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What Happened to Professional Crafters? Some Answers 

Lack of access to supplies, inept show managers, and more

by Name Withheld (October 23, 2006)

(Note: Months ago CLN asked, whatever happened to professional crafters? Not that long ago, they were a huge part of the industry, complete with their own shows, magazines, and controversies over who should sell to them. At the time, some analysts thought professional crafters bought well over $1 billion worth of our industry's products. Today, they don't appear to be much of a factor at all, which prompted CLN's question. Here, a professional crafter tells her point of view.)

I came across your article asking where have all of the professional crafters gone. My husband and I have been working craft artists (we hate the term "professional crafters") in the field since 1986. Our sales have never been big and in recent years our efforts have been less, although at the present time we are trying to reverse that situation. There are a number of problems we have faced that have discouraged us and I am sure have driven others from the field.

First, we have trouble purchasing materials. Most of the craft wholesalers will not sell to us as we are a home-based business. I am told that this is to keep the casual crafter claiming to be a business from abusing wholesale. In addition to our longevity in business, we are incorporated and have sales tax numbers from three states. The fact that our workshop is at the same address as our home does not affect our status as a business to anyone but the craft supply industry.

Disregarding price, we need to purchase product out of season and in amounts not available at local stores. For one doll I was making (not one line of dolls, but for one actual doll), I had to go to five Michaels stores to purchase three packages of hair. Pearl Art and Craft was out of white 1/2" pom poms for over a year. I need Christmas, Easter, etc., items year round, not seasonally. If I can't buy material, I can't make anything to sell and these sales are lost to the supply industry as a whole.

Second, craft shows in our area have turned into garbage. When we started we did perhaps 20 shows a year. We are down to one show and a couple of small sales opportunities (e.g., selling at an embroidery guild meeting), and we are not sure that we will return to that one show.

When we started there were standards for shows and they were enforced. When we started, shows that were concerned we were not good enough are now better than 80% or 90% filled with buy-and-sell items. At one "juried" show we were next to a booth with Mexican imported belts for $5. Hand tooled belts for $20 would not sell.

At a show run by a juried local arts council, there were people selling items from Peru (I was told by the show that the items were made by "family"); a man selling jewelry with a comparison of prices of what the same items sold for in Macy's; and a booth selling plastic toys in bags with commercial headers. When I complained about it, the show manager did "not know what I was talking about" as she placed one on the raffle table.

At another "juried" show I pointed out to show personnel that the people at the booth next to me were unpacking all their items from commercial boxes. The next year we were dropped from the show; they were not. Some shows have three or more booths selling identical imported items, including commercial CD's, and when asked, the show management is surprised at the idea that the items are not made by the exhibitors or they offer other excuses.

There is also a company that took over management of other shows in the area and does not care about maintaining the crafts in the "craft show." A legal definition of "craft show" does not exist in this state, although there are legal definitions for "flea markets" and "bazaars."

We are currently looking for alternate sales venues. The problem is that our markup is so low that we cannot cut prices for wholesale low enough to be keystoned, and many shops are not interested below that point. We had a successful consignment relationship with a local store for a number of years, but the health of the owner's husband led to their moving and the closing of the shop. We have tried space rental shops but found that there was no impetus for the shop to sell our items, as they had already been paid for the space and would just find someone to replace us if we left.

There are other problems and stumbling blocks set up by the industry that I will not go into at this time. I am sure these and other problems are where the "craft producers" have gone.

(Note: Category Reports includes Pt. I of "An Eyewitness Report on the Jewelry Phenomenon," in which CLN's Barbara Hartnett becomes a Professional Crafter. To comment on this or other industry subjects, email your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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