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My 20 Years in the Industry

"I still believe that accurate trend prediction is the most important driver for profits for companies ...."

by Karen Ancona/CLN (March 5, , 2007)

(Note: Karen recently stepped back from her position as Editor of CNA magazine after more than 20 years to become Special Projects Editor for the magazine. In this and future issues, Karen shares her thoughts on the industry, where it's been and where it's going.)


Karen: My career after being a stay-at-home mom was teaching high school English for a decade. In 1986, after freelancing for the locally published trade magazine, Craft & Needlework Age, I took the job there as editor. At the same time, the publishing house, Hobby Publications, was just shifting ownership from Moe Gherman to his son, Dave. There were no computers in-house and I was told by one of the company’s sales reps that I was becoming the editor of the craft industry's "prostitute trade magazine, because generally the magazine traded editorial coverage for advertising. Of course today everyone does that; the separation of church (editorial) and state (advertising) is gone. Even CNN and Fox trade editorial coverage for news "specials."

However, being naVve, the magazine's reputation was one of the first changes I attempted to make. Certainly advertisers got priority coverage, but we also covered all product introductions and improvements.

Then we really stretched and went after trend predictions. That’s when we managed to seal the death of several weak competitors. With good trend info, we could sew up ad programs for new, important categories of craft products before our competitors even knew the names of some of the most influential manufacturers coming into the industry to support those trends.

I still believe that accurate trend prediction is the most important driver for profits for companies doing business in this industry. Unfortunately, most of our leaders are not on target in that area today. More on that later.

The mid/late 1980s was a time when consumers drove the craft business. At CNA we actually worked closely with a long list of consumers and industry associations, especially HIA (now CHA), to discover, define, and open this industry to new categories of manufacturers of products such as T-shirts, rubber stamps, and scrapbook supplies. (There’s a funny story, but too long for this interview, about how Hobby Publications unintentionally put Creating Keepsakes in business. Oh My!!!)

I learned early that the major players in the industry did not have enough clout (or money) to impact or initiate a buying frenzy. Remember, this was pre Michaels, pre- A.C. Moore, back in the late 80s and early 90s. Companies were simply too small and had very little marketing money. I was dreaming of national television ads and they could barely afford a program with Craft & Needlework Age. However, our growing consumer base did impact what we bought and sold. And the smartest associations invited companies that supported those trends to trade shows.

Each year I served on at least one committee for these associations. (I always stayed away from serving as an officer. Dave Gherman, my first real influencer, thought those positions were too political, for an editor, and I still agree with him.) I do love committee work though, and I have met some of the brightest people in the industry through committee work.

I must use this soapbox to encourage everyone to get involved in some sort of association committee work. It is well worth your time and simply is good for your career. In fact, if I was in a position to hire new people, I’d make it one of their first year goals to get involved in association committee work.

CLN: What were your earliest impressions of the industry?

Karen: We can only recall first impressions through a veil of experiences, so expect these memories to be tainted by what I know today.

It seems my first impressions were of an industry devoted to needlecrafts. Knitting and cross stitch were in their prime. And I did not know enough about commerce in the industry to imagine that we could become anything but needlecraft dominated.

Sure, I had heard about macramé, the previous big trend, but I thought it could not have been as popular or profit-generating as needlework. After all, there had not been trade shows devoted to macramé and there certainly were needlecraft shows.

I suspect that newcomers to this industry today believe that we have always been dominated by scrapbooking.

What I could not envision back then was an industry that grew wings with each new trend. I could not understand then what I do now, that we have to keep changing in order to grow because of the nature of our customers, who are creative people. Their nature demands that we keep them busy and interested with new creative challenges. After all, if it’s not new, the creative reward is diminished.

Scrapbooking is the golden child du jour. It is strong enough to have fostered its own trade shows, but so did quilting as it grew in importance to consumers, and so did art materials. My oh my. How exciting were those heavily attended decorative painter shows! I do believe that that consumer base was more passionate than this one for scrapbooking.

What happens, of course, is that each new trend adds to our value and outreach as a total industry. I think it was Susan Brandt, associate director of HIA, who first said that crafting had gone as mainstream as country music. (That was after the wearable art trend.) You bet! Little niche fads can eventually become important to the fabric of mainstream America, and these are pulling what was once a subculture hobby into everyone’s lifestyle.

Can we keep profiting from new fads and again change something unique into a proper trend and then a mainstream hobby?

Can an entrepreneur walk the minefield of new hobby introduction today? I hope so, but I also fear that this is no longer the easy-entry industry it was, and that means the true entrepreneurs, the risk takers, may be looking elsewhere to grow an idea or float a business. It’s now pretty expensive to open a niche retail store, and it takes a bundle of money to start a manufacturing business, either here or abroad. To cover costs you almost have to sell the big players and not many true young manufacturers have access to those accounts. And are our profits worth the effort? How many beads does one have to sell to become wealthy?

After thinking more about your question I have to say that my first impressions were that I had walked into a utopian climate to foster the American dream to open a business. That climate no longer exists. Does it mean we can’t continue to grow? Well, some crafters are always drifting away. Can we re-excite them? Will we provide fertile ground for new crafts? Now I’m asking the questions…oops.

(Note: There will be more of Karen's thoughts on the industry – past, present, and future – in the next issue of CLN. Karen is now living in Florida with her husband Bill, two cats, and an ever increasing number of orchids. She can be reached by calling 941-639-0961or 941-258-4022 or emailing kancona@swfla.rr.com.)

(Note: To read previous entries in Kate's Collage, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)



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