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My 20 Years in the Industry, Pt. II

"We cannot ... run companies for stockholders only or look for the one item that will last forever ...."

by Karen Ancona/CLN (March 19, , 2007)

(Note: After more than 20 years, Karen recently stepped back from her position as Editor of CNA. In this and future issues, Karen shares her thoughts on the industry, where it's been and where it's going. To read Pt. I, click on the title in the right-hand column.)

CLN: What are the major changes you've seen?

Karen: Of course every industry has realized change over the last twenty years. A global economy and technology have impacted how we all do business.

But specifically during my career in the craft industry, I have been fortunate enough to know men and women who started companies in the trunk of their car and on their kitchen table. That was back in the 80s and early 90s. I watched those people grow those companies into fine businesses that supported their families and made some of them rich.

On the other hand, I've watched some pretty big thinkers fall flat on their faces here. It's always been a tricky industry and it takes a pretty clever and dedicated person to succeed at it, even though it's what we used to call an "easy entry" industry, meaning it didn't take much capital to get started. [Retired CEO of A.C. Moore] Jack Parker, whom I respect tremendously, once told me he thought ours is the most difficult retail environment.

In the past twenty years we went from an industry trying to figure out wholesale pricing for designers who met minimums to an industry learning about EDI, EAN, UCC Systems, and other supply chain issues. Twenty years ago the sale of a company for $60 million was huge news. Now we watch our stock prices.

Years ago leaders tried to stay in the industry. Now many use it as a stepping stone to other opportunities. Twenty years ago we knew about each others' kids and illnesses and hopes and dreams. It was a small and personal business. No more.

In the 80s our biggest controversy centered on idea theft between exhibitors at trade shows. Now we worry about chain store buyers knocking off manufacturer's products.

Change is the only constant, as you know, and if you want to make it big here, you've got to master the challenges that come with change.

Our products change all the time. It's the nature of our beast. My husband Bill, who has been forced to read every issue of CNA, remarked frequently that each issue was totally different than the one before. His career was in the home center industry where a 1/2 inch nut is pretty much the same as it was 40 years ago. And a hammer is like the one your grandpa bought from the local hardware store when he first left his mother. Not in the craft industry. We change whole departments about every five years. In the area of publishing, it makes it hard for publishers who want consistency in every issue.

CLN: Despite the changes, what basics have remained the same?

Karen: Basically, and we should never lose sight of this, we are an industry that serves a fickle consumer. I don't mean that in a nasty sort of way. It's just that our consumers are creative people. They remain our customers only if we keep them interested with new stuff, new opportunities. Think about this: even creative types making $1,000,000 a week portraying some character on a half-hour sitcom will elect to leave that comfy income behind to try something new. Our creative consumers are just as antsy. It's the nature of the beast.

Creative types are all risk takers. Creative types, whether they are artists, actors, business builders, or crafters, are fulfilled only when whatever they are doing is new and exciting. We cannot, therefore, run companies for stockholders only or look for the one item that will last forever like that hammer I talked about in the last question.

This is one industry where we have to keep our consumers' need for change, merely for the sake of change, in front of our decisions. Instead of being brand loyal, our consumers have always been seekers of new products and techniques.

(Note: To contact Karen, call 941-639-0961 or email karenancona@comcast.net.)



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