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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Continuing Craft Education is a MUST for Retailers!

Years ago, in what seems like another life, I was a trial attorney. One of the important aspects of my job as a litigator was to stay on top of my industry through Continuing Legal Education. Most professions require some sort of continuing education to practice that particular trade. Of course, there is no such requirement for the independent craft retailer, although your profitability depends upon it!

You have a responsibility to your store (and to your customers) to stay on top of all of the current craft trends. Are you making the grade? Thumbing through the latest issues of Bead and Button, Quilting Arts, Vogue Knitting or a similar trade magazine is simply not enough. Your customers are using the internet to maximum advantage. They are reading the craft blogs and soaking up new techniques such as altered art image jewelry and paper making, felting, resin jewelry, upcycled clothing, and more. They are exchanging ideas and offering "how to" tutorials. Many of the hot projects feature a blend of several different mediums: fiber with beads, paper with fiber, metal with fiber, and on and on!

I came across a Craftster tutorial on "Free Form Lace scarves" while researching something else entirely and I was so inspired that I stopped what I was doing, dug out my sewing machine, and spent several hours making a much modified version of the project which resulted in the shawl pictured below. The project required yarn, ribbon, thread, beaded embellishment and a sewing machine. My sewing skills are elementary at best yet the endeavor proved easy and rewarding.

My internet research has been inspirational on a creative level and I have recently started to play with a number of mediums I had never dabbled in before....fun! However, I have to tell you...finding the supplies has been a challenge. For example, I had to travel to four different stores to find products I needed for the above project: the temporary fabric adhesive was at one store, but they didn't carry the water soluble stabilizer. The next two stores had nothing. I finally found the last item at a combination scrapbooking/quilt store. Whew! I live in a large metropolitan area that has a number of boutique craft stores as well as several big box locations. I too often find that the boutique store owners are completely unaware of the products I am looking for and many of the big box stores are either out of stock or only offer the merchandise on line. There seems to be a real need for retailers to participate in continuing craft education!

I decided to take my research a bit farther to prove out my theory by attending two different Guild meetings this week. The first, a Sewing Guild, was held in a small rural community about an hour away from my home. The level of artistry exhibited during "show and tell" was amazing. The group leader had a Quilting Arts DVD playing as attendees gathered around to learn how to alter fabric with stamps and dye. Attendees had traveled from up to two hours away to attend this bi-monthly event. Clearly, these men and women possessed a real love of crafting and should be a craft store's ideal customer. Sadly, when I asked each person where they got supplies the answer was unanimous: ONLINE. I assumed that price was the issue, but I was quickly set straight....Nope, it seems that few of the products could be obtained from any local retail store. Yet, their projects were of the sort featured almost monthly in many craft magazines and which appear all over the Blogosphere. Truly, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between some retailers and their customer base.

Of course, many retailers are spot on and getting the job done! For example, the second meeting I attended was a Surface Design Guild whose eclectic membership is made up of artists with many passions: beading, weaving, dying, sewing, felting, glass, and beyond. It was a visual and social treat---an opportunity to chat with people who are passionate about the things I enjoy. In fact, I joined the organization and signed up for two workshops. There was one retail store owner in attendance and it was apparent that she has successfully put her finger on the pulse of the art community. Karrie Klement of Fiberologie is involved in orchestrating a gallery show for guild members and her fabric shop offers a sophisticated array of workshops far beyond the quilting norm; rather, she targets the cross-over crafter with classes on felting, apparel design, screen printing, and beyond.

What is an overburdened retailer to do?

Easy! Take some time to see if there are similar guilds in your area! You will learn a great deal about other mediums that will help you market your store, with the added benefit that you will meet people who will enthusiastically spend money in your shop! Some sources to consider: Bead Guilds, Fiber Guilds, and Quilt Guilds. Can't find a guild in your area? It is easy to start one! Consider organizing through MeetUp.com or follow the steps outlined in this EHow article.

COMING SOON: Do your store promotions need a shot in the arm? A monthly "Customer Challenge" might be just the cure! This month I am participating in a Fiber Guild challenge that requires participants to create something that includes: a flower, a butterfly, the colors red, yellow, and orange and the number 6. I have a number of ideas cooking and can't wait to see the competition! We are working on a similar concept for our readers....STAY TUNED!

CALL FOR FEEDBACK: Is there a particular challenge that your store is facing right now? We would love to help! Shoot us an email at TheCraftyRetailer@gmail.com with the details and we will pow wow with the experts to see what we can do to assist you.

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