Monday, November 5, 2007

Is It a Matter of Timing?

Here is the question I am left with after the Providence show. Why would the same product do well wholesale, and sell as slow as molasses in winter, at a retail show? The wholesale buyers were buying twice their intended amount of work when presented with a pick box, but the buyers at the retail show were collecting business cards and postcards. What is going on?

It could be any number of factors, but after a conversation last week, I am wondering more and more about timing. Perhaps the shopping patterns of the American consumer are changing enough that they no longer go to craft shows to buy. Rather they go to be inspired, and gather information. Often ascertaining whether or not the artist has a website as they collect cards.

Why? I have a theory that perhaps people are not buying in anticipation of a holiday or birthday several months away, as much as they might have in the past. Purchases are limited to an impulse purchase here and there, or the person who does have an occasion to shop for a gift.

The pace of life today is accelerated. We have gotten used to being able to go on line with our fiber optic, wireless connections, spend a few minutes and purchase whatever we might want, and have it shipped to us overnight, or in no more than a few days. We don't even have to leave the comfort of our couch. Why buy today what you can wait and purchase in a month, or two?

Perhaps, the reason that work is selling better through wholesale than retail. The customer knows they can buzz over to that great little shop, that always has something new and unusual, and pick up a gift when they need it.

Maybe, immediacy is a more important factor in the decision process for shoppers now, than it used to be. If I don't need it today, or at least this week, it can wait. Wait and get it locally. Or wait and go to the craft show that is closer in time to when you need something. It seems as if the end of year holiday buying season has gotten more and more compressed over the last few years, when retail sales are reported during those critical weeks.

The craft show is not dead. But it is not a vibrant retail outlet that, at least not in the Northeast. I remember visiting shows where you could hardly walk, the aisles were so crowded. Those same shows have no where near the same numbers of visitors, and more and more of the visitors to a show are walking around without any purchases in hand.

There are other factors to be sure. The price of heating oil has skyrocketed here in New England, and we are entering the heating season. Gas at the fuel pumps is at a very high level. Anyone holding an adjustable rate mortgage is facing large jumps in mortgage costs. And there is the uncertainty that always happens as we approach a major election. Especially when we know that there will be a change in administration, and we are at war. Uncertainty has a way of cramping impulse shopping.

This is strictly some theoretical thinking going on here. Tell me what you think? Do you see your shopping habits changing? Do you see a change in the retail craft marketplace, and if you do, how would you describe it? I am truly interested in your thoughts, so please be sure to add to the comments, and see if we can get a discussion of sorts about this.


Libby said...

There seem to be so many factors that contribute to the slowing of the craft show market. I think stores like Target have a part in it. Inexpensive items like jewelry and home decor accents at the discount stores used to look cheap. Now these stores have gotten very design savvy and you can get interesting items at a very attractive price point. And it's hard to justify a real impulse purchase these days.

I'm going to try to go to's new show "The Artful Home Show". It sounds like an intriguing new model for a craft show.

Stone Soup Jewelry said...

Very interesting! I recently had a booth at a large show that I'd attended as a customer in past years, and sales for almost everyone seemed dramatically slow. We were all disappointed. I had lots of lovely (and apparently sincere) compliments about my work, and lots of people collecting cards, but nowhere near the number of sales I'd expected. I do think that people are more cautious shoppers in general, and perhaps you're right that the onset of cold weather affects New Englanders' thinking about spending. I also wonder whether there's been an increase in the number and size of retail craft shows in the past few years that has, perhaps, not saturated the market, but created more reasons for consumers to "wait and see" rather than make purchases immediately.

Judy said...

Thank you for your comments Libby and Stone Soup. I think there are many, many contributing factors, but the model does seem to be broken. I just looked through the CraftListers website last night for information on a small local show, and within a 200 mile radius, there were over 500 shows in the next 30 days. Talk about options. And I did not find the show I was looking for!