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What Happened to PCP's?

The savvy Professional Craft Producers have evolved.

by Jean Leinhauser, Julie McGuffee, and Jean Kievlan (December 19, 2005)

(Note: In a recent issue CLN asked what has happened to the professional craft products. Here are some thoughtful answers.)

Projects became too expensive.

The [Professional Craft Producers] have either gone underground or there are not many left. It is almost impossible to sell a hand-made craft item at a price that is worth the time spent making it. When all components have to be purchased and time and profit accounted for, it's almost sure to be a losing proposition.

I think the group seemed larger than it was because of its vocal power. Anyone who has ever tried to sell at a craft fair knows the attitude, "It's cute, but I could make that myself for a lot less." Jean Leinhauser, Creative Partners.

Too much "mass" competition.

The PC's were an extremely creative group of (dare I say "crafters"?) and for many years a very healthy living could be made by creating items and selling them at local and national craft shows, craft fairs, and craft malls. This didn't go unnoticed, of course, and soon their designs were being mass manufactured overseas and suddenly "cute, crafty stuff" (including lots of happy bunnies) started turning up at local supermarkets, drug stores, gift stores, etc. So, the unique items we used to find at seasonal shows, etc., were now available everywhere, all the time.

It's kind of sad in a way; there was so much creativity out there and it was always fun to see the unique items the PC's came up with. A number of us have, as you know, gone on to design for different industries creativity has to have an outlet, but only the "originals" are still hand made. There are still some good craft malls, shows and fairs around, but a lot of the items being sold now come from gift market.

Jean [Kievlan] and I continue to be successful. We've learned to focus on different aspects of the industry and continue to bring our ideas and creativity to whatever we do, whatever the medium that's what it's all about. Julie McGuffee, Kievlan-McGuffee Designs and Consulting Services. (Note: Julie is also the host of the PBS series, Scrapbook Memories.)

Success means change.

I write this as I depart for the War Eagle Craft Fair in Arkansas. Yes, I still have a booth there, and use it mainly to market products I've designed for other manufacturers, gift items I've purchased, conduct market research on consumer buying preferences and trends, etc.

In the "old" days, I cut and painted wood and created soft sculpture dolls and a variety of "hands-on crafty" items to sell. Now, I market exclusively Christmas and seasonal items, and am only doing two shows this year (down from four last year). It will remain to be seen if higher gas prices even make it feasible to continue going those shows.

What happened to the Professional Crafter? It's all summed up in a five letter word: CHINA. For years craft manufacturers bemoaned all those professional crafters who flooded the trade shows, wanting to buy supplies wholesale. Bet they wish they were at the shows now buying supplies! All I can say to those manufacturers who wished the PC's would go away is be careful what you wish for!

The availability of cheap imports eventually made it difficult to sell truly handmade items and the PC industry changed to an "embellishment" genre, that is, purchasing pre-made items to which something could be added to make it homemade (a wreath, a jar, a plaque, etc.).

Now, much of the craft fairs are populated with mass-produced items (and cheap looking ones at that), which has degraded that market. Those "crafters" savvy enough to know that uniqueness and quality still count, seek out small, non-mainstream suppliers so they have "something different from the rest."

It's obvious to the craft show attendee who sees the same product (or a version of it), in booth after booth that the items are not handmade, per se, by the exhibitors. Those crafters who purchased the "same" items for resale now compete penny for penny with each other, creating pricing wars. Those who can buy in larger quantities can offer a more attractive price, and therefore have an advantage over smaller, less capitalized PC's (sound familiar?).

Savvy PC's set themselves apart through attractive display and presentation, and many still are quite successful with marketing "handmade in China" gift products. Those most successful have learned to pick the "right" products to sell; those that sell through quickly. Thankfully, I've been extremely successful picking the "right" products and have a 98% product sell through rate, based on industry-standard mark-ups. Bet some of the chain stores would like those same sell-through rates on product they bring into the stores.

The "handmade in China" craft fair was further undermined when gift items started infiltrating grocery stores and drug stores. There's only so much demand, you know.

Are there still true "handmade by me" PC's out there? Sure, but mainly in jewelry, glass art, and other more artistic-themed products. "Cutsey" wood, ornaments and stuffed seasonal characters still do extremely well FROM OCTOBER TO DECEMBER. Anything that can be personalized will do excellent in terms of sales.

Some of us who started out as true PC's (I was "discovered" by Suzanne McNeill of Design Originals at a local craft show with my "Spoolie Dolls") have evolved, finding a new niche as consultants, product developers, teachers, designers, and television presenters. Our expertise brings a wealth of experience to the creative industry. I confess, it is sad to see the creative energy and ideas generated from all those professional crafters gone from the craft shows. There were many innovative ideas, techniques and whole product categories driven by the Professional Craft genre.

An interesting note about current consumer buying trends at the craft fairs: they don't seem to care if the product was made in China, just that it has a good price, good quality, and is on trend. This is quite a departure from years ago when consumers wanted truly handmade crafts. Now they want price, quality, and style; it doesn't matter where the item came from.

On a related note, I normally do two consumer craft shows in October, this year I'll do only one. A major manufacturer has contracted me to go to China with him, so I've cancelled the latter consumer show. My knowledge of consumer buying trends, design, and product development skills will be utilized as this manufacturer makes decisions for new programs and product lines. The journey continues.... Jean Kievlan, Kievlan-McGuffee Designs and Consulting Services

(Note: Have any thoughts about the apparent disappearance of the professional crafter, who just a few years ago was a major force in the industry? Email mike@clnonline.com. To read previous "Designing Perspectives" articles, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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