I guess it depends on what you mean by "viable."
Clearly, the market for crafty consumers is strong. 56% of US households crafted at least once during 2010. The jewelry/bead craft industry boasts 2.3 billion in annual sales, while the needlework craft industry is even larger---generating 2.9 billion dollars in 2010.
Despite what appears to be a solid customer base, many Crafty Business Owners have decided they are making too little money while expending too much effort, shutting the doors in impressive numbers. Blue Moon Beads recently filed for Bankruptcy. Homer Hillis, of HHH Enterprises, is closing the last brick and mortar store of what was once an 8 store bead empire, preferring to concentrate on his online retail business.
Homer, who once described his shop as "a hardware store for women" is one of the most personable, driven, craft loving guys I know. I first met him in Tucson at the To Bead True Blue show and have come to respect his business longevity and his marketing acumen. Despite his passion and his experience, Homer believes that the Crafty Business Model has changed so dramatically in the past few years, "the juice just ain't worth the squeeze." No doubt about it, the large chain stores and major Internet supplies have had a deleterious effect on the local craft store.
It is easy to make the discount internet craft retailer the "bad guy," but the challenges facing the Crafty Retailer are more complicated than that. Consider the experience of Jackie Goff, a former Crafty Retail Rock Star. Jackie recently closed the doors of her Toledo, Ohio yarn store, Uptown Fibers. Jackie did not go into retail as a starry eyed crafter looking to turn her hobby into a business. She is a savvy business woman who did an inordinate amount of research before signing her lease. She had a supportive husband and a plan for success. She crunched the numbers, developed a budget, knew how much yarn she needed to sell at exactly what margin in order to meet her expenses, and decided to GO FOR IT. She developed innovative and exciting classes which often had waiting lists. She advertised locally to increase her customer base. She held in store events to generate interest and excitement. She encouraged crafty community and sent out regular emails. She lost thirty thousand dollars her first year. Undaunted, Jackie upped her game. She increased her marketing, and wrote a killer email to her customers explaining the economies of running a Yarn Store.
She lost thirty thousand dollars her second year. She had an email list of 2000 and a customer snail mail list of 500, yet as the economy worsened, her core customer group stood at only 400. Jackie's shop was located in an area near Detroit. The local economy was dependent upon the automotive industry, an industry that has been decimated in recent years. One third of her customer base had suffered a job layoff or had a spouse who had been laid off or worried about being laid off. Fear kills the impulse purchase and folks simply didn't have the disposable income to sustain her shop. Sales fell far short of the $600 required each day in order to meet her expenses. Inventory started to grow stale and Jackie was reluctant to invest more money in what was starting to appear to be a black hole.
While she was dealing with a depressed local market, Jackie also experienced the double edged sword of the internet. Her store was stocked with thousands of dollars worth of books and patterns, but her cost conscious consumer knew that she could go to Ravelry and download something similar for free. Classes that were once a major customer draw started to stagnate as You Tube exploded onto the Craft Scene. Suddenly it was possible for a wannabee fiber aficionado to learn to knit or crochet FOR FREE at midnight while sitting in her jammies on the couch. Paying for the privilege quickly became less attractive to her cash strapped customer. Thrifty shoppers came to the store for inspiration and companionship, but many would order their yarn from the online discounters.
So...is the Brick and Mortar Craft Store still a viable Business Model?
Yes---for those retailers who are in an area with a more forgiving economy and who have crafted a niche market---retail is not just doable, it can be profitable. Join us next week when we meet a Crafty Retailer who shares her secrets for defying the odds as she slugs it out in a crowded market!
In the Studio
My blog posts have been infrequent of late....all the work has been studio focused! My youngest is graduating from High School next week and the Empty Nest is looming large. I am endeavoring to look at this next stage of life as a wonderful opportunity ... creatively. For the first time since I had children I will be in a position to travel easily and I am looking forward to new teaching opportunities. The past few weeks have been a bit of a fiber frenzy as I prepared a number of workshop proposals. Here is a "bits and pieces" preview of my submissions to Swarovski....wish me luck!
Speaking of workshops, I was delighted to learn that I will be teaching at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair in Fletcher, North Carolina this Fall. The event is always spectacular for fiber lovers and I cannot wait to do some shopping while I am there! The festival is October 21-23 and I will be teaching four workshops. Two of the classes involve "hands on" fibery fun, while the others are geared toward crafty marketing.
Maybe this empty nest thing won't be so bad after all!