Category Analysis: Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts is another adjacent category that the OP industry has had high hopes for, but how much of an opportunity does it still represent?

There’s nothing new about the adjacent arts and crafts category, but it has had notable peaks in the OP channel, in particular during the US-led scrapbooking craze over a decade ago.

As an industry itself, arts and crafts is still in pretty good shape, with a packed magazine market for enthusiasts as well as dedicated shopping channels.

Mainstream TV is also helping the sector with the increasing trend for ‘upcycling’ and recycling being popularised by UK shows such as Kirsty Alsopp’s Fill Your House For Free, Handmade Home and the most recent, Vintage Gems, where she explores how different crafting techniques can transform the home. 

One excellent indicator of how well the sector is performing is the Craft and Hobby Association’s (CHA) Mega Show – the world’s largest craft trade show – which showed robust form last month, with more buyers attending than the last couple of years from over 60 countries.

Andrej Suskavcevic, CEO of the CHA, says: “Overall the last 12 months have been positive. As the economy gets better we are seeing retailers enjoying the benefits of that. It’s still tough out there but improving. Also the internet is helping many creative professionals get into the business, and the DIY movement is alive and well and definitely growing.”

Growth 

And as if to further thumb a nose at the digital revolution, enthusiasts young and old are finding particularly old-fashioned ways to fill their hobby time.

“Anything to do with yarn is big,” Suskavcevic says. “Younger generations are getting into knitting and crocheting.”

For United Stationers it’s been a pleasing year for its arts and crafts business, with it growing nicely while traditional office products have declined.

Katy Psihogios, Category Product Manager Arts and Crafts for United, explains: “We have seen a more diverse and broader set of channels selling arts and crafts, which reflects purchasing trends in general and we see this positivity continuing. A recent study done by a top supplier in the category found that almost half of US classroom teachers (kindergarten through fifth grade) who use a back-to-school list indicate that the use of hands-on art supplies in their classroom has increased over the past two years. We think this bodes well for continued growth in arts and crafts.”

Indeed, there certainly seem to be longer-term growth possibilities in the arts and crafts categories than in traditional office products. While OP usage is linked to employment and behavioural trends, arts and crafts tend to continue to be hands-on materials that are consumed steadily. In addition, learning environments are continuing to offer a mix of digital and dimensional experiences, which bodes well for continued use of arts and crafts consumables.

Psihogios adds: “The best OP resellers create a positive experience in serving their local/regional school districts, which makes this an attractive category to continue with in the future. As they also get into cleaning and facilities management supplies, arts and crafts becomes a nice part of the overall bundle.”

Resurgence

In general, the last 12 months have seen resurgent areas in arts and crafts such as paper crafts, where there has been double-digit growth fuelled by the trend for retro appeal games and pursuits from the youth to middle-aged markets.

Manufacturer Decopatch, for example, is releasing new papers which focus on the upcoming and continuing trends of pop, kitsch, country chic and oriental elegance as well as on new maché products to assist a coordinated home design, including decorative bowls and kitchen containers.

It certainly seems as if the arts and crafts world is rising to the challenge of innovation and monitoring trends for the next big thing.

Nick Parry, Head of Arts and Crafts at ExaClair, the UK supplier of brands such as Decopatch, Maildor, Avenue Mandarine and Clairefontaine, explains: “Innovation in the arts and crafts industry centres around the ability to monitor trends and the application of imagination into how these trends can be serviced and how they will develop. Many crafters pursue more than one crafting activity – generally three or four – and so suppliers need to be flexible and move with the market to service their customers’ needs.”

Fortunately for suppliers and OP resellers keen to capitalise on this category, there are many platforms on which to monitor trends. For example, there is a vast range of crafting blogs which are a good way to get a feel for what is being said by the most ardent of crafters. Pinterest pages are also an ideal place for crafters to show off what they think looks good and what works for them.

Commercial opportunities can also be explored by keeping track of what market leaders like Hobbycraft are doing, selling and saying, as its constant contact with the craft customer base gives it a highly informed view.

The UK arts and crafts sector also received a huge boost with the emergence of a UK trade association, the CHA UK, which has been established as a response to the success of the US model, and now has a strong identity in the UK.

Parry adds: “The CHA UK is a useful tool for new and established craft retailers alike. Its purpose is to help the industry by providing much needed research and by offering services, support, advice and benefits to help the profitability of the industry.”

One effect of this monitoring of trends is numerous arts and crafts companies moving into the digital space by providing their customers with images, designs and patterns that can be downloaded for card-making, scrapbooking and other activities like decoupage. It’s a cost-effective way of providing customers with design ideas to fuel their inspiration and enthusiasm.

Best days gone?

So is arts and crafts another adjacent category that has seen its best days already in terms of the OP industry? Well, while it seems as if the time to fully capitalise was probably at the beginning of the modern craft craze when Bill Clinton was still in the White House, there is no question that the segment has an admirable resilience. However, as with many categories that are not instinctively known to the OP sector, it’s important to do your homework and keep up with the latest crazes.