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Letters to CLN

Rag Shops, younger consumers, tough times for designers, and more.

by CLN Subscribers (March6, 2006)

(Note: A recent issue of CLN included "How To Drive a 

Note: CLN has received a variety of emails on a variety of topics lately. Not enough on a single topic to warrant a separate column, but still thought provoking and interesting.

Rag Shops and Jo-Ann's.

Rag Shops....hummmmm. Thank goodness they don't owe us anything. But:

1. Is it 25% on past dues only? Current invoices will be paid in full? As of what date (thousands of dollars go past due each day)? How many vendor dollars are we talking about?

2. No promise of potential future payments to these vendors if they bail these jokers out? How about some stock – or some future carrot?

3. They want these vendors to foot the bill for the restructure and then turn around and give them more credit, yet they (Sun Capital) will only promise to put in $5 million? That's not even $75,000 per store (at 67 stores as listed on their web site). Sun to vendors: "We're going to screw you real bad, so bad that you'll come back for more!"

4. Something smells fishy about this, but I can't put my finger on it.

5. Will Ron Staffieri remain on the CHA board? If this goes through then he doesn't need any distractions to keep him from his obligations to Rag Shops and the vendors who are crazy enough to pony up to keep his company in business.

6. Will he and the other top managers be taking a pay cut this year of say, 75% like the vendors? Staffieri hasn't been there long enough to be the root of the problem, but I would hope he was smart enough to see the future when he signed on. Anyway, it's his baby and his baby was ugly when he adopted it.

7. Sun thinks that they need the "critical" vendors to make restructuring possible? They need a LOT more vendors than just the critical ones. They need me and a hundred other vendors to make a profit. Will I sell them considering the way they are treating many of my friends in this business? Will I sell them when it's obvious by their pitiful offer of debt infusion that they don't have faith in the future? Hell no!

Jo-Anns: Rosskamm's decision to add the chairman's position is a very unselfish (and probably necessary) move to find the best and brightest for the position. No matter how large, with Alan as chairman it would still be seen as a family company and no top notch President/CEO candidate would really want to be in that position. – Name Withheld (Industry Manufacturer)

To the Industry: "Thank You."

After reporting on CHA first-time exhibitors twelve by 12 having had their trailer stolen and then burned, CLN received the following note:

"The people in this industry continue to amaze me with their generosity and sincere concern. So to all of your readers I say thank you so much for all the well wishes and offers of assistance. What a great group of people." – Jennifer O'Meara, twelve by 12

How To Boost Sales.

The industry is always moaning about declining category sales – decoupage, candles, macrame, weaving, decorative painting, beads, pogs, faux finishing, scrapbooking, etc., etc.

The industry has no one to blame but itself. It has never invested in the future. Everything is sales now, profits now. The money invested into a long-term media program to expand the customer base has always been too intangible for the industry to see the benefits. Sure, from time to time the topic was discussed, but nothing was ever done.

Since the Arts and Crafts industry never committed itself to a long-term program of attracting new customers to arts and crafts, it has ended up selling the SAME customer over and over again. The customer takes up the newest category, then the category levels off and if there isn't anything new, sales drop. So instead of trying to find the next scrapbooking, the industry better find somebody new to sell their merchandise. It will take a long time, but if they don't do it, the industry will continue to shrink. – Bill Winn, Winn & Associates (Comment: Bill is a long time veteran of the industry, having worked as a distributor and in executive positions with Michaels and MJ Designs.)

Why designers quit.

I heard that our industry is now a $30.6 billion dollar business. This information was stated in the Designer Reception along with the statement that "the designers are the heart of the industry." I wonder, what percentage of this 36 billion dollar business did the designers receive? If we are in fact the "heart" of the industry, why are so many designers leaving the industry because they can not make a decent wage?

I heard from several designers that the magazines are paying $25 for a card design. Tthink about this: at best it would take someone 1 1/2 hours to get their materials together, design a card, write instructions, gather shipping material, and get the card to the post office. At least 50% of this fee would go to taxes, studio overhead, and shipping. That would leave $12.50 for 1 1/2 hours work which equals $8.40 per hour – not much more than minimum wage. I am disgusted with this!

I am one of the "lucky" designers that charge a decent hourly fee and have companies that are willing to pay that fee. My disgust is two sided: I am disgusted that so many designers are willing to work for such low fees and that they do not run their business as a business – i.e, recognizing the true cost of doing business. For the most part, designers are their own worst enemies! Until they refuse to work for such low fees everyone will suffer.

Second, I am disgusted that companies in this industry give what I call lip service – "Designers are the heart of the industry" – and are not willing to pay a fair dollar for the very designs that make their product sell.

My fear is that I will also be forced out of the industry that I love because some many designers are doing a disservice to themselves and to other businesses that demand decent pay for their work. – Name Withheld (Industry Designer)

Painting and young consumers.

Painting among young people is HUGE, but they aren't using kits from the craft store (they're aren't many cool ones). They are coming up with their own devices: painting on vintage handbags, metal mailboxes, buttoned-up western shirts from the thrift store, old luggage, sneakers, even vintage party dresses! What designs are they painting? Everything from funky flowers to stenciled silhouettes of famous people to clever quips. Decorative painting is more than just pretty flowers, birds and vines these days! – Kathy Cano Murillo, www.CraftyChica.com

Attracting younger consumers.

I have been in PR most of my adult life, and it has allowed me to experience many different industries such as natural products, fashion/apparel, active lifestyle sports and hospitality. Being in other industries has allowed me to compare and I came to realize in 2005 the many areas in which the craft industry is not only lacking focus but completely missing the boat.

One of my major focuses with my craft industry clients is to get them to expand their market focus to the younger generations X, Y and Z. Most of the products, techniques, and approaches they use are still focused to the "known crafters, or baby boomers. Although I do feel it is extremely important to take care of this market and I love bread dough and Swiss straw as much as the next person, the craft industry needs to connect to the technology-focused generations.

My company has formed many focus groups in the craft industry over the past year, and we have come to realize that we need to wake it up! What part of YOUR CURRENT APPROACH IS NOT WORKING does the industry not understand? Wake up manufacturers and retail outlets! Hellllloooooooo!!!

Why do you think most of the smaller retail outlets are closing and most of the larger chains are struggling? They do not communicate to the new generations in a language that they can understand. They just stick products on the shelves (if we are lucky, they may include a sample photo) and expect consumers to immediately understand the product from the packaging.

What is even scarier is they expect to inspire and motivate the consumer to buy with this approach. Although packaging must be communicated effectively within three to five seconds, packaging is not enough to get the product from the shelf, to the consumer’s hands, and out the door. And most importantly, once the product is out the door and in their homes, get them to use it, love it, and come back for more.

In order for there to be a future in crafting, retailers need to have a coffee house approach and the manufacturers need to create niche and urban-focused public relations and marketing campaigns. Replace the 1970’s shelving and cold floor plans with some over-stuffed couches, fresh and uplifting colors, trendy tables, and technology placement (such as plasma TVs with inspirational video shorts looping, iPods on hand to listen to while they create, etc.). Outlets can take it a step further and give consumers space to try products and make them feel like they are at home in a safe place to let their creativity run wild. Staff the centers with knowledgeable, fun, and enthusiastic teachers, serve up some creativity on a platter, and show them the way.

These new generations need a little spark to ignite their creativity. They do not understand crafting as we know it; it is a foreign language/territory to them. Someone has got to wake up the industry – otherwise there will be no craft industry.

I have to add that Martha Stewart is somewhat brilliant; she took this approach in the entertainment industry and made it flourish. She communicated creativity in a way that these generations understood. She delivered marketing campaigns that were trend- and future-focused, then she launched products to support the expanding demand and presto, a plain and boring industry was reborn.

What is it going to take to make the Michaels, Wal-Mart’s, Targets and manufacturers to take this leap? If the industry does not take care of these generations. then they might as well throw in the towel, wave the white flag, and call it a day because it will be over.

It is so upsetting to see all of the wonderful creations of my grandmother, Aleene Jackson, and other brilliant creative beings disappear before our eyes. To date I have not seen anyone doing a darn thing to stop this downward spiral. Maybe the industry really does not get it, they do not see it, or they just do not understand – or they are so set in their ways that they will not listen.

Yet I continue forward in this industry because I strongly believe it can make this change. It is going to take a lot of education and risk taking to move this industry in the right direction, but as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I had a dream that one day" (and I add to that) someone will take the leap to begin this movement. – Starr Hall (a Gen X crafter), President, 2 Point Media, www.2pointmedia.com

(Note: Have an industry issue you'd like to discuss? Care to comment on any of the points made above? Email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com. Previous "Kate" columns are still available. Click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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