The Bigger Canvas

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In the flurry of simultaneously building from scratch not just one but two businesses in the space of two months, the strategic picture tends to get lost in the shuffle and put on a back burner.

Here are some thoughts that I have about where the needlepoint industry is right now and where I think Needlepoint Land ought to be going.

It is old news that Mom and Pop small retailers have suffered greatly from being Amazoned, Ebayed, and Etsyed — even as they wage B&M battle with low-cost behemoths such as WalMart who essentially reap the benefit of paying substandard wages and importing cheaply made, inferior goods (usually produced overseas) to an economically challenged customer base.

What has emerged of late as the latest eCommerce buzzword is the notion of selling “artisanal” goods. That is to say, handmade goods that cannot easily be mass produced.

In this space, the notion of UPC codes and machine reproducible products is dismissed, no doubt with a certain elitist hauteur. After all, you can spot a sophisticated needlepoint canvas handpainted on quality mesh immediately.

This is a product that bears little or no resemblance to the stenciled or ink jetted or otherwise factory produced knockoffs on plastic canvas that you will find in abundance on eBay and Walmart’s online channel.

Many needlepoint customers who are attracted to the artisinal vibe of their local needlepoint shop think that the products they purchase are in fact made in America.

In fact, Federal minimum wage laws make it largely uneconomical to produce handpainted needlepoint canvases in this country. As a result, most needlepoint designers must create an overseas pipeline for the production of their designs to fulfill the order flow of the needlepoint retail marketplace. They are often extremely secretive about where their designs are produced, mostly for fear of poaching.

For the most part, quality control by top designers has been excellent, although having to produce their merchandise overseas is a bottleneck that is one of the reasons that many needlepoint products, particularly high dollar ones, must be special ordered.

The ability to produce handpainted needlepoint canvases in volume in this country remains an unsolved problem, one that industry trade groups have failed to solve.

Moreover, even with their emphasis on artisinal goods, Mom and Pop needlepoint retailers are not safe from the relentless predatory behavior of big, discount online retailers.

New initiatives such as the Twitter/Amazon #AmazonCart product demonstrate the drive these companies exhibit for slicing and dicing even further  into the micro retail space.

It is an obvious play for both companies.

Twitter needs to demonstrate its ability to make money. Amazon, as always, needs to Amazon yet another retail space. Both are driven, in ways large and small, by the expectations of Wall Street.

In this environment, needlepoint shop owners need to find ways to partner — with each other, and with arts-and-crafts-friendly companies with much deeper pockets — in order to arrive at marketing and production strategies that allow them to do more than just launch web sites that serve as order fulfillment channels for their stores.

When it comes to needlepoint, they will need to remain nimble and, as the cliché goes, outAmazon Amazon.

Their survival — and Needlepoint Land’s — depends on it.

© Erin McGrath and Needlepointland.com, 2012 – 2016

Image by Open Clip Art

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About Erin

Owner of Needlepoint Land, LLC. Professional in the field for more than 15 years, during which I have managed and/or worked with various high-end needlepoint shops. I enjoy teaching both beginners and advanced stitchers, and have created numerous stitch guides, with speciality thread selections, for in-store customers and private clients. I maintain contact with an extensive network of needlepoint vendors, custom artists, and, most importantly, reliable, high-quality finishers. I look forward to hearing your comments on my blog!

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