the living room while you craft in the family room? And, of course, seasonal decorations. Sorry, but I can't connect to the craft industry the paper bat that hangs from the ceiling and flies in circles.

I know a business must make a profit in order to survive. And to make that profit a craft store may need to carry a few non-craft products. But when more and more non-craft products fill our store shelves and fewer and fewer craft products are available, what is that saying about craft stores?

Aren't craft supplies what defines a craft store? When the array of basic supplies shrinks to make more room for what George Carlin calls "stuff," when do we stop being a craft store? Is this current trend in craft stores really progress?

Progress: Maybe it's come to mean People Restricting Opportunities for Growth, Relaxation, Enjoyment, and Self Satisfaction.

(Note: Kate's previous columns are archived. To access any of them, click on the titles at the top of the right-hand column. Have any comments about stolen designs or products? Email Kate at katescollagecln@aol.com.)



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