Take Advantage of 11 Craft Trends to Increase Sales

Take Advantage of 11 Craft Trends to Increase Sales
by Patrice Lewis

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Of course you do. There's hardly an adult alive who doesn't remember the events and emotions of that horrible day. For many people, terror and fear were mingled with the down-home concerns about how it would impact their daily lives.

Take Advantage of 11 Craft Trends to Increase Sales My husband and I were no exception. As the days crept by, and we stayed glued to the radio (we had no television reception), we wondered how the aftermath would affect our home woodcraft business. We had two tiny children at the time, and our eight-year-old business was our sole source of income. It was a shaky and uncertain income, to be sure, but it gave us the freedom to work at home and live in the country. If a severe downturn in the economy had followed 9/11, it would have wiped out our business and left us in dire straits.

So we braced for impact. We braced for a catastrophic loss of income. We braced for an entire change of lifestyle, in fact. We felt sure that no one would want to buy anything as trivial as our hand-crafted products during a time of national stress and fear.

So we waited for our business to fail. And waited. And waited. Our business is seasonal, and we normally wrap things up in mid October, but November and then December went by, and we were still selling our pieces in much higher numbers than we normally did.

Around mid January or so, with sales still high, it finally dawned on us that perhaps this wasn't a fluke. Was something deeper going on? Not only had our business not tapered off in mid October, but, in fact, it had experienced an unseasonable increase in business. Why?
Take Advantage of 11 Craft Trends to Increase Sales

We spoke to our wood suppliers, both of them, and they reported a massive spike in business dating back to shortly after 9/11. "We're getting reports from other wood dealers across the country that their sales have increased as well," one dealer told us. "There's a huge and sudden demand for American-made products. It's a form of patriotism. People are supporting American craftspeople and small businesses."

So oddly enough, the aftermath of that tragic day permanently boosted our sales base and has allowed us to remain in business ever since. In short, we unknowingly participated in the strong trend for hand-crafted American products that surged across the country.

Americans are now facing an economic recession that has wiped out many jobs and caused endless financial struggles for others. Craftspeople have had to change with the changing times in order to stay afloat, either by modifying what they make or modifying how they market their products. So, what is trending in the craft world these days?

Since 2008, we've noticed several broad trends among crafts. These trends may help struggling craftspeople hone or fine-tune their products to make them more marketable.
1. Crafts shows are increasing. Selling venues are maintaining, and even increasing in, popularity. This may not seem like news, but, in fact, it's a remarkable thing in a bad economy. The hunger for handmade American products has increased during these harder times, not decreased. Many craftspeople have decided to enter the craft fair circuit to supplement their income, an excellent decision during an uncertain job market.
2. Rustic, old-fashioned, or comforting themes. Although rustic or old-fashioned products clearly do not appeal to everyone, the increase in popularity of such products is hard to deny. Living in the Pacific Northwest as we do, we see many such crafts, and they always sell very briskly. In other regions of the country, the "Northwest rustic" tone is even more exotic and desirable. This trend may be an unconscious desire to hearken back to supposedly "simpler" times.
3. Nostalgia. The urge to reminisce or remember older times has fueled such vogues as the huge scrapbooking movement. The desire for "comforting" products--such as plush toys, hand-woven shawls, or sheepskin slippers--confirms people are looking for items that symbolize love and care. In fabric crafts, retro styles or techniques have been popular. This all relates to the "back to basics" trend that is sweeping across the country with the advent of more difficult economic times.
4. Old and new. Customers are appreciating the blending of old and new by purchasing such things as handmade accessories for modern gadgets such as Kindles and smart phones. Some craftspeople use retro or nostalgic themes for these accessories to increase the appeal of the product.
5. Handmade health or beauty products. There is an increasing concern about harsh chemicals or unpronounceable components in personal care products. Craftspeople who specialize in organic or homemade items--such as soaps, lotions, creams, and lip balm--are doing a booming business.
6. Eco-themed products. Customers like to know their purchases are having a minimal impact on the environment. Crafts made of recycled and/or natural materials, organic fabrics, and other low impact components continue to be popular.
7. Functional vs. decorative. Given a choice between an attractive but purely decorative item and a similarly attractive but functional item, people will often choose the functional. This trend for "functional art" may indicate how much more careful people are when it comes to spending money.

These trends seem to apply more to ordinary craft fairs. But what's going on in the higher-end market? For insights into this demographic, I spoke to Howard Rose of Rose Squared Productions (www.rosesquared.com), which puts on quality craft shows in New Jersey. Mr. Rose noted additional trends:
Take Advantage of 11 Craft Trends to Increase Sales
8. Pricey isn't bad. Mr. Rose has seen an increase in sales for high-end items. "People are interested in quality," he explained. "They've been holding back and are tired of hearing about the concerns and fears for the economy. They're spending money on fewer items, but those items are high quality." He cites a fine metal sculptor who recently sold five contemporary pieces varying in price from $800 to $1,500 at a single show.
9. Older and wiser. Mr. Rose has noticed an interesting demographic: at higher-end shows, patrons tend to be more mature. Because older people are often better established financially, their purchases reflect a careful and thoughtful selection of quality arts and crafts.
10. Flat sales. Sales of flat, two-dimensional art (photography, paintings, wall art) are increasing, which may be due to the slowly recovering housing market. "A fine artist told me that he prefers to do shows where people are moving into new houses," Mr. Rose said. "That's because they are looking for furnishings for their new home."
11. Popular standbys. Popular items, such as jewelry and photography, sell well regardless of the economy, and Mr. Rose has noticed more craftspeople entering these fields. As a result, he can afford to choose the very best when accepting vendors for his shows.
So how do these broad trends impact the craftsperson?

In hard economic times, people are urged to bend with the wind rather than stay rigid and inflexible. Such advice applies now. If your product isn't selling as well as you'd hoped, you might consider these crafting trends and how you can modify either your craft or your marketing efforts to take advantage of these developments.

As an example, we know a craftsperson named Samantha whose product line used to consist solely of cherubic pastel-colored ceramic dragons and other fantasy figurines. To be honest, they were hideous. They weren't intricately detailed and realistic in form; they were cutesy. As a result, her product's appeal was limited almost exclusively to the narrow demographic of little girls.

Because her fledgling business was close to failing, in desperation Samantha applied her ceramic talents toward an entirely different line of products: tableware (plates, mugs, etc.). She incorporated her favorite fantasy themes, but toned down the cutesy factor and pastel colors. Instead, she worked to make her motifs more realistic and detailed.

It made a tremendous difference in her sales, because her platform was broadened to include the parents (and uncles and neighbors and friends) of all those little girls. Her sales increased, and they have shown a healthy growth over the last five years. She brings out a new "line" every year and has a devoted core of followers who purchase samples of every new style she makes. She has tailored her marketing efforts toward venues that support fantasy-themed tableware (such as Renaissance festivals) and now makes her living exclusively through her ceramic work.

This is an example of the flexibility necessary in the crafting world--incorporating a variation on a theme and putting on a new twist. Samantha took advantage of several of the trends noted earlier: She sells at higher-end venues, she raised her prices to reflect the detailed and beautiful work of her new line of crafts, and she is emphasizing the functional over the purely decorative.

Although no craftsperson can be a slave to every trend that comes along, being able to take advantage of certain trends will always increase sales. That advantage comes from being able to see the strong and sustained movements, and being flexible enough to modify your marketing and product options enough to ride the new trend wave.