Retailers are experiencing a growth of interest

Retailers are experiencing a growth of interest in arts and crafts, with sales doubling since 1989 to about $11 billion, according to the Hobby Industries Assn. Specialty stores have ceased to be the only outlet for craft supplies and have been joined by large craft chains, mass merchants and other high-volume retailers. Some 90% of US households have one member of more involved in crafts.


Call it nostalgia, call it a return to the fundamental values of hearth and home: Americans are taking up crafts in numbers unimaginable a decade ago. Nine out of 10 households now have at least one person involved in crafts, and retail craft sales have doubled in the last five years, to about $11 billion, according to the Hobby Industries Association (HIA).

“The whole crafts industry is growing by leaps and bounds” said Ray Thomson, senior product manager at Rubbermaid, maker of Fabri-Craft peel-and-stick fabrics, which appeal to consumers who craft such popular items as fabric-covered picture frames and decorative boxes.

Once the sole purview of small, independent crafts supply stores, the booming crafts business is now attracting a broad range of big-volume retailers. National crafts chains, such as Michaels Stores, Ben Franklin and Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, have about 35 percent of the market. Mass merchants, including Wal-Mart and Target, have captured about 30 percent of the business.

Traditional craft suppliers have been joined by home-product manufacturers out to capitalize on the burgeoning interest in crafts. Indiana Glass, for example, is targeting the retail crafts business with floral glassware and other craft-related containers. “Crafts is an exploding market for us,” said Jerry Vanden Eynden, group vice president of marketing. “We’re doing big numbers with glass vases for silk arrangements or cut flowers.”

In a broad sense, “crafts are part of the do-it-yourself mentality,” noted Andre Doxey, Rubbermaid’s manager of color and lifestyle trends. Consumers can create affordable home decor while enjoying a relaxing, rewarding activity. “It’s part of creating a balance in their lives and getting away from stress,” he said.

With the combined pressures of work and family, many Americans have precious little spare time, and they want to make every free minute count. “People are trying to maximize discretionary time with self-fulfilling activities,” said Thomson at Rubbermaid.

For many households, crafts are a family activity that involves several generations. It reinforces “the relationship between grandparents, parents and kids,” noted William Hauser, manager of research services at Rubbermaid. With its multi-generational appeal, the crafts business presents retail opportunities to target the specific interests of various age groups.

Although people of all ages are involved in almost every craft, women 18 to 49 favor fabric painting and decorating, cake decorating and candy making, stenciling and potpourri. Children under 18 are likely to take up art, drawing and papercrafts. Beading and jewelry making are popular with girls, and boys tend to go for leather crafts. Seniors lean toward traditional needlework, such as knitting and crocheting.

Price-oriented consumers tend to shop for crafts at discount stores, while those seeking the broadest selection of merchandise usually turn to craft chains, according to an HIA survey of about 3,900 people nationwide. Price is a factor in the buying decisions of most craft consumers, but they are also influenced by selection, quality, ease of completion and product usefulness, the survey found.

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