You should be selling craft supplies.
“But, we’re an art store…”
“We don’t have the room to dedicate space.”
“We don’t have the customer base.”
“Crafting is so broad… How do you possibly carry everything someone needs?”
I hear you, and I haven’t changed my mind.
First, we need to define “craft.” Is it popsicle sticks and googly eyes? Glitter and Chenille Stems? Stickers and appliques? The short answer is yes, and so much more. Traditionally, “Craft” encompasses (and is not limited to):
I am betting that you already carry supplies for a lot of items on this list. Rather than pushing for more, I propose we review how you these merchandise materials. But before we dive into specific departments, it helps to have an understanding of what craft is, exactly.
The Great Divide
To understand just how broad the term “craft” is, we look to the history of craft, and how it came to be defined as something separate from art. In the western world, and in our industry, there is a divide between “arts” and “crafts.” The arts have been held to a higher standard of scrutiny and reverence. Crafts have often been seen as utilitarian at best and a cookie-cutter version of creativity at worst.
But this separation has not always been in effect. The very concept of “artist” didn’t evolve in the western world until the 1450s-1500s, the era of Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Prior to that, painting was a trade skill taught the same way that all guild trades were taught: over a long period of time by a seasoned professional, until the student took over the master’s shop. These artisans weren’t credited for their work; art was seen as intrinsic to culture, therefore no one was singled out as the principal author. When an object of beauty was created, it was a credit to the entire community— or the credit landed in the hands of the nobleman or collector who purchased the finished piece as a symbol of their wealth.
In the European era of Renaissance Humanism (1500’s) individuality and individual creativity began to be elevated and celebrated. Individual artists were given credit for a work of art (even if it was a copy or replica of a well known statue). It took only one generation for this shift to occur, and in Europe the “Fine Arts” were born. There was suddenly a distinction between artisans and artists. While painters, architects and sculptors were raised on to pedestals, the everyday makers of beautiful and useful items fell out of fashion. Their goods were suddenly considered decorative and were devalued over time. Former patrons shifted their focus to the artists en mode. With the eventual rise of the industrial revolution, many of these guilds disbanded and the value of hand crafted items was reduced in Western culture to make way for convenience.
The Arts & Crafts Movement
In an act of resistance, out of the industrial revolution came the Arts and Crafts Movement. With machines making everyday objects in mass quantities, the lack of craftsmanship and artistry began to rub members of the upper classes the wrong way. Though you’ll find many men gaining credit for the popularity and rise of this movement, there are many significant women who contributed to the movement and inspire creators to this day. The Arts and Crafts movement allowed for women to join the art world in a real way, and it was the first career opportunities in the arts for women of the Era. Mary “May” Morris, the daughter of William Morris- a prominent figure in the movement, created the Women’s Guild of Arts. The first guild of its kind, allowing women a platform to sell work and generate their own income. One mission: they saw firsthand the plight of laborers who had lost their jobs to machines and began pushing handicrafts as a way to provide a meaningful occupation for these displaced workers.
The push for a handmade feel was born out of human necessity for meaning; we are seeing a similar push for hand-made items today. With the rise of technology and automation, the modern day consumer values handmade quality in day to day life. Craft Fairs have experienced a renaissance, and with this surge comes an opportunity for your store.
Compelling Craft Supplies In Your Store
So, what can you do in your store, short of adding a “Live Laugh Love” section into the mix? Ready-made crafts and products aimed at the DIY community may not have a place in your store. But crafts with processes that overlap with what is known as the fine arts deserve special attention. Consider showcasing these crafts with examples and creative displays in already established departments: A few simple adjustments can make all the difference. Inspire creativity with examples:
- Block Printed patterns of popular foliage like the trendy Fiddle Leaf Fig, or Swiss Cheese Plant
- Use Solar Fast to transfer a sonogram onto fabric and stretch into an embroidery hoop
- Hang a screen printed onesie next to a screen printed Men’s T-shirt with cheesy phrases like “Big Potato” and “Tater Tot”
A Nod To Jewelry Making
- Add a few simple findings to your store. Start with earring posts and earring backs hanging next to your Sculpey or Fimo. Have someone on staff bake up a cute example of hand-made earrings. It’s a $5 craft!
Porcelain and Glass Display
- Do you carry materials to write on Porcelain and Glass? How about etching cream? Create some “Mr. and Mrs.” or “Mrs. and Mrs.” or “Mr. and Mr.” low ball glasses (check your local dollar store) in both etched and drawn designs.
- Grab some tile from your local hardware store and make some folk-art coasters; show the product on something they wouldn’t expect to find in your store but may have seen on Pinterest.
Knives and Blades Station
- Papercrafting requires that you change your blade regularly (one 10” x 10” cut silhouette can use over 20 blades) Add a sign to this department – “Dull Blades Make Dull Art”
- Hang examples of cut paper like those from the fantastic Kari Fottef!
- Do you have your cutting mats near your blades? Hang a sign reminding your customers that you should be changing your cutting mat every 6 months to a year depending on the usage; same goes for their craft knives (the more frequent the crisper the cut)!
- If you don’t have examples on display, get some. Use unique colored thread or dye your own using Jacquard Basic Dyes (another add-on sale), and add stickers to your pricing signs that indicate the basic supplies.
- Pro-tip: inform your customers that a bone folder is indeed made from bone. Consider adding a vegan option.
The Crafting Industry Today
Today, crafting is a $36 billion dollar industry, and who is buying? Well, everyone—but especially women.
Who is the Art & Crafts Consumer?
- A Brick and Mortar Consumer—67% of purchases are made in a retail store
- 44% of Baby Boomers
- 75% of Millennials (that is 55 million consumers!)
- Millennial Moms are driving and will continue to drive purchases for the next 10 yrs
- Millennial Moms are 67% more likely to buy art & craft products than the average consumer.
I believe the art supply community has a responsibility, not only to provide our towns and cities with creative tools but also to educate creative people on all the materials available to them. Supplies may fall into a constructed category: “fine art” or “craft”, but if we can learn anything from the history of arts and crafts, the evolution of mixed media and the reality of creative people in the present day, we can understand that this division is simply a line in the sand. And so, with a foot on either side, I encourage you to open your doors to all kinds of makers.