Mar 11, 2009

Don't Blame the Economy - we were hurting before that....

I Remember When, the direct sales company that ScrapBiz grew out of in 2002, quietly shut it's doors a couple of days ago. It went without the drama usually associated with the demise of the industry's direct sales companies (Scrap in a Snap, Leaving Prints and TLC all went down in scandalous flames). But, the company was not without it's troubles through the years. According to wholesalers I have worked with for many years, paying bills was often a problem. Still, many consultants are now left without a business. Which was part of my beef with these companies in the first place. It's not really YOUR business - if they close, you close.

But, that's not my point here. My point is that many are blaming the economy. That may have had SOMETHING to do with it - as in it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. But, the scrapbook industry has been in trouble for more than just this past 18 months that we've been in a recession. So, the economy can't be totally blamed.

Some of the business members at ScrapBiz report that their customers don't seem to know there's a recession going on. They are still buying like crazy. Others are reporting only slight declines in business or that business is flat. Both aren't bad given the tough economy.

Our real problems started years ago and the economy was the final straw for some. The problems are simple but the answers are complex. I just taught a class at PMA that covered part of the reasons why the industry has suffered the last few years.

  1. Consider what a scrapbook store looked like in 1999 - paper, albums, adhesives, embellishments, tools. Then, consider what the scrapbook store of 2009 looks like - paper albums, adhesives, embellishments, tools.
  2. Consider the changes in home technology since then: digital cameras, photo printers, faster computers, better scanners, photo books, color printers, wide format printers.
The problem here is clear - scrapbook stores failed to keep up with the evolution of technology and what it meant to memory preservationists. The new tech brought new possibilities for taking photos and preserving memories and stores ignored it all but customers didn't.
  1. Consider the scrappers of 1999 - pretty much those who did and those who didn't. Scrapping was pretty much just ONE type of activity
  2. Consider the variety of scrappers in 2009 - hybrid, traditional, card makers, paper crafters, digi scrappers, photo book makers, etc.
The problem here is once again that retailers failed to adapt. We have SO MANY types of customers in our industry and yet, most stores cater to ONLY the traditional scrapper. You can't shut out a large percentage of potential customers and thrive. I seriously get amused when a store owner will look me in the face and say, with all seriousness, "I don't have ANY customers interested in digital scrapping." Well, you DID have those people and they already left. And, you DO have some who are dabbling in it or thinking about it and are in danger of leaving the traditional industry. What you're saying is that you don't offer anything to those people so they don't come in.

And finally, knowing that some will drop out over time (or maybe we didn't have the business sense to know that) and that the average life-cycle of a craft is 7 years, we did NOTHING to invite in new scrappers to replace those who left either because they got bored or changed their style.

Struggle, struggle, struggle.... now, add a bad economy on top of that and it means death for many retailers.

That's not to say that you should be all things to all people. But, if you know you have a strong position as a traditional retailer, then you need to market the heck out of that angle and scratch and claw for every traditional customer you can find. You can't sit back and wonder where everyone went and then blame the economy. If you add tech to your store, then you need to like-wise market heavily the fact that you are a 21st Century Scrapbook Store and you want to invite your former customers back to see what you've got.

Either way it's not going to be easy. But, it CAN be done.

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